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Iowa Water Quality Monitoring in Peril
A conversation with Dr. Chris Jones
Dr. Chris Jones retires this May from the University of Iowa. Trained in chemistry, among other subjects, he served as a research engineer with the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research in the College of Engineering. His work, in part, was to be in charge of the 70 sensors on rivers and streams across the state that posted real-time data on water quality. He hosted a blog on the University of Iowa website that still exists. The blog was popular but controversial in that Jones used real data to paint a picture of how bad Iowa’s water quality is, and there are many people not interested in hearing that story.
According to Jones, many in the agricultural industry as well as select Iowa Republican legislators didn't appreciate the comments in his blog. Two legislators, Senators Tom Shipley, and Dan Zumbach pressured University of Iowa officials not to allow Jones to continue posting on the University of Iowa-hosted website, with an implied threat of legislative funding to the university being impacted. Zumbach denies the allegation, calling it “reckless and possibly defamatory.” After allowing Jones one final post, which university officials censored, Jones is moving his commentary off-site. He offered his resignation shortly afterward.
On Wednesday, Erin Jordan with the Gazette reported that the Iowa Senate passed a budget that could cut Iowa’s water sensor network that Jones supervised and that the Iowa House likely will take up the budget bill, Senate File 558, next week.
Tom Barton, Caleb Mcullough, and Erin Murphy, also with the Gazette, report that “two of the 52 sensors are on Bloody Run Creek, a cold-water trout stream in northeast Iowa that runs near Supreme Beef, a 10,000-head cattle feedlot co-owned by Jared Walz, son-in-law to Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, who proposed the funding cut. The Gazette left a voicemail Wednesday for Zumbach to seek additional comment about the budget proposal, but Zumbach did not call back.”
Jones says that without these monitors, government officials and the ag industry will be able to tell any story they want about the quality of Iowa’s water. Models are often used to project water quality but without the work of scientists and “ground-truthing,” it would be impossible for Iowans and the rest of the nation to know what the true state of Iowa’s waters are.
We may soon be in that position.
Here is my conversation with Dr. Jones:
A couple of months ago I received a copy of the galley proofs for Jones’ forthcoming book, “The Swine Republic.” These events happened after the book was at the publishers.
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