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By Mike Whittlesey
La Porte City’s Waterfront Property
Signs of Spring are all around us. Temperatures have been gradually warming as the amount of daylight increases incrementally, tulips are in full bloom and the smell of freshly cut grass permeates the air. After a long winter, people are eager to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.
With summer just around the corner, this is the time of year when cities typically remind their citizens of the importance of yard cleanup. The reminders usually focus on grass and leaves, in particular those that get blown into the street. Along with the reminder, a city ordinance is often referenced, with perhaps the mention of a potential fine for violators.
Like many cities throughout the state, La Porte City has such an ordinance on the books. It reads, in part:
135.03 – PLACING DEBRIS ON. It is unlawful for any person to throw or deposit on any street or alley any glass, glass bottle, nails, tacks, wire, cans, trash, garbage, rubbish, litter, offal, leaves, grass or any other debris likely to be washed into the storm sewer and clog the storm sewer, or any substance likely to injure any person, animal or vehicle.
In case you’re wondering, offal (rhymes with “awful”) can be defined as “the parts of a butchered animal that are considered inedible by human beings” or “refuse; rubbish; garbage.”
Reasonable people might ask, “What’s the big deal about a little grass that winds up in the street? Is it really necessary to threaten people who are out mowing their yards? Doesn’t the La Porte City Police Department have more important things to do than patrol neighborhoods looking for grass in the street?”
In the search for a reasonable answer to those questions, consider a question posed by the Pond Lady, a lake and pond management company based out of Lexington, Kentucky: “Do you know that you [La Porte City residents] live on waterfront property?”
If there’s a storm drain nearby, the answer is yes. Storm drains carry runoff water to local streams and rivers. Whatever washes off the city’s lawns and streets, be it lawn fertilizer, grass clippings, leaves, pet waste, tree leaves or seeds, can pollute those waters, as storm drainage is not treated by the La Porte City waste water treatment facility.
The science behind this issue is pretty straightforward. Each of the aforementioned items are sources of phosphorus, the plant nutrient that turns lakes and streams green with algae. Too much algae results in an excess of green scum on the water that snuffs out other water plants and reduces the oxygen available for fish and other creatures who live in the water. In the past decade, algae blooms resulting in dead zones devoid of fish and plant life as big as the state of Connecticut have been documented in the Gulf of Mexico.
In recent years, The Progress Review has documented the efforts of area farmers to improve the water quality in Iowa streams, rivers and lakes through their participation in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients flowing into Iowa waters and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The Nutrient Reduction Strategy is designed to reduce nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen present in Iowa’s surface water in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner.
The amount of grass clippings generated by one La Porte City lawn may pale in comparison to the nutrients managed by a typical farm operation in Iowa. However, just one bushel of grass clippings introduced into fresh water can contain enough phosphorus to produce 30-50 pounds of algae.
Unfortunately, the conversation about water quality in Iowa continues to grow more discordant, as evidenced by the lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works. The suit accuses three northwest Iowa counties of being a conduit for high levels of nitrates found in the Raccoon River, which has placed an undue burden on Des Moines’ water treatment facility. More signs of the struggle were evident in the Iowa Legislature this year, as lawmakers considered four separate water quality initiatives, but were unable to reach any kind of consensus or take action on the issue.
As the state whose agricultural industry proudly helps feed the world, many Iowa farmers have enjoyed a tradition of leaving the land and water in better shape for future generations. Keeping leaves and grass clippings out of the street is one simple way La Porte City residents can protect their “waterfront properties” and join their rural neighbors in the statewide effort to help cleanup Iowa’s polluted waterways.