Contacts: Rep. Chuck Isenhart (563-599-8839) Rep. Marti Anderson (515-360-2397)
A new state clean water commission funded by a partnership between taxpayers and farm commodity producers will be the focus of a bill to be introduced this session by two state legislators.
State Rep. Chuck Isenhart of Dubuque and State Rep. Marti Anderson of Des Moines presented the framework for an “Iowa Clean Water Partnership Plan” to the Iowa’s Soil and Water Future Task Force sponsored by Capital Crossroads on February 25.
Isenhart and Anderson participated in the task force meetings as state legislators.
“We offer the proposal in response to the task force’s challenge to come up with sufficient, permanent and dedicated funding for clean water plans and practices to effectively leverage federal resources,” Anderson explained.
“We suggest the creation of a clean water commission as the vehicle to achieve the task force’s key recommendations,” Isenhart continued. “These recommendations include identifying watersheds of greatest need that are ready for action, directing funds through watershed management authorities empowered to bring stakeholders together for planning at the local level, developing monitoring and measurement systems, providing for transparency and public reporting, as well as engaging the private sector to supplement public sector outreach and action.”
The commission would be supported by the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources, but would not have regulatory authority. That would remain with the Environmental Protection Commission.
“The task force observed that fixing and maintaining our state’s water quality will require a commitment similar to the investments we make in roads and bridges,” Isenhart noted.
“This is the basis for our plan to establish a Clean Water Commission, modeled on the set-up and processes of the Transportation Commission, which is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.”
Under the proposal, a Clean Water Fund to be held by the state treasurer would receive water quality check-off assessments approved by commodity groups via voluntary referenda of producers.
The monies would be matched dollar for dollar by a standing appropriation of state funds. If the legislature and governor fail to approve funds or take funding back, then any water quality checkoff assessments by commodity groups would be suspended. Individual producers would be able to seek checkoff refunds for approved conservation practices installed on their own land.
The largest checkoff programs are run by corn, soybean and pork producers. Money is used by the groups for research, education and industry promotion. If producer groups approve water quality checkoffs at even half the level of existing checkoffs, up to $80 million a year could flow into the clean water fund, once the private money is matched by state taxpayers.
Some of the money could be dedicated by the Clean Water Commission to the Iowa Finance Authority, where it can be used to maximize the impact of federal water quality funding.
“Bottom line, the General Assembly needs to get serious and triple-down on our commitment to fix our impaired waterways,” according to Isenhart and Anderson. The two have offered to sit down with any group to explain their proposal and receive suggestions for improvement.
“The task force led by Steve Bruere, Larry James and the folks at the Greater Des Moines Partnership has moved the discussion forward in a number of key areas, including the need to scale up our efforts on watershed basis,” Isenhart and Anderson said. “We need to move from demonstration projects to wide-scale implementation. The task force deserves an ambitious, pro-active response from legislators, and that is what we are offering.
“Water quality problems in Iowa require all hands on deck,” they continued. “The effort may be voluntary, but it can’t be optional. For the most part, the Legislature has been AWOL, and we want to change that. Thank you to Iowa’s Soil and Water Future Task Force for challenging us to step up to the plate.
“We need to treat our lakes, streams and other waterways like we treat our roads: worthy of massive investment, to access not only the economic benefits, the health benefits, the benefits to nature, but also the quality of life benefits that make Iowa so attractive to residents and visitors alike. We need to do more, we need to do it better, and we need to do it faster.
“Simply put, we can retain our young people or attract workers to our state only when we make clean water one of our top priorities. Time to stop skipping the rock down the stream. Time instead to roll up our sleeves and the legs of our pants and get to work.”