Jan 3, 2022 - News

Environmental and political leaders push to clean Iowa water

A photo of a man taking a water sample from a Des Moines river.
Des Moines Water Works employee Bill Blubaugh takes a water sample from the Raccoon River in June of last year. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

Significantly more water cleanup efforts are possible in Iowa in 2022 thanks in part to the state's $1.24 billion budget surplus, multiple environmental advocates told Axios.

  • Yes, but: Public advocacy is crucial in the upcoming legislative session that starts next week, they said.

Why it matters: Without action, long-term economic, environmental and social problems are on the horizon, Jennifer Zwagerman, the director of Drake University's Agriculture Law Center, said.

  • The Raccoon River, which supplies much of the metro's water, is one of the "most endangered" in the nation because of pollution, according to an American Rivers report released last year.

Driving the news: More than 15 farmer and environmental groups have joined a coalition to advocate for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which was created more than a decade ago but hasn't yet received funding.

Catch up fast: 63% of Iowa voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 in support of a statewide natural resources initiative.

  • The first 3/8 of a future one-cent sales tax increase must go to the trust fund.

Of note: Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed a one-cent sales tax increase in 2020 to pay for the fund, increase mental health care and help reduce income taxes.

  • The plan didn't win legislative support but she has continued to call for water quality improvements, including a $75 million grant program that was unveiled last month.

By the numbers: Iowa could reduce overall taxes while simultaneously funding the trust, Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) director Brian Campbell told Axios.

  • Iowa's got more than $2 billion in surplus or taxpayer relief funds, the largest in the state's history.
  • The trust would cost Iowans about $220 million a year, according to sales tax collections recorded in the most recently completed fiscal year.

The bottom line: The IEC, the largest environmental coalition in the state, estimated in 2019 that a voluntary clean water program would take hundreds of thousands of years to achieve the desired goals.

What's next: Reynolds and other lawmakers will attend the Iowa Capitol Press Association Pre-Legislative Session Forum Tuesday to discuss policy and budget priorities.

  • The IEC will preview its legislative priorities on Wednesday.
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