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In Iowa: Putting his money where his mouth is

Conservation bond would be funds well spent

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Sure, it’s easy for me, a resident of and property taxpayer in Buchanan County, to endorse the $40 million Linn County conservation bond on the Nov. 8 ballot.

I get all of the benefits and none of the expense, right?

But I would vote for it if I could, and to put my money where my mouth is, if the measure achieves the 60 percent approval needed for passage, I pledge to send the Conservation Department $27 a year — the projected property tax increase for the average Linn County resident — for the 20-year duration of the bond.

It will be, along with my annual purchases of hunting and fishing licenses and habitat stamps, money well spent.

Full disclosure: I love rivers and spend as much time as I can walking their banks and standing waist deep in them, trying to catch fish in stream segments not yet too degraded to support them.

While county conservation departments have made great progress in protecting rivers and expanding public access to them, state recognition of rivers’ importance to Iowans has been painfully slow in coming.

In terms of a beneficial public expenditure, the Linn bond will, consistent with my priorities, rank right up there with the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which, though diminished by acreage caps in recent years, has done more to save soil, improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat than all other programs combined.

While 45 percent of the Linn bond proceeds will be earmarked for parks and trails, 55 percent will go to water and land-conservation projects that will help ameliorate two of the state’s most pressing environmental challenges — nutrient pollution and increasingly frequent and damaging floods.

Some of those funds will be used to acquire flood-prone land, through both easements and purchases, and to develop wetlands on existing county property.

Those same projects, while filtering pollutants and storing and slowly releasing floodwaters, will expand and improve public access to the county’s wildest and most scenic natural areas and establish much-needed additional wildlife habitat.

That is win-win-win-win.

Deputy Director Dennis Goemaat said he and other Conservation Department officials, as with many other Iowans, including me, got tired of waiting for the state to approve significant funding for protecting natural resources, improving water quality and expanding outdoor recreation opportunities.

For the past six years, the 63 percent of us who voted for a constitutionally protected natural resources trust fund in 2010 have been waiting for state government to authorize a sales tax increase that would fill it with about $180 million a year.

While lawmakers dither — perhaps fearful of offending powerful agricultural interest groups responsible for most of the pollution, perhaps fearful that massive investments in conservation practices advocated by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy won’t even work — the Linn bond, Goemaat said, would at least “let us get started” improving our natural environment.

And if elected officials elect to fill the trust fund, bond proceeds would provide local matching funds needed to secure state grants, he said.

Most Iowans recognize that restoring the health of our water will require an “all hands on deck” effort taking decades and costing billions.

Approval of the Linn County bond will improve the environment locally and will, along with groundbreaking passages of similar bonds in Johnson and Polk counties, set an example for the rest of the state to follow.

l Comments: (319) 934-3172; orlan.love@thegazette.com

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