Plan to Clean Up Iowa Waterways Heads to Governor; Critics Say It Won’t Make Much Difference

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Iowa lawmakers have argued for the past three years about passing a bill that would help clean up Iowa's rivers, lakes and streams. Tuesday, they passed a bill. But the arguments continue.

House lawmakers dumped the bipartisan plan they passed last session on water quality and instead approved the bill the senate passed last year. Tuesday's agreement means lawmakers will divert money that went to the general fund through a water excise tax, along with gambling revenues that funded building projects. That money will now go to conservation and protection efforts to keep pollutants out of the water and prevent soil erosion.

The money will add up to $282 million over the next 12 years. Supporters say there had been a waiting list of farmers who wanted to participate in current efforts like planting cover crops and using buffer strips in parts of their land to protect water and soil. This bill will mean more available dollars to do that and allow more farmers to get involved. "Provides long-term and sustainable funding," Representative John Wills, a Spirit Lake Republican who floor managed the bill."

Wills assured other lawmakers that this bill would only be the beginning. Afterwards, he declined to say to WHO-TV what additional water quality efforts the house would pursue and said members are still trying to figure that out.

Democrats contend the bill won't do enough to make a real difference.

The bill passed 59-41. And while it was primarily Republican-supported, some Democrats did join in supporting it. Several Republicans did oppose.

Representative Chip Baltimore--a Boone Republican who got stripped Monday as chair of the Judiciary Committee by the house speaker following his drunk driving arrest last Friday--offered a scathing criticism of his own party's leadership on the bill. "I don’t know about all of you but I didn’t come down here to check a box," he said of the bill, "I think it’s a failure of leadership and it lacks integrity and it goes backward."

Baltimore had led the house alternative version last year and pointed out how overwhelmingly that bill passed with 78 of the 100 members supporting it.

Wills said after Tuesday's vote that he and Baltimore talked and Baltimore congratulated him for his work managing the bill on the floor. He said nothing critical of what Baltimore had to say.

The bill now goes to Governor Kim Reynolds for her signature.