Tag Archives: conservation programs

Conservation action, one step at a time.

Signs of conservation action:  A drainage grate in Allerton, Iowa, reads "Dump no waste!  Drains to waterways."  A sign near Chariton advertises the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance.  Windsor Heights, Iowa, has installed signs identifying the Walnut Creek watershed, which includes a big piece of the city.

Signs of conservation action: A drainage grate in Allerton, Iowa, reads “Dump no waste! Drains to waterways.” A sign near Chariton advertises the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance. Windsor Heights, Iowa, has installed signs identifying the Walnut Creek watershed, which includes a big piece of the city.

Matt Hauge is the Council’s communications and outreach director.

Talking with other Iowans about what we’re doing to protect our land, water and air is one of the best parts of my job. As I am out traveling or working events for the Council, I have heard enough of your inspiring stories to be absolutely convinced Iowans can solve any environmental challenge we face.

That’s why I was surprised yesterday when a woman approached our booth at the Natural Living Expo and said to me, “You won’t like me.”  But why not?

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At mid-term, a time to assess progress in the legislature

Our supporters across Iowa consistently tell us that timely, accurate information about activity in Iowa’s legislature is one of the Council’s services they value most.

The Council provides a free weekly summary of current environmental legislation, the Legislative News Bulletin, via e-mail, which this year has reported information on more than 70 bills so far.  By reviewing that publication closely, many of the Council’s members and supporters have provided us valuable feedback to refine and focus our positions on issues.

The Council and our members devote considerable resources to monitoring and speaking out on environmental legislation.  Through our action alert system, you can speak out yourself by offering your thoughts on legislation to your elected officials when important decisions are being made.

We consider all the bills we track to be important, but below, we have summarized information about some of the bills of greatest concern to our members.

Bills related to spending on environmental programs

The Council is working to ensure Iowa’s investments in natural resources produce the results for clean water and a healthy environment that Iowans want.

SSB1245: Proposed Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget

Two people stand by a creek being protected as part of a federal conservation program.The Senate’s proposed budget for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources contains significant advances for natural resource protection:

The proposal would

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"The bill also includes additional funding for conservation action on Iowa farms following the release of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy by Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and other state officials late last year. The Council and partners support additional funding to increase soil and water conservation on Iowa’s farms, yet have consistently called for more accountability and transparency, establishment of timelines and deadlines, and clearer goals in this pollution reduction effort.

HF92 (House)/SF268 (Senate): Legislation to increase the sales tax to fund conservation

Legislation has been introduced this year to raise Iowa’s sales tax by 3/8 of a cent to provide Iowa’s Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund more than $120 million annually to support clean water and natural resource conservation. Sponsors of this legislation are Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) and Sen. Dick Dearden (D-Des Moines). The Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy coalition, of which the Council is a member, has additional information about this effort on its website.

More to come soon

Legislation to provide funding for public access and enjoyment of Iowa’s rivers as well as the state’s public lake restoration program has not yet been introduced. Appropriations bills that discuss these programs’ budgets are expected soon.

Environmental roll-back bills

These bills risk weakening existing environmental protections in Iowa. For two of them, beneficial amendments have reduced the Council’s concerns.

HF512 (House)/SF418 (Senate): Potential rollback of livestock manure storage standards

Two fish in an Iowa waterway died during a manure spill.

Manure spills can wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems. According to the Council’s analysis, illegal manure spills killed more than 1.2 million fish in Iowa in the last ten years.

In the legislature, SF418/HF512 would allow certain livestock facilities to reclassify themselves as “small operations” by idling livestock production in one or more buildings. Once reclassified, an operation would be exempt from paying annual compliance fees and submitting regular manure management plans.

The House version of this bill passed the full House by a vote of 83-16 on April 1. Before passage, the House rejected a beneficial amendment by Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) that would have would have barred livestock producers from storing manure in idled buildings “from a location outside the confinement feeding operation.”

The Council is concerned the bill would permit unregulated manure storage in supposedly idle buildings, which could raise the risk of a harmful spill. Several of the Council’s concerns could be addressed through an amendment to this bill that would limit manure storage in the idle building to “emergencies only” and require notification of the DNR when such actions take place. After House passage, that amendment would need to come from the Senate.

HF311: Reducing public notification for certain environmental permits, including for livestock facilities

HF311 would have eliminated a requirement that DNR provide public notice for certain stormwater permits in two local newspapers, but an amendment has reduced that risk. The public notifications in question are important because they are the only way for members of a local community to find out about potential development projects—including development of certain new animal feeding operations—that will disturb more than one acre of land and potentially have other environmental impacts. Rep. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) offered an amendment in the House that recognized the need for public notification by keeping the requirement but reducing it to publication in one local paper. The House also removed the potentially harmful automatic approval of DNR permits in the event application is not acted upon within 90 days. The Senate sub-committee appears to be supportive of the maintenance of a public notice requirement, and the Council is continuing to monitor the bill.

SF272: Eliminating a needed protection for Iowa wetlands

Restored wetland in Iowa.

Restored wetland in Iowa. (Photo: Lynn Betts/NRCS)

Historically, Iowa had as many as 4-6 million acres of wetlands, more than 90% of which have been drained. Because Iowa’s remaining acres are so critical for habitat, filtering water, and holding back floods, the Council supports Iowa leadership for protecting what remains. Iowa law currently contains a wetland permitting program which includes protections for isolated wetlands that are not otherwise protected by the Clean Water Act and “Swampbuster” portions of the Farm Bill. The Council sees maintaining this state permit program as a way of keeping these wetlands from falling through the cracks between other programs; similar state-based protections exist in other states. The Iowa Senate’s version of the bill (SF272) originally proposed to eliminate the state permit program until the bill was amended by Sen. Chris Brase (D-Muscatine). The Council will continue to monitor the bill.

