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National water quality experts to speak at Iowa conference

National water quality experts to speak at Iowa conference

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DES MOINES — An expert on economics and the environment will address an Iowa environmental coalition’s annual conference Thursday.

The Iowa Environmental Council’s annual conference on the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny, will explore opportunities to advance policies, programs and practices that offer ecological, economic and societal benefits, according to the council.

The Des Moines-based coalition has advocated for solutions to Iowa’s water quality issues.

The state has been ordered by the federal government to reduce the level of phosphorous pollutants in its waterways, which are contributing to deadly areas for marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

And a Des Moines water utility has sued water drainage districts in four northwest Iowa counties over agricultural pollutants, forcing the utility to spend millions of dollars to clean water for its customers, it says.

Among the keynote speakers at Thursday’s conference is Jon Erickson, a fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics in Vermont.

Erickson said during an interview Wednesday Iowa’s water quality situation is similar to his home state of Vermont, where the state this past month submitted to the federal government a plan to clean phosphorous pollution out of Lake Champlain on the U.S.-Canadian border between New York and Vermont, the sixth-largest lake in the country.

Water quality issues like Iowa’s and Vermont’s are playing out across the country, Erickson said.

“This past summer over 20 states issued alerts for toxic green algae blooms,” Erickson said. “(With) the magnification of that coming with a warming planet, the projections are not good in terms of our failing water systems.”

Erickson, who has been published on a variety of environmental topics and has led international research and education programs, believes the desire for economic growth has created an economy that has outgrown the environment’s ability to sustain it.

He said water pollution is one signal of the stress economic growth is placing on the environment.

“I was trained as an economist, and for economics the holy grail has been economic growth, that we grow the economy and we only count the benefits of that growth and we kind of ignore the cost,” Erickson said.

“So for my profession it really has become a wake-up call to say that the metrics that we use to track human progress are all wrong, the traditional metrics like gross domestic product, size of the economy.

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State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

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