116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We elect our state legislators and the Governor to be leaders. More than ever, we need strong, active leadership to secure significant, long-term funding to address urgent water quality challenges. In 2010, 63 percent of Iowans voted to create a dedicated, constitutionally protected Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund to protect and enhance Iowa's diverse natural resources, including our water and agricultural lands. Unfortunately, legislators have still not implemented a 3/8ths-cent sales tax to fund the Trust.
This failure is not due to lack of support. Recent polling shows that support for funding the Trust continues to grow, including among agricultural, business and public health interests. A new survey conducted by the University of Northern Iowa for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources found more than 80 percent of Iowans interviewed believe clean water is important for Iowa's economic growth and would be willing to pay more taxes or fees to protect water quality. Judging by the flurry of water quality funding proposals currently being debated at the statehouse, there is a real opportunity this year for legislative leaders to heed the calls from their constituents, and to take meaningful and sustainable action.
It's encouraging that Governor Branstad has expressed a new sense of urgency about water quality. His SAVE plan would provide significant funding aimed at reducing water pollution from nutrients. However, the plan's controversial funding mechanism would divert a portion of future funding from educational needs, and it would take 20 years to reach funding levels comparable to the already passed, but never funded, Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The Governor's proposal also lacks an established allocation formula to support the range of Iowa's diverse water quality and natural resource needs. Contrast this with the Trust, which would immediately generate an estimated $150-$180 million annually, about 61 percent of which could be used for important nutrient pollution reduction efforts. The remainder could be used for other conservation purposes, such as lake restoration and state and county park improvements.
Whatever funding mechanism we adopt, we must ensure public and private investments are used strategically, and when possible, achieve multiple benefits. To accomplish this, Iowa should employ a more coordinated statewide watershed approach to guide effective deployment of our limited public resources. Iowa already has pieces of such a framework in place. That includes new watershed management authorities like the Indian Creek WMA in the Cedar Rapids area, which is bringing urban and rural interests together to assess local water issues, set goals and priorities for thoughtful action, monitor progress and educate citizens. Unfortunately, Iowa has very little funding to support this kind of exemplary work. The Trust could help support such initiatives.
Water quality, natural resource protection and eco-tourism are important to urban and rural economies across Iowa. Unlike other proposals, the Trust is set up to be flexible to address priority needs in different areas of the state such as nitrates in drinking water, bacteria in streams, toxic algae in lakes or flooding.
It's time for our legislators to lead the way to a healthier, wealthier Iowa. We have a responsibility to leave a legacy of productive land and clean water across the state that we can proudly pass on to future generations. Iowans are asking public officials to fund the Trust. Now, it's up to the state's leaders to listen and act.
' Ann Robinson, Iowa Environmental Council Agricultural Policy Specialist, was raised on a diversified century farm in Missouri, and helped manage a small farm in northeast Iowa for several years. She has degrees in agricultural journalism and natural resources planning, and has worked for private conservation groups, Extension and state government. Comments: Robinson@iaenvironment.org