Money for water quality dries up

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Despite another year of legislative efforts, the state will not provide additional funds for water quality amid growing concerns.

Bills from both the Iowa Senate and the House have been killed this legislation session, which lawmakers hoped would reduce nutrients in soil and correct chemical imbalances. Experts on water treatment say a change is imperative.

The House proposed a bill that would dedicate $5 million from state gaming revenues for farming conversation practices, including projects such as terraces, wetlands, buffer strips, and grass waterways. It would also divert another $4 million from general state funds, which is largely where education and health care receive funding.

Improving water quality is supported throughout the House and Senate among Democrats and Republicans alike, but the solution is debated.

Rep. Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, said the House plan, now dead, would have fallen short of the steep $5 billion needed to make a dent in the issue, which was identified by the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy.

“We need to start a massive effort or this issue could get to the point of being unsolvable,” Hanson said. “I think Iowa water deserves more than the token effort it’s getting.”

Hanson cited concerns with funds being diverted from the school allocations and said there should be another way to get the job done. He also feels that focusing on the management of individual watersheds would provide more realistic insight into the issue. In a statement, Hanson said a solution could be delving into the nearly $800 million Iowa has in rainy day funds that could be used to start projects.

In the Senate, lawmakers proposed an amendment that would tax three-eighths of a cent from sales and add funds to the issue, but it was also shot down. Currently, around $20 million is dedicated to water quality, but officials said efforts in recent years have not been cutting it.

“I think at some point, the Legislature is going to have to make the hard choices and set money aside or start working with the agriculture department to initiate the proper rules to get some of the non point source pollution out of the river,” said Tim Wilkey, an Iowa City wastewater treatment plant superintendent.

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He said fertilizers and chemicals are making their way into rivers and streams, which is causing problems for the waterways. He said details like restricting cattle from crossing through water could also be improved.

“We need to start doing something,” Wilkey said. “Throwing up our hands and saying it’s going to cost too much money or it’s going to change our life style — I don’t buy it anymore. Something needs to change.”

He noted that studies can cost millions of dollars and actual change could take billions, but efforts in the state are long overdue. Extensive historical studies have been made, he said, but recommendations based on these studies have not been met with funds appropriately.

Sen. Ken Rozenbloom, R-Oskaloosa, said farmers have had to offer their own pay in attempts to provide healthier soil and water to produce goods.

“It’s commonly overlooked, but farmers are very concerned with the well-being of the land here,” he said.

“We all want to keep working on the water quality. I think we can all agree on that,” Rozenbloom said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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