A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers gives Iowa infrastructure a “mediocre” but passing grade and suggests raising taxes to improve water quality and finance improvements to bridges, airports and other critical infrastructure.

“Infrastructure is the foundation of everyday lives,” said Joshua Trygstad, a civil engineer with a consulting firm in Grimes who is president of the ASCE’s Iowa section. “It impacts all parts of how we live, work and play in Iowa.”

Christy VanBuskirk, an engineer from Hedrick, was chair of the group that evaluated 12 different forms of infrastructure and came up with the grades.  She spoke at a news conference this afternoon in Des Moines.

“In 2019, Iowa receives an overall grade of C,” she said. “That is an improvement from the 2015 grade when infrastructure in our state received a C-minute. We’ve made progress in some areas, but we still have a lot of work to do overall.”

The engineers noted many levees in urban areas have been improved over the past decade, but it’s been difficult to get grants to improve levees in rural areas. Aaron Moniza, a civil engineer from Cedar Rapids, said reliable funding for new levee construction as well as improvements to existing systems are essential.

“In many locations, for each dollar spent on flood mitigation in advance of a flood event, multiple dollars are saved that otherwise would be spent on flood recovery efforts,” Moniza said. “Additional study on flood plain hydraulics is also needed to assess the impacts of climate change and infrastructure activities affecting run-off rates and storm water volumes.”

The group also suggests the standards for designing and inspecting levees should be uniform throughout the country. The lowest grade — a D — went to the more than 4000 dams on Iowa rivers and streams. The engineers warn the frequency and severity of flooding means MORE “emergency action plans” must be prepared to deal with the failure of dams, including the locks and dams on the Mississippi River.

The group supports raising the state sales tax to help finance water quality improvements and the civil engineers suggest the state’s gas tax should regularly increase at the rate of inflation.