Iowa lawmakers skeptical of pollution reduction strategy

Leading Democrats say plan no more likely to succeed than previous efforts

Lawmakers expressed skepticism for a plan for landowners to voluntarily reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, saying it is not any more likely to succeed than previous plans.

Holding up studies going back to the early 1990s, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said, “My expectation is we’ll be here in 10 years having the same conversation.”

“There are a lot of dusty plans sitting on the shelf,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp.

However, he’s optimistic about this plan, which he and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey have described as “a scientific evaluation of practices that have been proven to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, the key nutrients that have been targeted for reduction, from agricultural landscapes combined with feasible and reasonable wastewater treatment technologies for point sources.

In addition to farm runoff, the plan addresses the 102 major municipal wastewater treatment plants that process 80 percent of the state’s wastewater as well as targeted industries. Wastewater treatment plants would need to invest more than $1 billion in capital improvements to meet the nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals.

In addition to concerns about the cost — a minimum of $58 an acre for 50 years, members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee questioned whether there will be a way to measure progress under the strategy.

Referring to the costs, Chairman Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said he hopes Northey and Gipp will support his proposed legislation to raise the state sales tax three-eighths of a cent to pay for conversation measures. That would generate about $124 million a year.

“I hope you can get the governor to endorse it,” Dearden said.

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