The Des Moines River

The Des Moines River

Republicans in the Iowa House who are crafting a new financing plan for water quality projects are being urged to measure whether the additional money that will be spent is actually cleaning up Iowa’s water.

Mike Delaney, a lobbyist for the Izaak Walton League, says farm chemical run-off has been “terrible” the last couple of years, due to drought as well as torrential rains.

“It is important that we know that the programs that we’re funding on the ground to improve water quality are working,” Delaney says.

The federal government has set a goal of cutting nitrogen and phosphorus run-off from Iowa farm fields nearly in half, to reduce the so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. State officials unveiled a voluntary approach to reach that goal two years ago.

If the state intends to stick with the voluntary approach, Iowa Environmental Council executive director Ralph Rosenberg says there must be some way to measure progress. “We want a report card,” Rosenberg says. “…We want to see some sort of timelines, reasonable timelines.”

Representative Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford who is an architect of the GOP water quality plan, isn’t ready to require tests to determine whether nitrogen levels in Iowa water are declining.

“I think there’s other ways of calculating it than just putting a cup in the water and then going and testing it,” Grassley says.

Grassley suggests the state investment will be a success if it encourages more and more Iowa farmers install earthen barriers to run-off or plant cover crops to retain more water in their fields. Later today, a House committee is scheduled to vote on the water quality plan House Republicans have constructed.