116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa has a water quality problem.
Iowa has 571 waterbodies with a total of 754 impairments. Iowa is the second biggest state in terms of our contribution to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
At the same time, communities like Des Moines have a real challenge in providing safe drinking water that complies with federal standards: less than 10 micrograms of nitrate per liter. The Des Moines Water Works must often mix water supplies from groundwater, the Raccoon River, and the Des Moines River, or use expensive nitrate removal technologies, in order to comply.
In 2015, it operated its nitrate removal equipment a record high 177 days at a record cost of $1.5 million. It is facing upgrades to its nitrate removal system that may cost in excess of $100 million.
It's clear we need real solutions to these real problems.
The Water Works has filed suit against upstream drainage districts under the Clean Water Act to try to remedy the problem. I support the right to sue under the Clean Water Act, but the lawsuit itself is likely to cost millions, grow resentment, and take years to resolve - and still require legislative action to implement solutions.
To deal with Gulf hypoxia, our Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, has committed the state to reducing nutrient runoff by 45 percent, including reductions of 41 percent for nitrogen and 29 percent for phosphorous from agricultural sources, through the voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy. But this strategy has no deadlines and inadequate funding.
In 2013, Governor Terry Branstad proposed funding the Nutrient Reduction Strategy at the $2.4 million level in the first year, then $4.4 million per year after that. While that may sound like a lot of money, in a state with over 24 million acres of farmland, even the higher amount works out to less than 20 cents per acre per year - not nearly enough to incentivize the magnitude of voluntary action required to achieve the necessary reductions.
In the Iowa Legislature, we succeeded in adding over $25 million to our clean water programs over the last three years, although Governor Branstad vetoed an additional $11.2 million in 2014.
By investing additional resources, we have helped more landowners adopt more practices in the effort to retain nutrients and improve water quality. There is growing landowner participation and support for such practices.
But don't kid yourself. Solving our water problems will require even more public resources, with or without the lawsuit.
That's one of the reasons why I so strongly support funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund that 63 percent of voters approved for Iowa's Constitution in 2010 with an additional 3/8 cents sales tax. In addition to supporting our parks, trails, and hunting and fishing resources, the Trust Fund would provide stable, permanent funding to help solve our clean water problem.
About 60 percent of the Trust Fund, or approximately $100 million per year, would go to water quality improvements, including 'cost share” for soil conservation practices, wetland restoration, vegetated buffer strips, and stream bank stabilization. 'Cost share” means that landowners must pay a share of project costs. Despite the cost share, there are long waiting lists of landowners who want to participate and need our help.
Instead of waiting lists, the Trust Fund would support widespread participation in cooperative watershed efforts that plan and implement improvements and measure results. By providing a means to achieve the required nutrient reductions - in a timely manner - funding the Trust has the potential to avoid the lawsuit and unite Iowans for clean water.
Let's 'Fund The Trust.”
' Rob Hogg is a state senator representing District 33 in Cedar Rapids. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.