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Who (or what) will? - IWILL

March 4, 2018
Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I have written about IWILL before. It is the acronym for Iowa's Water And Land Legacy.

I believe it is time to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund so that the residents of Grundy County, surrounding counties all of Iowa can reap the benefits this will provide our soil, water and wildlife.

Many Iowans seem to have forgotten how long it's been since this viable alternative for conservation funding was proposed. It's worth reminding people that bipartisan work began on a way to sustainably fund conservation work in Iowa way back in 2006 when the legislature appointed the Sustainable Funding Advisory Committee. The committee was broad-based with urban and rural input. It included some of the top people of the day in conservation, education, agriculture and industry. Their work led to the legislature twice voting (2008 and 2009) to place a referendum on the ballot to allow the people of Iowa to create a dedicated trust fund for conservation if that's what they wanted. The people overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment that did exactly that in 2010. The issue passed with 63% of the vote, indicating strong statewide bipartisan support.

But the legislature has never allowed the 3/8 cent sales tax increase that was called for to fund the trust despite repeated attempts over the years to do so, and the trust fund remains empty yet today. A 2017 poll indicated that public support to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund has increased and now stands at 67%. The question again this year is whether the remaining 33% of Iowans who either don't care or are against funding the trust will prevail.

It's not that Iowa hasn't made progress on some of our pressing conservation issues. We're now one of the top states in sustainable energy production. Acres planted with winter cover crops are slowly increasing and fall tillage that leaves exposed soil more vulnerable to erosion continues to decrease. More lakes and waterways have been added to those listed as impaired every year, though. I learned recently that likely, even more, would be, but the DNR doesn't have funds to monitor them or do the necessary field testing. There are still no standards to measure against to see if what we're doing is actually making a difference. And the Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" grew to its largest on record in 2017. Iowa is far from alone in adding to that problem, but we remain one of the major contributors to the nutrient pollution that causes it.

With all of that said, the Iowa Legislature reached the first funnel date. What's left is hard work and lots of it. Important issues need to be addressed and solutions agreed upon in the next few rapidly flying weeks. It's an election year. The timescale is even more compressed than usual because legislators want to get busy on their reelection campaigns. Party bosses (who control what goes on) may block debate on important issues in order to free their members to campaign sooner.

It's really no surprise that we're still trying to come up with some mutually-agreed-upon way to fund conservation issues in Iowa. Iowa has been consistent in its lack of attention to this issue for decades. Iowa's conservation budget remains where it has been among the weakest in the nation as a percentage of the state's total budget. Early predictions are that this legislative session will lead to little or no growth. More cuts in funding are likely for many public agencies and institutions including our three state colleges, public schools, mental health, public safety, and, of course, conservation.

Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not. But when legislators are presented with a clear means of funding much-needed conservation of natural resources in Iowa, they should have a good reason for not doing it. Please talk to them about it!



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