Water bill: ISA says new bill is 'nibbling around the edges'

     Funding for water quality approved Jan. 23 by the Iowa Legislature is a step forward in advancing Iowa’s nutrient reduction goals.

     But Senate File 512 represents a timid response to a vital need for establishing widespread, sustained and measurable progress on an issue important to farmers and all Iowans, says the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

     “It’s nibbling around the edges of what’s truly needed,” remarked ISA CEO Kirk Leeds. “While some additional funding continues to point us in the right direction, it doesn’t get us too much further down the road in achieving the kind of results we all know are attainable and necessary.

     “We’ll take the governor at her word,” Leeds added, “that the legislature’s action today ignites a much more constructive and reality-based conversation and approach for achieving goals established in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

     Leeds’ reference was to comments delivered by Gov. Kim Reynolds in her Condition of the State address earlier this month. Iowa’s 43rd chief executive pledged that passage of any new funding would “ignite the conversation” about ways to scale up water quality practices.

     The bill’s passage makes that conversation more important than ever. It would reallocate tax money currently going to Iowa's state budget while dipping into the state’s existing infrastructure fund. Annual approval of more than $20 million in funding could be challenging during years when the state budget is pressured. And it only references the importance of planning and partnerships rather than developing the blueprint for fully implementing the nutrient reduction strategy.

     “We look forward to picking up where this legislation leaves off,” said Roger Wolf, director of ISA’s Environmental Programs & Services. “The legislation puts some fuel in the tank but doesn’t provide the horsepower needed to ramp up the pace and scale of practices proven to have a positive and measurable impact on water quality.”

     Wolf said the ISA, in partnership with other rural, urban, agriculture and environmental stakeholders, has been actively engaged in funding and conducting in-field research on thousands of acres involving hundreds of farmers.

     Knowledge gained from nearly two decades of work and investment underscores the association’s continued call for a “watershed approach” to tackling the bipartisan goal of improving water and soil quality.

     “Increased funding is just one piece of a much larger effort,” Wolf said. “Watershed planning and implementation follow a simple philosophy: plan the work, work the plan.

     “In addition to state funding, real and long-term improvements in water quality will require the shared involvement of rural and urban stakeholders. It will also demand identifying and unleashing new and impactful sources of financing above and beyond what the state can provide.”

     The ISA and soybean farmers will continue to press the merits of the watershed approach to the governor and lawmakers.

     “There’s no shortcut to success on an issue this complex,” Leeds added. “And there’s no victory in trying to fund this work year-over-year from a declining general fund.

     “For those truly serious about long-term and measurable improvement and accountability on water quality, then the watershed approach must be part of the discussion and implementation. We welcome the challenge and the opportunities it provides for farmers and all Iowans.”



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