IEC statement on Senate Natural Resources Budget

posted on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Water and Land News

Updated Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Iowa legislature passed an Agriculture and Natural Resources budget that reduces funding for nutrient pollution research and includes changes borrowed from an unpopular and stalled anti-public lands bill from earlier in session. The budget moves $500,000 from the Iowa Nutrient Research Center (INRC) to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, $1 million from the REAP open space fund to park maintenance, and removes a longstanding goal that Iowa protect 10% of land as public open space by the year 2000.  

As IEC has repeatedly called for and reported on, monitoring is a crucial piece of success to any approach to reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Iowa’s waterways. The legislature's move to divert funding from INRC and a real-time monitoring program through the University of Iowa further erodes accountability for the state’s nutrient reduction efforts and spending. "It's not lost on anyone working in the water quality space, or the Iowans who pay attention to this work, that the in-stream sensors are being defunded at the same time that ag groups are 'celebrating' 10 years of so-called progress on the Nutrient Reduction Strategy," said Alicia Vasto, IEC Water Program Director. "If the data was showing water quality improvement and the Nutrient Reduction Strategy was effect, state leaders would not want to pull the sensors and stop collecting data."

The state has already fallen behind on progress reporting, not releasing updated data since 2019. 

“Defunding progress reporting and monitoring is not the direction we should be going in our approach to nutrient pollution in Iowa,” said Vasto. “Iowa taxpayers deserve accountability for the funding that is being spent on nutrient reduction practices.” 

The funding changes for public lands is also concerning. Publicly accessible land currently owned by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) accounts for just one percent of Iowa’s total acreage. Iowa has more than twice as much public land in road rights-of-way as what is available for public use (919,405 acres vs. 390,111 acres). 

“While the ten percent goal for land protection was unrealistic and expired over 20 years ago, it is not in line with what Iowans have expressed every time the legislature has attacked public lands to remove it whole-cloth from Iowa code without discussion about updating the goal or getting input from Iowans,” said Vasto. “Each year the legislation has been introduced, IEC and our partners have seen thousands of Iowans send messages, call their legislators, attend committee meetings, and make sure their legislators heard that this was not something they supported.” 

The move follows the Senate’s previous attempt to reduce support for park and trail acquisition through legislation (SF 516). Conservation advocates and sportsmen and women turned out in droves to oppose the bill, as in years past when legislation has been introduced to undermine state and local parks and open space acquisition. Without public support, the legislature is using the budget to enact an unpopular, special interest policy item. Moving $1 million from the REAP open spaces fund to park maintenance does not allow that funding to be spent on what has long been the agreed upon formula supporting park acquisition. 

“The idea that our state, which ranks 47th in land for public use in the entire United States, cannot protect sensitive landscapes and unique landforms through acquisition because some parks are not being mowed enough is absurd on its face and flat out offensive,” said Vasto. “The legislature is taking a paternalistic attitude with the DNR by telling them how to maintain and mow parks that have no basis in ecosystem management and ecological stewardship. The legislature continues to otherwise fund status quo budgets for DNR operations, which are year over year losses due to inflation, and lead to disrepair of state park facilities.” 

  1. dnr
  2. land stewardship
  3. legislative session
  4. nitrate pollution
  5. nutrient reduction strategy
  6. reap
  7. water quality