The Iowa Farm Bureau continues to press for legislation that would strip the bulk of the state’s water quality programs from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and move them to the Ag Department. The Farm Bureau’s environmental policy advisor, Rick Robinson, says not enough the federal grant money ends up in the hands of farmers.
Robinson says only 42% of the water quality funds are currently used for soil conservation and watershed improvement projects. “These are very popular programs so part of this is getting the funding into the Department of Agriculture where they can be used more efficiently,” Robinson says.
Right now farmers can apply for conservation improvement grants but it’s entirely voluntary. Robinson says some clean water activists want set agriculture back a century. “There are those that do not believe that our voluntary programs can be successful or that they have been successful and they actually want to see agriculture change in ways that fits their lifestyles or their priorities,” Robinson says.
Robinson says Farm Bureau members trust the Department of Agriculture to administer the clean water programs fairly. But the Director of Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Coalition, Mark Langgin, says this bill just moves things around without accomplishing anything. Langgin says the E-P-A will still require the state to use the money for water monitoring and watershed planning.
“We just do not believe that just because you’re shifting four-point-four million dollars out of the department of natural resources to the Department of Agriculture that all of those dollars will immediately end up out on the field,” Langgin says. Langgin points to a letter from the Environmental Protection Commission which cites the D.N.R. for running one of most efficient water quality program in the nation.
Langgin says, “We think that there’s been an effective system over the past few years it’s just historically underfunded. I mean what we’re ultimately doing is just shifting the deck chairs around on the boat.” Langgin says he worries splitting the water quality duties between two separate state agencies will lead to inefficiency.
Legislation transferring authority for the programs has been approved by committees in both the House and Senate but awaits further debate. Both Langgin and Robinson made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “The Exchange.”