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Soil Matters: Iowa Angler Protects Local Streams

Outdoor America 2019 Issue 2
Steve Veysey

Don’t try to tell Steve Veysey that a stream that looks like chocolate milk is a natural occurrence. He knows better.

“Where I grew up, the waters were basically clear,” Veysey says of his native New Brunswick, Canada. “But when I came to Iowa, the first thing that struck me right away was in all these rivers and streams, I couldn’t see the bottom!” After 41 years in Iowa, Veysey has become a keen observer of the natural environment here. He cares deeply about the health of Iowa’s rivers and knows that the conditions of a river reflect the health of the land around it.

He’s also an avid trout fisherman and coordinator of fisheries and environmental protection for the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, which is how he got involved in Iowa’s water quality issues. In 1997, a company proposed building a massive hog confinement operation in the watershed of French Creek – one of Iowa’s premier cold- water trout streams, with naturally reproducing populations of brown and brook trout, which he had fished often over the years. Veysey and other concerned anglers spoke out about the importance of clean water for residents, fishing, and tourism.

The hog facility was eventually constructed, but the owner was required to plant buffer strips to protect nearby streams, and restrictions were placed on where hog waste could be spread. (Manure from livestock operations is often spread directly atop farm fields as fertilizer.) Those requirements were the result of a settlement between the hog producer, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, and the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

“That was my first foray into this stuff,” says Veysey of his advocacy role. “It was new for a fishing club in Iowa to get involved in litigation to protect water quality. It was kind of a radical thing to do, but we were reasonable and everyone survived.”

In the years since then, Veysey has taken on larger roles in advocating for clean water. He took every opportunity to attend state technical meetings, such as those held by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Commission, to press state agencies to properly enforce the Clean Water Act. He pulled together local county officials and county conservation boards to build support for protecting special waters like French Creek. When he saw streams affected by pollution, he would test the water and take the results to the state agency and show them the pollution problem.

Veysey has seen progress, but he still sees the impacts of agriculture and other industries on Iowa streams – and he’s still fighting for solutions.

“Most of our rivers and streams today are being impacted by non- point-sources [of pollution], including farm runoff carrying sediments, nitrates from anhydrous ammonia fertilizers, and E. coli bacteria and other contaminants from improperly spread livestock manure,” Veysey explains. “Clean water belongs to everyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s deep enough to swim in or just wade in. You’re going to find families taking their kids to play in these creeks.”

The League is working with advocates like Veysey to support federal and state programs that help farmers reduce the runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, manure, and sediment. For example, we’re speaking up strongly in support of the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, designed to provide dedicated funding for soil and water conservation projects, parks, trails, and outdoor recreation. The Trust Fund was approved by voters in 2010 but never funded by the state legislature. It could have a huge impact by funding on-farm conservation and stream restoration projects that would help protect cold-water streams. At the federal level, we’re trying to give more farmers the tools they need to be better stewards of the land while still having profitable operations. The work Veysey, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, and other groups have done in the past help set the stage for actions we’re taking today.

Our goals are to increase public awareness of the problems and to restore and protect trout streams – like the ones Veysey fishes – as well as the rivers and reservoirs on which people in Iowa rely for their drinking water.

Tim Wagner, IWLA Agriculture Outreach Coordinator