Looking for the straight scoop — Will Iowa’s topsoil rule get bulldozed? by Todd Dorman

Some folks are looking hard for more dirt on Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration.

I’m just looking for some in my yard.

Nearly seven years ago, we moved from an older neighborhood in Ames to our newish, late ’90s subdivision on the north side of Marion. When the first spring in our new digs arrived, we set out to do some landscaping, flower beds, bushes, etc.

What we found out fast was that our sod was sitting on thick, compacted clay subsoil. Whatever topsoil had existed before this cornfield became a housing development was pretty much gone. It was an unpleasant surprise. I later learned that builders often strip the topsoil to make it easier to use heavy equipment on a worksite and speed up building. And in many cases, they don’t put much, or any, of it back. Sometimes, the topsoil is sold.

Now, whenever I plant anything in our yard, in fertile Iowa, for Pete’s sake, I have to buy dirt in a bag from a store. And having any decent grass means dumping a bunch of chemicals on my lawn. This is not an unusual story in the sprawling subdivisions of suburban Iowa.

“Most subsoils in Iowa are clay-based. The permeability is low to begin with,” said Joe Griffin, who leads the wastewater permitting program for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “And then run over it a few times with large equipment, that does not increase the permeability. When they’re done building the lots, they put a layer of sod on, which has a layer of topsoil on it. But it’s a small layer, three-quarters of an inch to an inch.”

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