Governor’s Water Quality Law Is Not Enough

The issue of water quality continues to increase in political importance.  Candidates, on both sides of the aisle, from areas rural and urban, are running on platforms of water quality.  Two Republicans, Craig Lang and Ray Gaesser, are currently running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture focused on water quality and soil health.

Last November, Des Moines voters elected Josh Mandelbaum to the city council.  “Protecting Public Health and Standing Up for Water Quality” was one of the pillars of his campaign.

Governor Kim Reynolds set water quality as a high priority during her Condition of the State address last month.  On January 31, Reynolds signed SF 512 into law.  Clearly, Reynolds saw value in having the water quality bill be the first signed this session, thus making it the first law for her to sign as governor of Iowa.

SF 512 is projected to produce $270.2 million for water quality projects over the next 11 years, according to Iowa’s nonpartisan data agency.

According the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “The money will come from converting an existing sales tax on metered water to an excise tax and, as Vision Iowa bonds are repaid, using those funds, too.”

The water quality law will not generate new money for the state, which means under the law the state will fund water quality efforts by reducing money currently being used to fund other programs.

The level of water quality action does not appear to match its political attention. The state needs to address more questions, engage more interests, and leverage more money to attack the enormous problems with water quality in Iowa.

Several Iowa organizations argue the solution that has been signed into law is not adequate.  They claim Iowans expect more significant action on water quality.

  •  “Where are the voices of environment, habitat, conservation, watershed planning, public health and sustainable agriculture in this process and in this bill?”
    -Iowa Environmental Council Executive Director Jen Terry
  • “Senate File 512 represents a timid response to a vital need for establishing widespread, sustained and measurable progress on an issue important to farmers and all Iowans.” Iowa Soybean Association (ISA)  ISA CEO Kirk Leeds adds, “It’s nibbling around the edges of what’s truly needed. While some additional funding continues to point us in the right direction, it doesn’t get us too much further down the road in achieving the kind of results we all know are attainable and necessary.”
  • “We appreciate the Legislature’s continued attention to water quality, but this effort is incomplete.  There remains much more work to be done. The cost of the nutrient reduction strategy is estimated at over $4 billion and Iowa needs immediate, substantial, dedicated funding and a collaborative watershed approach to adequately implement that strategy.”
    Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) Coalition

According to the IWILL Coalition, Iowa voters overwhelmingly support funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund: 83 percent support the Trust and 69 percent support raising the sales tax 3/8 of a penny to fund the Trust.  IWILL further argues almost 90 percent of likely Iowa voters describe pollution of rivers, lakes and streams as a serious problem in Iowa.

Iowa voters created The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund in 2010. It is a permanent and constitutionally protected funding source to ensure these natural spaces are preserved for generations to come. However, the legislature has not yet funded it. IWILL advocates raising the sales tax 3/8 of a penny to fund the Trust Fund.

Hopefully, Governor Reynold’s signature is the beginning of the discussion surrounding water quality in this legislative session and not the end.  There is still much more work to be done to clean up Iowa’s water.

The Agricultural Law Center continues to engage in this debate with Our Water and other resources, like Director Neil Hamilton’s presentation “High Hopes Meet Hard Truths: Facing the Reality of Iowa’s Water Quality Policy.”