News Feature | April 12, 2017

Iowa Considers $850 Million Water Package

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

farm reg new

State lawmakers in Iowa are is in the midst of a heated debate over how much money the state should devote to addressing nutrient pollution following years of failed efforts to bolster funding for water quality.

“Governor Terry Branstad’s plan to spend nearly $850 million over the course of 12 years to clean Iowa’s waterways narrowly advanced in the Iowa Senate [last week], in spite of opposition from lawmakers of both parties,” Iowa Public Radio reported.

Iowa faces pressure from the federal government to improve water quality. Nutrient pollution from the nation’s second most-productive farming state is “contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” Iowa Public Radio reported.

Yet some lawmakers disagree that Iowa faces a water-quality crisis.

“I don’t subscribe to the theory that the sky is falling when it comes to water quality,” said state Sen. Ken Rozenboom, a Republican, per Iowa Public Radio. He disagrees with the notion that the state has more work to do on nutrient pollution, according to the report.

Other detractors say the water bill will pull funding from other critical policy issues, such as schools.

“Interest groups are divided on the legislation. The Iowa Farm Bureau supports the bill, and the Master Builders of Iowa opposes it because it taps infrastructure dollars that would otherwise fund major construction projects. Environmental groups and others favor raising the state sales tax to pay for cleaner water,” Iowa Public Radio reported.

The backdrop is that this year’s legislative effort builds on a water-quality initiative the state launched in 2013. That program is “a collaborative, research-based approach that is evaluated and reported by a team of independent researchers from multiple institutions, led by Iowa State University,” according to the initiative’s website.

Yet the initiative is a voluntary program. It was “embraced by many in the agricultural community. But it soon became apparent a much larger pot of money would be necessary to address the state’s water quality issues,” according to Iowa Farmer Today.

Previous efforts to funnel more money to water quality have failed.

“Branstad vetoed extra funding for water quality in 2014, and the Des Moines Waterworks eventually filed a lawsuit against officials in several counties. Agricultural groups began pushing for a large, dedicated fund that would help finance water quality efforts in Iowa. Last year, state lawmakers debated several proposals that would have pumped more money into the effort,” Iowa Farmer Today reported.

Branstad made water quality a major part of his public agenda in recent months.

"By leading on this issue, together we have the opportunity to modernize Iowa’s agricultural infrastructure, create jobs in rural Iowa and promote collaboration between urban and rural communities," he said, per The Des Moines Register.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "hewitt scene," william garrett © 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: