water quality

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey joins Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Gov. Terry Branstad at the administration's weekly news conference on Monday to announced new water-quality improvement projects in 12 Iowa urban areas.

Rod Boshart, TIMES BUREAU

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad announced 12 new urban conservation projects Monday he and others said are examples of the kind of progress needed to develop best practices that ultimately will help improve the quality of Iowa’s water.

Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said the demonstration projects will receive $820,840 in state funding that will go along with nearly $1.18 million in matching funds, as well as other in-kind contributions. to support water quality improvement efforts.

The projects join 45 demonstrations — including 22 urban projects — already in place.

More than 150 organizations are participating in these projects, providing $25.28 million to accompany the $16.09 million in state funding going to these projects, Northey said. More than $340 million in state and federal funds have been directed to programs with water quality benefits in Iowa last year.

“We have a lot of work to do but we have a very strong foundation that has been laid over the last several years. It’s important to take the next steps,” said Northey, who joined Branstad and Reynolds at a weekly news conference. “We’ve been building the base.”

All three held out hope the Legislature would commit additional investments to water-quality initiatives yet this session.

“We know this is a long-term problem that we need to address, and by having a growing source of funding, we think we can speed up the progress that’s being made,” Branstad said.

He has thrown his support behind an Iowa House plan that won bipartisan support last session that proposed to shift $478 million over 13 years to water quality projects from a water-metering tax and the gambling-funded state infrastructure account. There are bills dealing with water quality improvements eligible for consideration this year.

Also Monday, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, offered what he called a revenue-neutral approach to funding the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Fund approved by voters in 2010. The ballot measure called for devoting the first three-eighths of any new sales tax penny to funding the trust.

Kaufmann’s plan, called the Water, Infrastructure, Soil for our Economy water quality solution, seeks to increase Iowa’s sales tax by three-eighths of a percent over the next three years while offsetting the increase with an adjustment to the income tax filing threshold “by zeroing out the lowest tax brackets” proportionally to the increase in sales tax.

“This is a sensible, balanced approach to finally combat Iowa’s pervasive water quality issues while not raising the overall tax pie for Iowans,” Kaufmann said in a statement.

The bill requires a minimum 60 percent of trust fund dollars go to proven water quality solutions outlined in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, with annual reviews by the state auditor ensuring the dollars are going to the voluntary, non-regulatory compliance. No funds can be used for condemning property.

“This will put Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy into overdrive,” Kaufmann said. “The need is there. The desire to fix water quality exists. This provides the funding to get the job done.”

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