Who Should Pay to Clean Up Iowa’s Waterways? Funding Debated at Statehouse

Mar 21, 2016

In 2015, Iowa had a record number of beach closures due to blue green algae blooms. That, in addition to a lawsuit filed against three northwestern Iowa counties, is bringing increased attention to water quality in the state.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says that in addition to increasing the number of acres planted with cover crops, there are 16 watershed improvement projects happening, and urban areas are starting to use things like permeable pavement to divert water flow. He’s encouraged to see a push to increase the money that the state funnels toward such projects.

“The legislature has been increasing the funding to the nutrient reduction strategy over the last three years, and there are proposals on the table right now to drastically increase that funding,” Northey says.

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Secretary Northey about the state’s voluntary plan to reduce pollution, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The plan outlines ways to reduce both non-point and point source pollution, but estimates costs of between $1.2 and $4 billion.  

Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell, State Senator Joe Bolkcom, State Representative Pat Grassley and Ralph Rosenberg of the Iowa Environmental Council also join the conversation.

Lawmakers have introduced several proposals this session to fund more water quality improvement projects, such as a 3/8  of a cent sales tax, a check-off program, and a fertilizer tax. Governor Terry Branstad introduced a plan that would divert money from a school infrastructure fund toward water quality projects, but it hasn’t gained much support at the statehouse. That comes after Branstad vetoed $20 million that was slated for water quality improvement last session.

Bolkcom, Grassley, and Rosenberg all agree it will take more than one funding stream to make an impact.

“The proposals have to have a substantial, long-term commitment to funding,” Rosenberg says. “One of the things that many Iowans support is the Iowa Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. It is a mechanism where you can generate the amount of money to have an impact. You’re going to be able to generate about $150-180 million a year.”