Water Quality: An Iowa Priority?
Drops in the Bucket
News Release: The Erosion of Iowa Water Quality Funding


Read report or download 9-page PDF

IOWA CITY, Iowa (March 1, 2012) — Iowa lawmakers are $5 million behind water-quality funding trends of the last decade, despite greater needs for water protection and public willingness to fund it.

Even as awareness of impaired waters has grown, a new report from the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP) found that seven of the 10 state-managed programs in water protection actually declined in state funding over the span of a decade.

“Lawmakers' choices appear to contradict what Iowa voters said 17 months ago when they passed a constitutional amendment to set aside funds for water enhancement,” said Will Hoyer, an IPP research associate. “But our findings illustrate why voters want better funding.

“Funding and action go hand in hand. Iowa's commitment to water quality can't help eroding when it is inadequately funded,” said Hoyer, who co-authored the new report with IPP Executive Director David Osterberg and IPP intern Brian McDonough.

Osterberg noted lawmakers, at a minimum, would have to restore $5 million in state funding to get back to average water quality spending over the last decade.

“State water-quality staff are trying to make do with a lot less. To expect improved results is asking too much,” Osterberg said.

In November 2010, voters approved a natural resources trust fund to be funded by a share of the next increase in the sales tax.

“Sixty-three percent of Iowans favored this, and at the same time we are seeing increased working of the land, which can exacerbate water issues. We also have a better understanding of the magnitude of those problems because in some cases we're making a more concerted effort to look for the problems,” Osterberg said.

“Our commitment is woefully lacking and there are few signs our state policy makers want to do something about it.”

The report found bright spots in the interest of farmers to do more, as their demand for soil conservation programs exceeds what the Division of Soil Conservation is able to fund.

“Iowa’s waters are not a lost cause,” the report stated. “They can be improved with consistent and adequate funding. The shining example of this is the turnaround of trout streams in northeast Iowa.”

There, the authors said, targeted watershed improvements have contributed to 36 streams now naturally reproducing trout, compared to as few as five in the 1980s.

“These improvements took time to see but they also took a significant investment of public dollars. To believe that waters across the state could see those sorts of improvements with a decreasing budget is simply wishful thinking,” the report said.

“Without the Legislature appropriating additional dollars or a new source of funding, such as the voter-approved trust fund, Iowa waterways will continue to be plagued with problems that limit Iowans’ ability to get out and enjoy them.”

The Iowa Policy Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization based in Iowa City. IPP reports are online at www.iowapolicyproject.org, and IPP staff perspectives may be found at www.iowapolicypoints.org.

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