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Iowa State University will continue to help fund water sensors
GOP budget shifted $500K from Nutrient Research Center to agriculture agency
Iowa State University will continue to help fund water quality sensors on Iowa’s rivers and streams, despite a budget cut by the Iowa Legislature.
The Nutrient Research Center likely will lose $500,000 — one-third of its previous state appropriation of about $1.5 million — for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The cut came in Senate File 558, the natural resources and agriculture budget passed by both the Iowa House and Senate. The governor is expected to sign it.
Rather than back out of a commitment to allocate money to the University of Iowa, which administers about 70 sensors that measure nitrate in Iowa’s rivers and streams, Nutrient Center leadership announced this week they will take on some of the losses at ISU rather than zero out support for the sensors, which feed data to the Iowa Water Quality Information System.
“The Iowa Water Quality Information System is an important tool for monitoring water quality in the state and tracking the effectiveness of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” Center Director Matt Helmers said in an email Thursday.
“The Iowa Nutrient Research Center intends to continue its support of the sensor network, but will not be able to maintain the same level of funding due to recent budget cuts.”
The sensor network received $375,000 from the Nutrient Research Center this year. The center committed earlier this year to boost UI’s share to $500,000 for the sensor network and related programs.
Now, because of the budget cut, the center will reduce the UI’s funding to $295,000 for next year and $250,000 the following year, according to Larry Weber, a UI engineering professor and director of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering.
“We’re glad to keep the sensor network running,” he said.
The UI plans to seek private money for the sensors, he said. “We’ve had a number of individuals, foundations and others express interested in funding us.”
Weber said he was glad the Nutrient Research Center was willing to absorb some of the state cuts rather than slashing all funding for the sensor network.
“It’s my sense that Iowa State chose to make a uniform cut across their program and that seemed like the fair thing to do,” he said.
The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan called for Iowa and other Midwest states to cut nitrogen and phosphorus loads in the Mississippi River by 45 percent. To do that, Iowa developed a Nutrient Reduction Strategy that requires water treatment plants to make improvements and asks farmers to implement voluntary conservation practices.
Iowa Democrats criticized the Republican budget plan that scooped $500,000 from the Nutrient Research Center and gave it to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
“Since the Nutrient Reduction Strategy has been adopted, there has been an assiduous effort to minimize the amount of accountability we have for that spending,” Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said in April. “This fits a pattern we’ve seen over the last decade.”
A Republican budget proposal in 2017 would have cut state funding to the Iowa Flood Center, created by the Legislature in 2009 in response to major Eastern Iowa flooding in 2008. The Flood Center, housed at the UI, shares some staff and a building with water quality monitoring efforts. Most of that funding was restored when the UI pointed out the cut would jeopardize a major federal grant.
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