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Good First Step or Not Nearly Enough? Differing Opinions on Newly Signed Water Quality Bill

DES MOINES, Iowa -- A drop in the bucket, or a solid piece of legislation to stand on?

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get varied opinions on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ first piece of legislation.

Signed on Wednesday, the water quality bill provides 282 million dollars to water quality programs over the next 12 years which both farmers and municipalities will have access to.

Both supporters and opponents of the bill agree that more needs to be done to improve water quality in the state, but they differ on whether this particular bill is the right starting point.

“It provides some money, but it doesn't do all of the things you would want a serious plan to do” said Des Moines City Councilman Josh Mandelbaum.

Mandelbaum, who also works for the Environmental Law and Policy center, says one of his main concerns is the bill doesn't really outline a way to tell if is effective.

“It doesn't have sufficient water quality monitoring, it doesn't have goals, or benchmarks, or timelines, so it's going to be very hard to know if this is working” said Mandelbaum.

Mandelbaum says that even though 282 million sounds impressive, spread out over 12 years, it doesn't provide the resources farmers need.

“The nutrient reduction strategy talks about how we have 600,000 acres in cover crops, which sounds like a lot, but when we put that in context, that same plan says to get the results we want we need 10-14 million acres in cover crops; and this is in large part a drop in the bucket” he said.

Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill, on other hand, says this bill is a good start, and framework to build on in the future.

“This adds additional incentive, additional leverage, and that's what we're looking for from the State of Iowa; some extra leverage that we can add to what we're already spending in agriculture. We can add to dollars that are already spent by the federal government, through the NRCS, USDA and other programs.

Hill says that even though the bill doesn't have systems to monitor progress or set goals, they won't just be spending the money and then calling it a day.

“The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy has an annual report that we'll rely on to see and measure progress, but it might not be the end all” he said.

In the future, Hill says that farmers will need to employ every tactic they have to provide cleaner water downstream, but it will take time.

“We need to look at those practices that are put on the landscape, on the land, in-field practices, edge of field practices, additional wetlands, terraces, you know all the things that we're making efforts on today need to be advanced.

Mandelbaum believes future legislation needs to be more targeted, currently the funds the bill provide will be available to anyone state-wide.

“There will be different solutions in different watersheds, but we need people at the local level. We need practices in place within the watershed, and we need people who can plan and prioritize so the dollars that are being invested go to the places where they'll have the biggest impact” said Mandelbaum.

Mandelbaum is also concerned that the funding for this bill comes from gaming and a water tax, not its own dedicated fund.