Iowa Legislature Passes Water Quality Bill

Jan 26, 2018  | 3 min  | Ep4323

A 2008 federal plan to cut nitrogen and phosphorus levels entering the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River watershed remain untouched.  Some of the 12 states involved have enacted laws but Iowa, the number one producer of corn, continues to keep mandatory rules for non-point source pollution on the ropes. Josh Buettner has the details.

This Week, the Iowa Legislature passed a water quality bill that allocates $282 million over 12 years to fund voluntary efforts to reduce agricultural runoff into state waterways.

Governor Kim Reynolds/R – Iowa: “Let me assure you, passage of this monumental legislation does not mean the water quality discussion is over; rather it ignites the conversation to implement and scale practices that will continue to make an impact on water quality.”

In her first Condition of the State address since assuming the office last spring, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds indicated her hope that water quality legislation would be the first bill she signs into law.

But some in the governor’s own party bristled at the measure which cast aside previous bi-partisan efforts.

Iowa State Representative Chip Baltimore/ R – Boone: “Just because the words ‘water quality’ are in the title of a bill, does not make me proud to vote for it so that I can put it on a post card when I go campaign. Senate File 512, in my opinion, lays water quality and the problems and solutions for water quality squarely at the feet of Iowa’s farmers.  That is a disservice to them.”

Proponents say Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, implemented in 2013, is more comprehensive than most.  But a 2015 federal lawsuit alleged farm tiling infrastructure in drainage districts upstream of the state’s largest public water utility expedited high levels of nitrates into the capitol city’s primary drinking water source.  Des Moines Water Works further alleged the increased nutrient levels made compliance with national standards a costly routine.

While the case was dismissed last year, it cast a spotlight on the issue nationally as the utility weathered an unsuccessful state-level legislative effort to break up its control and replace it with regional authority.

Des Moines Water Works issued a statement in response to the newly adopted measure:

“The legislation passed today diverts existing funds from other programs to fund a failed voluntary water quality approach, with no monitoring, goals, accountability of funds, or targeting of priority waters.  Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy has failed to make a noticeable impact, and plowing more money into it isn’t going to suddenly make it effective.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who has worked to prevent stakeholders from being burdened by legal mandates to curb pollution, areacted to the bill’s passage:

“This funding will allow the Department to expand our investment in locally led water quality projects in targeted watersheds while also giving farmers and landowners statewide a chance to try practices focused on water quality.  We will continue to offer innovative new approaches, such as the first-of-its-kind crop insurance incentive program aimed at increasing acres of cover crops.”

For Market to Market, I’m Josh Buettner.



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