Capitol Comments, March 17, 2016

The time for improving Iowa’s water quality is now. Over the last few months the subject of water quality continued to arise as a result of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, as well as Governor Branstad’s water quality initiative. Some of the major topics revolve around strategies to improve flood mitigation, erosion prevention, and nutrient reduction.

The benefits from implementing a comprehensive water quality strategy are many. Flood mitigation will help protect communities from the continual threat of high water levels. Erosion prevention, along with nutrient reduction will help to mitigate high levels of nitrogen and phosphate in Iowa’s streams and waterways.

We can implement conservation projects that will protect precious topsoil to ensure productive agriculture and a strong economic foundation for generations to come.

Given the Governor’s focus on water quality this year along with the fact that many of us in the legislature want to see progress on this issue, the political environment seems poised to move forward. We in the House Democratic Caucus sense a real opportunity to do something meaningful in the current legislative session.

The Democrats in the House of Representatives want to work with our colleagues across the aisle and in the Senate in a bipartisan manner. To that end, we support a plan that meets the following criteria:

First, while we applaud the Governor for proposing a plan and bringing attention to the matter, there is no need to use funds that were intended for schools. No Democrat in Iowa is interested in the Governor’s plan to use education dollars to fund water quality. Rather, we will seek to utilize the existing $25 million in revenue from water utility bills to fund water quality projects. This revenue will then be dedicated to a revolving loan fund that will award loans to worthy cost-share projects in the state. By structuring in such a manner, this program will provide the ability to pull down Federal dollars, which have not yet been taken advantage of. Using this existing revenue source prevents new taxes, in addition to distributing the financial burden.

Second, we support a water quality plan that empowers local jurisdictions. Communities and land owners know better than anyone how to improve their watersheds. In order to have a meaningful impact on the health of Iowa’s waterways, we need the buy-in of the existing stewards and stakeholders. By allowing local leaders to design and propose their own projects, we know the projects will be supported by local communities, and focused on addressing the needs of the key stakeholders that are most affected.

Third, we need a comprehensive approach that considers not the political boundaries of district, but the geographical realty of Iowa’s watersheds. While Iowa’s county boundaries resemble a grid with straight lines and right angles, the state’s waterways meander on courses determined by nature, not man. Our focus must be based on science and actual realities of the landscape. Accordingly, a viable plan must empower affected jurisdictions to form watershed-based partnerships that encourage project synergy, and integration throughout a particular watershed.

The time to lead on water is now. Iowans have never shied away from a challenge, and we need to act now to ensure the long-term health of our state’s waterways.

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