116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A recently released survey by Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development found that most Iowans support providing funding to deal with water pollution issues. But there’s a clear disconnect between the general public and farmers over who is causing the problem and who should pay for cleanup.
The web/mail survey was completed by 858 members of the general public across Iowa and by 493 farmers who live in the Raccoon River and Boone River watersheds in central Iowa. Just 32 percent of general public surveyed believes Iowa’s water quality is good or very good, compared to 55 percent of farmers.
Two-thirds of the public surveyed said they see reducing nutrients such as nitrates and phosphorus in Iowa’s waterways as very important or extremely important, compared to 43 percent of farmers. Although half of the public sees lake algae blooms fueled by excess nutrients as harmful, just 30 percent of farmers agree.
Sixty percent of the public see agriculture as the primary source of excess nutrients in lakes compared to 32 percent of farmers. Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the state’s blueprint for reducing pollutants, says 90 percent of nitrates and more than 60 percent of phosphorus in Iowa waters come from agricultural operations. Its assessment has been widely accepted for the better part of a decade.
Asked how to pay for efforts to keep polluted runoff out of Iowa waterways, 52 percent of the public surveyed picked a special tax on fertilizer. The most popular pick among farmers, drawing the support of just more than 30 percent, is a recreation fee.
We’re heartened by the survey’s findings that show Iowans clearly understand the state has a water quality problem. They don’t want our lakes tainted by toxic algae blooms fed by fertilizer. They also know what the primary source of the problem is and chose a logical way to help fund nutrient reduction. All good news.
Farm fertilizer is not subject to sales taxes in Iowa. Applying the sales tax could raise more than $100 million annually, according to a 2019 analysis by Common Good Iowa. Iowa also has the option of increasing a per-ton tax on fertilizer approved as part of the Groundwater Protection Act in 1987.
A recreation fee to pay for pollution mitigation puts the onus on Iowans harmed by pollution, not the polluters themselves. That doesn’t make sense.
What would make far more sense is having elected leaders who listen to all Iowans when it comes to our water, not just a shortlist of agricultural organizations and interests that want to sustain the status quo. Iowans clearly want action, not just more dirty water.
(319) 398-8262; firstname.lastname@example.org