Because of the feud over the way the Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulates the state’s farming industry, a bill making its way through one statehouse committee would designate a new employee in the governor’s office as the point person in state government for water quality regulation.
The bill has the backing of the Iowa Farm Bureau, which complains there is a lack of coordination today between the DNR and the Iowa Department of Agriculture, which also has some water-quality functions. A so-called "watershed counselor" in the governor’s office would then name a scientific advisory council to adopt water quality standards for farmers — standards that could not be tougher than federal regulations.
Georgia Van Gundy is the Iowa Farm Bureau’s state policy advisor. Van Gundy says there hasn’t been "that great a communication or coordination" between the DNR and Ag Department. "From our members’ perspective, they want to know what they can do to help clean up the water," Van Gundy says. "A lot of times the research and technology may not be out there (and) they don’t know what to do."
"One of the things you hear is that Iowa ranks last as far as water quality. Well, there are 34 other states that have more impaired waters than the state of Iowa does." But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and some environmental groups oppose the bill because it would force the state’s Environmental Protection Commission to adopt whatever standards are approved by the governor’s "scientific advisory council."
Wayne Gieselman, administrator of the DNR’s environmental division, says the Farm Bureau’s main intent is to weaken the state’s Environmental Protection Commission. Gieselman says it’s another layer of government and he doesn’t expect such a set up to produce better water quality in this state."
"There is no doubt that some of the decisions our commission has made have been upsetting to some of the farm groups," Gieselman says. "…This is a message that our commission needs to work a little bit closer with farm and commodity groups."
Environmental groups are lining up against the bill. Roy Overton is with the Issac Walton League. "I’m not against having a good water commission that will study all these things…the problem is from the way I read that bill — environmentalists, conservations were not included," he says. Senate Democrats say they’re listening to the complaints and promise the bill will be scrapped unless major changes are made.