State water quality funding deficient, report says

While threats to Iowa’s water quality increase, state funds to prevent and counter pollution are shrinking, according to a report issued Thursday by Iowa Policy Project.

Even as awareness of impaired waters has grown, funding for seven of 10 state-managed water protection programs has declined during the past decade, say the authors of the report, research associate Will Hoyer, intern Brian McDonough and David Osterberg, director of the Iowa City-based research and advocacy organization.

Because natural resource budgets are complex and channeled through multiple sources, the authors focused on 10 clear water quality line items administered either by the Department of Natural Resources or the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

They found that funding for seven of the 10 programs, when adjusted for inflation, declined over the span of 10 budget cycles. Among those programs are Resource Enhancement and Protection, the Water Quality Protection Fund and Soil Conservation Cost Share.

For most of the decade, totals for the 10 programs have hovered just above $20 million. In fiscal year 2011, however, spending dropped below $15 million and will have barely rebounded in the 2012 budget.

Osterberg noted lawmakers, at a minimum, would have to restore $5 million in state funding to get back to average water quality spending over the last decade.

The authors based their assertion that Iowans are willing to spend more on water quality on the 63 percent voter approval in 2010 of a constitutional amendment to establish a natural resources trust fund to be funded by a share of the next increase in the sales tax.

The report asserts that more funding is needed to counter the potential water quality

effects of recent record-high grain prices, which have encouraged farmers to plant row crops on more acres.

Without adequate funding for water protection and conservation, “Iowawaterways will continue to be plagued with problems that limit Iowans’ ability to get out and enjoy them,” the authors said.

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