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Release: March 6, 2002

Schnoor to testify Thursday before Congress on river monitoring bill

A University of Iowa College of Engineering professor is scheduled Thursday, March 7 to urge Congress to pass a bill that would establish a data collection network helpful in cleaning up groundwater in the upper Mississippi River basin.

Jerald Schnoor, professor of civil and environmental engineering and a member of the Water Science and Technology Board of the National Research Council, will testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water and Power on H.R. 3480 Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act of 2001. Schnoor says that the bill's passage is essential to further progress in cleansing the river -- from its headwaters down to Cairo, Ill. -- of farm run-off and other "non-point source" pollution.

"Congress recognized the need in 1972 to address non-point source pollution, but monitoring data for proper assessment and modeling purposes did not exist. The Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act will help to gather this data and construct computer models for one of the most ecologically and economically important waters in the nation," says Schnoor, a native of Davenport, Iowa.

He adds that existing laws dealing with point source discharges such as municipal and industrial wastewater treatment have improved water quality, but have run their course and left room for further improvement. For example, he notes that the goals of the Clean Water Act are still unmet along the upper Mississippi River where fish spawning areas often are covered with silt by soil erosion and nitrate concentrations exceed drinking water standards in many locations.

In addition to the health and aesthetic costs of pollution, Schnoor says there is a financial toll. He notes that annually the dredging of sediments in the navigation channel costs more than $100 million, farmers lose more than $300 million in nitrogen fertilizer runoff, and the loss of aquatic habitat and beach closings threaten the region's $1.2 billion recreation and $6.6 billion tourism industries. And those costs don't include the threat to the commercial and recreational fishing industries in the river and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Schnoor says the first steps in the public-private initiative will be to establish a water quality monitoring network and mathematical models of the movement of pollutants in the river basin. "A healthy economy and a clean environment can go hand-in-hand. To do this, we must understand fully the environment, technologies for improvement, and human social systems," he says.