Government

Iowa water quality bill gets generally good response

The reflection of the dome of the State Capitol building is seen in a puddle in Des Moines on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (Ad
The reflection of the dome of the State Capitol building is seen in a puddle in Des Moines on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Speakers at a hearing on Iowa water quality legislation were generally supportive of its provisions to establish long-term funding and foster collaborative approaches to reducing pollution and flood threats.

However, a part of House Study Bill 135 that would allow “nutrient exchanges” came under fire from opponents of corporate agriculture.

“This bill does nothing to stop pollution,” Jessica Mazour of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement told a House Agriculture subcommittee Thursday. “It further passes the cost of cleaning up Iowa’s water on the public. We shouldn’t have to subsidize cleaning up the water from the pollution they created.”

“Pollution trading,” as Mazour called the “nutrient exchanges,” does nothing but transfer pollution across the state. If one polluter pollutes less, someone else can pollute more.

However, Tim Whipple of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, said the plan would allow interested parties “to be able to share and work outside the boundaries of a city.” It can be less expensive to invest in upstream improvements that could improve both water quality and flood control than building water and wastewater treatment facilities.

He disagreed with the claim that it shifts pollution and noted the bill requires “measurable and quantifiable reduction” in pollution.

Current monitoring is inadequate to provide those measurements, Mazour said.

The bill is very similar to the legislation approved by the House last year. HSB 135 calls for a $232 million appropriation over 13 years from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) to be administered by the Soil Conservation and Water Quality Division of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The appropriations will grow from $5 million the first year to $22 million a year after 2020.

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It also includes a 6 percent excise tax water sales by water services in the state. Those revenues will go into a water quality fund administered by the Iowa Finance Authority to help pay water quality and wastewater treatment programs for cities and other eligible entities. It will be capped at $500,000 per recipient.

The idea, Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said is that by creating the revolving fund the state can foster collaboration between communities and landowners in a watershed to address both water quality and quantity.

“We want to be flexible and allow everyone to participate to solve water quality problems,” he said.

One of the most attractive aspects of the plan, according to Tim Whipple of the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, is that it would create a permanent source of funding. By utilizing the Finance Authority’s bonding capacity, cities would be able borrow money at a lower cost.

“They’ll make substantial progress sooner,” he said.

A number of business and industry groups endorsed the plan for similar reason because, as John Stineman of the Iowa Chamber Alliance explained, access to low-cost, plentiful water is a key to economic development.

However, Chad Kleppe said Master Builders of Iowa opposed the bill because it would divert RIIF funds that are used to address a variety of infrastructure needs, including the $300 million a year in deferred maintenance costs at state facilities.

Roger Wolf of the Iowa Soybean Association said the legislation recognizes “these are shared problems and they are shared solutions.” By encouraging watershed-wide collaboration, the bill “gives us a road map to improve water quality … and provide the context for how we can grow a finance solution.”

Later, a Senate subcommittee took up Senate Study Bill 1034, Gov. Terry Branstad’s water quality bill.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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