Rob Hogg

The Iowa Senate had a heated debate Wednesday about the water quality bill Governor Kim Reynolds has pledged to sign into law. A bill that passed the Republican-led Senate last year got final legislative approval in the Iowa House on Tuesday.

Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said the bill fails to target the state money to where it would do the most good and fails to restart the state’s water monitoring program.

“It is a façade. It is not a bill that helps water quality in this state…There is no monitoring, reporting or accountability,” Hogg said yesterday. “If you don’t measure it, you don’t really care about it.”

Senator Jerry Behn, a Republican from Boone, said he’s using conservation tillage practices on his farm.

“The Iowa Soybean Association right now has been monitoring my tile, just exactly to find out what’s good coming out of that stuff, so don’t tell me that I’m not monitoring because I don’t care, “Behn replied. “We are monitoring because we do care.”

Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan, the lone independent in the legislature, said the bill was “bought and paid for by the Farm Bureau.”

“You know I could spit in the Little Sioux River in Spencer and think I made an impact,” Johnson said. “…This isn’t a water quality bill. It falls far short of what this state needs.”

Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull who’s a banker, accused Johnson and other critics of “tramping” on farmers.

“Farmers are good people and the ag economy, it’s the number one economy we have in this state and so I’m standing up here,” Feenstra said. “I’m standing up for the farmers.”

The debate among these legislators happened during a daily “points of personal privilege” period when senators may ask for time to speak on any topic.

The bill’s backers say it will provide $286 million for water quality projects over the next 12 years. However, there’s just a $4 million allotment for next year. Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey expects most of that will be used as incentives to farmers for “edge of field” projects that prevent run-off from cropland.

“That’s the bio-reactors, saturated buffers, nutrient-reduction wetlands,” Northey said during an interview.

Northey told a legislative committee he expects the $4 million in state money to leverage far more in federal funds along with the investments from landowners. As for measuring how voluntary nutrient management is working on farms, Northey said in “a big state with billions of gallons of water moving all the time,” it’s hard to chart progress at “scores” of locations.