Water quality in Iowa is so bad that any new initiative to improve our waters is probably a good thing. That said, Iowa farm groups’ new initiative to take action on agricultural pollution of our waters comes with a troubling rollout.
Making the announcement with Governor Branstad not only politicizes water quality, something that should be above politics, but masks the governor’s own decision this year to delay action.
The Governor’s veto of $11 million for water quality — funding passed by a divided legislature — makes an important statement about water quality. In addition, the governor also vetoed $9 million in funding for the REAP program, which is used by counties and cities to acquire and protect natural areas and to preserve Iowa’s environment.
Twenty percent of REAP goes to farmers to improve soil and water practices. If you are promoting a voluntary system to reduce nutrient runoff, shouldn’t you make sure farmers have resources to put sensible measures into practice?
The new group established to improve water quality needs to be taken seriously by the environmental community and by all Iowans. But this rollout does not engender trust.
The Iowa Policy Project recently released a report on water quality in Iowa. [See A Threat Unmet: Why Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy Falls Short Against Water Pollution] We showed that the addition of six new policies to the state’s new Nutrient Reduction Strategy would make it possible for the strategy to succeed.
One of those policies is the kind of effort the new farm group plans to push — bringing attention to the problem. A second policy is more funding, and farm group muscle could improve the chances in the Legislature. However, even if the Legislature acts, as in the 2014 session, legislation still has to get by a governor’s veto.
Maybe the best starting place to build broad support would be to invite an environmental group to the table, rather than a politician in the middle of a heated campaign. We know plenty who could help.