It’s long been recognized that Iowa is a major, possibly the leading, contributor of nutrient pollution that causes the “dead zone” off the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa adopted a Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) several years ago that proposed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads leaving the state by 45 percent by 2035. Some good conservation work has been done since the NRS was adopted. About 888,000 acres of cover crops were planted in 2018 — more than ever before.
The NRS calls for 12.5 million acres, though. With only 15 years to go, less than 10 percent of the hoped for cover crop acres are being planted. Some wetlands have been restored or newly created. The NRS calls for the runoff from 5 to 10 million acres of land to be treated by passage through a wetland, one of nature’s best water purification systems. Currently, only 104,000 acres are being treated through wetlands; well less than 2 percent of what’s needed to meet the NRS goals. The dead zone in the Gulf is sadly as large as ever.
Current levels of private and public investment in needed conservation practices cannot come even close to reaching the goals established by the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
Ten years ago the people of Iowa voted overwhelmingly to create a dedicated Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Trust Fund through the adoption of a 3/8 cent increase in the state’s sales tax. That would put Iowa on a more equal footing with several of our neighboring states that already fund their natural resource conservation programs at higher levels through similar measures.
It would provide reliable annual funding for a variety of long-underfunded conservation and recreation programs. It would also allow Iowa to dedicate significantly more funding to meet water quality goals established by the NRS.
Not a cent has been placed in the trust fund since it was created.
Governor Reynolds proposed to include the increased sales tax to allow funding the Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Trust Fund in her budget proposal this year. That’s a big step in the right direction, but it will have to pass the House and Senate to finally become reality.
Many of the programs and projects that would become possible with the new funding are mutually supportive. A Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetland on private land would contribute to improved water quality and reduced flooding while also improving wildlife habitat. An expanded public wildlife management area grassland would contribute to water quality improvement, habitat and improved hunting opportunities. Most things that improve water quality also improve outdoor recreation opportunities like swimming, boating and fishing, all things that also improve our quality of life.
Better cost-share support would encourage and allow more producers to add cover crops, bioreactors, grassed waterways and other conservation practices into their farming operations.
The Iowa Legislature has already passed its first “funnel date.” Bills that didn’t make it through that funnel can’t move forward this year. The legislative year will be over before we know it. Will this be the year that dedicated conservation funding supported so strongly for so long by the people of Iowa becomes reality? Will this be the year that Iowa moves up from near the bottom in state funding for conservation in the nation?
Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy is doomed to fail if it does not receive a great deal more public and private support. Let your legislators know that you support funding the long-overdue Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Trust Fund and wish to see it passed this year.