Published with permission from the Spring 2018 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.
As a Democratic candidate to succeed Senator Bob Dvorsky, I’ve spent the last four months traveling all over Johnson, Cedar, and Muscatine Counties listening to voters and in April, my campaign will visit every single community in District 37. Many of the top issues I hear about are what I expected — our beleaguered health care system, devastating education cuts, the assault on workers’ rights. Beyond these “kitchen table” issues,
however, there is no set of issues I am asked about more frequently than protecting our natural resources.
I’m best known for my speech about marriage equality to the Iowa legislature, which turned me into an overnight activist for same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights in our state. At the time I gave that speech, however, I was a civil and environmental engineering student at the University of Iowa hoping to work in either the renewable energy industry or environmental protection.
As an Eagle Scout, I developed a deep commitment to leaving the world a better place than we found it. That commitment led me to environmental engineering and then, when given the opportunity, to continue my advocacy for families all, over Iowa. And now, we all have a commitment to fight for tomorrow’s families, too, and making sure that we leave our state in better shape than we found it. Part of the challenge is that “better shape” has often been a moving target.
Because we are always learning more about how our actions affect our environment, what seemed “normal” or “better” five or ten (or fifty) years ago may be understood differently
today. But solving problems means a willingness to update how we see the world. Changing our worldview and our practices can be exceptionally difficult, but we owe it to each other and to future generations to do this work.
We need an updated approach to resource management that values the health and prosperity of our communities and makes sure future generations have the same opportunities as past generations. Specifically, we need new strategies and solutions
to water quality, climate change, air quality, clean energy, and mitigating the impact of concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs.
Early in 2018, the legislature passed a $280 million water quality bill, which sounds like a lot. But experts I’m speaking with at the University of Iowa believe this is at least a $4
billion problem. The Republican solution is a drop in the water quality bucket. In 2014, the Iowa DNR reported that 80% of our water bodies could be impaired and in need of clean up under the Clean Water Act.
A better water quality plan should establish a dedicated funding source for larger investments without taking the money from our schools and other infrastructure projects, include monitoring efforts to track water quality progress, and foster partnerships within Iowa watersheds to encourage Iowans to work together toward a cooperative vision for cleaner water.
There should be no doubt that climate change is among the greatest threats facing future generations. Iowa will experience increased frequency of extreme weather events like the 2008 Floods. These events will impact our agricultural productivity, economic development, and public health. To address these threats, Iowa must help communities identify their climate-change vulnerabilities, invest in infrastructure improvements that
promote preparedness and resilience to extreme weather events, and maintain our position as an international leader in wind energy production while expanding that leadership to solar energy production as well.
Today, far too many Iowans worry about the levels of nitrates in their tap water or rely on private wells that may be contaminated with bacteria or arsenic. Many others live near
concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and fear health effects from the air they breathe. Iowa needs a stronger and fully funded DNR for reliable oversight and enforcement of environmental protections. We also need more dedicated resources for
smaller water systems and private well owners to improve access to clean and safe drinking water at every tap. To overhaul the process for CAFO siting and permitting, we need to update the DNR’s Master Matrix to better integrate environmental protections and address the concerns of affected communities.
Natural resources are a critical pillar of Iowa’s social foundation — the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil with which we grow our food. It’s that same social foundation
that the Iowa Republicans are dismantling in the legislature.
We must balance our obligations to feed the world with our responsibility to future generations of Iowans. It is our responsibility to do our best.
A renewed foundation starts with fully funding water quality efforts, preparing for a changing climate, and continuing to invest in wind and solar energy. Clean, renewable
energy is both good for environment and our economy.
It’s our state. It’s our responsibility to take care of it.
–Zach Wahls lives in Coralville and is running for the Iowa
Senate, District 37.