As Iowa’s water quality needs increase, funding for water quality in Iowa decreases

The information in this post comes courtesy of the Iowa Policy Project–they are good people doing very good work for the people of Iowa.  Please click through to read their complete report.

It is hard to overstate the importance of water in Iowa.  Sadly, it is also hard to overstate the pressures on the quality of water in Iowa, and the effects of poor water quality in Iowa on all the places downstream of us.  The Iowa Policy Project describes it this way:

In a state with almost 90 percent of its land worked for agriculture, it should be of stark concern to Iowa policy makers that the water running through both our agricultural lands and urban landscapes contains excess nutrients, toxic chemicals, and sediments. These pollutants end up in Iowa’s rivers and streams. The impacts upon public health, fishing and other recreational activities, and cleanup and water treatment costs show up not just in Iowa, but all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. There, the nutrients from cornbelt farm fields are creating the area of hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions known as the “Dead Zone,” where sea life cannot live.

Over the last decade-plus, the number of identified impaired waterways and lakes in Iowa have increased dramatically.  This comes both from better identification of impairment as well as continued pressures on our waters.  The map below, courtesy the Iowa Policy Project, highlights this increase.

Growing Impairment of Iowa’s Surface Waters
Impaired Surface Waters Compared, 1998 and 2008

Sadly, under the Branstad administration, the state funds allocated to improve water quality have decreased significantly.  The graph below, again courtesy the Iowa Policy Project, shows state funding on identified water quality projects over the last ten years.

Water Quality Dollars in Selected Programs Fairly Constant, With Declines
Figures in thousands

In short, the good people working to improve the quality in Iowa are forced to try to do so with less funding at the same time that the need for their work is increasing.  Not so good.  The Iowa Policy Project describes the problem this way:

So what does all this mean? At a minimum, the state Legislature would have to restore $5 million in state water quality funding just to move to what it had been during the previous decade. Staff in state agencies who run many programs to protect and enhance water quality have been told to make do with less, and they are in fact trying to make do with a lot less. The DNR and IDALS have not been able to make any significant dent in Iowa’s water quality problems under current funding levels, so to expect improved results with even less is asking a lot.

Hopefully the folks in Des Moines will connect the dots between the improved quality of life and agriculture that come with improved water quality and restore and increase funding for this critical area.


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