OPINION

Reynolds-endorsed water bill isn't 'monumental'

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds acknowledges the audience before delivering the Condition of the State Address to a joint assembly of the of state legislature at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds acknowledges the audience before delivering the Condition of the State Address to a joint assembly of the of state legislature at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Solid, historic speech, governor. But I think I found a typo.

“My hope is that a water quality bill is the first piece of legislation that I have an opportunity to sign as governor,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said during her first Condition of the State address Tuesday.

So far, so good.

“Let me assure you, passage of this monumental legislation does not mean the water quality discussion is over; rather it ignites the conversation to implement and scale practices that will continue to make an impact on water quality,” the governor said.

I think the m-word the governor really meant to use is “modest,” or perhaps “mediocre.” Spell-checker might have altered an original reference to “monumentally disappointing.” These things happen.

Because the bill Reynolds is referencing, Senate File 512, is monumental only as a monument to what happens when meaningful environmental protection meets the clout of big agriculture under our Golden Dome of Wisdom. Yet again, it’s clout in a rout.

Republicans who run the Statehouse are fond of saying we can’t throw money at problems. But that’s exactly what this bill does, as it stands. It scatter-shoots $27 million annually over the next decade at various projects intended to reduce farm fertilizer runoff. But there are no requirements for measuring its success in actually reducing farm runoff. All the bill would do is count projects and bucks. Republicans talk of a “bold” agenda. But this is business as usual — strictly voluntary efforts with no bench marks, timelines or requirements of any kind. The bill says only that meeting the state’s goal for reducing nitrate and phosphorus runoff by 45 percent will occur “over time.”

Don’t check your watch or even a calendar. Try a glacier.

Fertilizer runoff is fouling rivers and streams. It’s feeding beach-closing algae blooms in our lakes. It’s causing expensive headaches for some drinking water utilities. Research has raised concerns about health effects. It feeds more frequent flooding and carries away soil. It spawns a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico costing shrimpers and other industries tens of millions of dollars annually. Last year, we saw the largest dead zone ever.

Big problems. But this bill is aimed at solving another problem, the political problem water quality is causing for Republicans and agricultural interests. Swift passage, as expected, will be portrayed as a big political win. The other problems? They’ll be addressed, “over time.”

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This bill is supported by the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and other large commodity groups. It’s opposed by most groups seeking real meaningful improvement in water quality.

The Farm Bureau pumped nearly $200,000 into Statehouse races in the fall of 2016 and spent $246,000 lobbying the Legislature last year. It set up the Iowa Partnership for Clean Water to attack a high-profile lawsuit over nitrate runoff and helped bankroll the legal defense fund. In the Statehouse Clout Bowl, the Farm Bureau is Alabama. Heavily funded, heavily favored.

Reynolds says this isn’t over. She’s right. But only a monumental political shift can truly reignite the conversation. Vote accordingly.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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