‘Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” is a somewhat famous quote by Charles Dudley Warner. It appears that Iowa’s water quality is similar to the weather. It has received a lot of lip service over my career, but little real effort to do anything about it.
Don’t think there is a problem? Consider this: In a recent study by IIHR — Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa entitled, “Iowa Stream Nitrate and the Gulf of Mexico,” Iowa was found to comprise 21 percent of the land area, but is responsible for 45 percent of nitrate-nitrogen pollution that flows into the Mississippi River. In the Missouri River watershed, Iowa comprises only 3.3 percent of the land area, yet is responsible for 55 percent of the nitrate-nitrogen polluting the Missouri River. These are not numbers that should make Iowans proud. We are overachievers in contributing to the hypoxia problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Definitely not the famed “Iowa nice” we frequently hear mentioned. We can do better, but it will take effort and money to make a difference.
We Iowans have already approved a plan to start to address this serious problem. In 2010, Iowans voted by a 63 percent majority to implement Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) and establish a constitutionally protected trust fund to accomplish several goals.
So what’s the problem? It passed, right?
Correct, but the problem is that the Iowa Legislature has yet to take action to begin funds flowing to the trust fund through a sales tax increase of 3/8 of 1 percent. Inaction continues to cost Iowan’s in terms of the water in rivers and streams and sends our nitrogen downstream to the Gulf of Mexico. Along with Linn County residents passing the Linn County Water and Land Legacy bond by a 72 percent majority in 2016 to address local water quality and land protection as well as park and trail improvements, there are others interested in doing something.
The Eastern Iowa Airport recently announced the Wings2Water program. This initiative is the brainchild of The Eastern Iowa Airport Director Marty Lenss. His idea is to let people address the funding shortfall by giving people an opportunity to contribute to a water quality solution. When signing into the airport’s Wi-Fi, travelers using The Eastern Iowa Airport will watch a short video about Wings2Water and may contribute toward the solution. Initial funding through Wings2Water will help accomplish four local projects in Johnson and Linn Counties.
Efforts such as Wings2Water are important in moving the needle in terms of water quality; however, approving funds for IWILL still is needed. In addition to improved water quality, Iowans also will benefit in other ways from the investment.
Public Health — It has been well-documented that children and adults are healthier when they interact with nature. Outdoor recreation provides opportunities for Iowans to improve their health while recreating in the outdoors. The Iowa Board of Health recently passed a resolution in support of funding IWILL. The resolution discusses the health benefits related to contact with nature.
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Rural revitalization and Economic Development — Many rural communities are struggling to survive. The quality of life in a community can make the difference between thriving and struggling to survive. Investments in outdoor amenities and trails can help contribute to both urban and rural communities’ economic vitality. Iowa’s outdoor recreation and tourism industries contribute an estimated $8 billion dollars to Iowa’s economy which can breathe new life into rural communities.
Trails — Trails have become an important and valued quality of life amenity. In many states, the respective state park or natural resource agency manages trails statewide. In Iowa, cities and counties build and manage trails. Once in place, trails become very busy and appreciated recreation destinations and contribute to improved quality of life for communities. IWILL has funds identified for trail construction and management.
There are many reasons Iowa will benefit from investing in our environment. We can be part of the water quality solution and start to enhance Iowa’s future and improve the quality of life for Iowans. The time is now for Iowa’s legislature to act and implement IWILL funding.
Dennis Goemaat is executive director of Linn County Conservation.