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A long-term solution for Iowa's water quality

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Glenn Vondra, guest columnist

Funding any clean water initiative is usually the first step and we saw at least four different proposals brought up for discussion this past year. As an Iowa landowner and a person who always questions raising taxes, in the instance I would have no problem paying a bit more to have reasonably clean water, both for drinking and for recreation.

The simple solution is to pass the three-eighth cent tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, since a good share of this does fund water quality along with other critical natural resource concerns. This still would not cover everything that the Nutrient Reduction Strategy calls for so other means of financing need to be looked into, of which some already have been discussed.

Addressing the actual problem in the field is a more complex issue. Some conservation practices, such as cover crops and better fertilizer management, can help the producer’s bottom line and should be done by all, but others require land taken out of production and are a hard sell to many cash-strapped farmers. We have had government conservation programs in place for decades and nutrient/soil loss has become worse.

I think that there are two reasons for this: The first being that 62 percent of the farmland in Iowa is rented and the producer (renter) is just trying to get a good profit from farming the land — conservation is a secondary concern. The other is that the government programs generally expire in 10 or 15 years, and high commodity prices allow any conservation infrastructure to be eliminated after that period. Would not better long-term permanent solution be better?

I believe that permanent conservation “easements in perpetuity” could be an answer. If both taxpayers and landowners can see long-term success for the money that is spent, would not both be willing to have some “skin in the game”?

The landowner would receive anywhere from 70 percent to 100 percent of fair market value for a permanent conservation practice on crop land taken out of production, while retaining ownership of the property. These practices could include buffer strips along waterways, restored wetlands and edge of field saturation strips, and could be installed with a cost sharing formula.

I would hope that the next legislature takes a hard look at the problem and comes up with a workable funding proposal that works for everyone in the long term.

• Glenn Vondra is an Iowa landowner and Conservation Board Member. Comments: (515) 202-3571; gvondra00archt67@aol.com

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