The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has made big changes to the state’s volunteer water quality monitoring program at the beginning of this month. This comes after statewide budget cuts, including a $1.2 million funding reduction to the DNR.
After providing initial training and resources, the continued administration and funding of the program is turned over to local government agencies and nonprofits that choose to take up the mantle of volunteer water monitoring. Previously the DNR was the program's sole administer.
Allen Bonini supervises the DNR’s watershed improvement section. He says the department doesn't have enough money or staff to continue the previous iteration of the program.
"I think there’s enough momentum and a high level of interest in water quality across the state that people who are interested will do it," he says. "The truth of the matter is, if we kept the program the way it was, it was going to die on the vine, because there just aren’t enough resources to keep it going."
Mary Skopec, now head of the Iowa Board of Regent's Lakeside Laboratory, was the program's previous coordinator. She raises concerns this reduction in state support will lead to decreases in both water monitoring and long-term data collection.
"It’s going to be challenging to ask 99 counties to find money to help make this happen," she says. "There are some counties who will and there are some counties and cities who won't. And so we will see this disparity start to happen and grow through time."
Bonini reports the program's previous annual budget was approximately $20,000 for material and supplies. The current budget is $5,000.