Advancing clean energy in Iowa

The following bills advance Iowa’s transition toward cleaner sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

SF372: Ensuring Iowa farmers and land owners receive a fair price for electricity they generate

A small wind turbine. Photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons/User: tswindAn Iowa wind energy incentive (feed-in tariff) bill that recently passed the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee has received national attention as a way to ensure Iowa farmers and rural landowners who install a wind turbine receive a fair price from utilities for electricity they generate. The bill faces stiff opposition from utilities, but the Council supports this policy as a way to continue to expand and diversify wind energy’s role in Iowa.

SSB1175/SSB1136/SF414: Tax incentives, grants and loans for wind and solar

Three bills are pending that would improve tax incentive programs and establish new grant and loan programs for wind and solar. Last year, the Iowa Legislature created a tax credit program for solar power in Iowa that could support a dramatic expansion of solar energy in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Revenue reported in January that in 2012, 64 solar projects have been granted the credit, including 50 projects by individuals and 14 by Iowa businesses. SSB 1175 would ensure that unused credits are reserved for future years and would allow businesses to install multiple projects and receive multiple credits in a single year. Both SSB 1136 and SF 414 provide incentives for wind projects in Iowa’s Small Wind Innovation Zones, which are local communities that adopt wind-friendly policies that the Council helped develop. SSB 1136 also extends Iowa’s wind energy tax incentives while SF 414 primarily establishes new grant and loan programs for wind and solar.

Want more legislative information?

The Iowa Environmental Council tracks dozens of environmental bills, and provides a weekly Legislative News Bulletin that summarizes our positions.  You can sign up to receive this e-mail on the Council’s website.

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New analysis: Majority of Iowa farmers support additional conservation requirements


Former Iowa Environmental Council executive director Linda Appelgate captured this image of a corn field eroding into the Nishnabotna river in 2010. According to the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, nearly 80% of Iowa farmers agree they need to do more to “reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into streams and lakes.”

Iowa farmers support expanding conservation requirements for soil erosion and the control of nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, according to a new analysis of Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll data from 2009 and 2010.

According to a new article by Iowa State University sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle, nearly 80% of farmers agree they should “do more to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into streams and lakes.”  A majority also agree farmer action on these environmental concerns should be required regardless of whether they participate in federal farm programs.

Image shows a thick mat of green algae with the text "Let's clean this up!"Arbuckle completed the analysis, published in the current issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, to determine the degree to which farmers support Conservation Compliance, a federal policy intended to protect vulnerable soils from excessive erosion.

Under that policy, first adopted by Congress in 1985, farmers who grow crops on highly erodible soils without a conservation plan in place risk losing their eligibility for a variety of federal farm programs.  As Arbuckle points out, the policy has generated substantial conservation benefits by reducing federal farm subsidies for environmentally harmful practices.

As Congress attempted to write a new farm bill in 2012, many conservation groups called for expanding the current role of conservation compliance by connecting it to federally-subsidized crop insurance subsidies.

Congress’s failure to pass a new farm bill leaves that aspect of conservation compliance’s future in question, but according to Arbuckle, Iowa farmers support expanding the program and even applying it to farms not participating in federal farm programs.

In fact, 66% of Iowa farmers said they support extending conservation compliance requirements to all highly erodible soils whether or not the farmer is participating in federal farm programs.

And concerning nitrogen and phosphorous runoff—an area not currently covered by Conservation Compliance—62% of farmers agreed they should “be required to control nutrient runoff into ditches, streams, and other waterways regardless of participation in federal farm programs.”

Last November, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, together with officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Iowa State University released a state nutrient reduction strategy they say will help resolve this problem.

The Iowa Environmental Council and other environmental and conservation groups have criticized the plan because it continues existing all-voluntary conservation programs without additional goals or accountability for creating clean water results in Iowa.

According to the new analysis, Iowa farmers may be willing to consider mandatory options for controlling nitrogen and phosphorous pollution some state leaders—including Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey—have stated they wish to avoid.

The poll results showed an overwhelming majority of Iowa farmers (92%) agreed “a good farmer is one who minimizes soil erosion,” and more than 80% also agreed the health of streams running through or along their land is their responsibility.

Tired of waiting for clean water? #EnviroLobbyDay is just days away.

The eagle from the Iowa state flag is shown holding a banner that reads "clear and clean, not brown and green."

Turns out he supports clean water, too.

Photograph of the Iowa State Capitol with text "legislative news"

Members of Iowa’s conservation and environmental communities are joining together on February 26, 2013, to voice the importance of caring for this land we all love!

Together, Iowans from all walks of life will urge lawmakers to provide strong state funding for programs that protect our land, water and natural resources.

Where:  Iowa State Capitol building, Des Moines – First floor rotunda
When:  Tuesday, February 26, 2013, beginning at 8:00 a.m.

This year’s event will be especially memorable because individuals and organizations that belong to the Iowa Environmental Council, Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) Alliance and the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWLL) Coalition are all planning to turn out in large numbers to support clean water and a healthy Iowa environment.

Participants are being asked to wear blue shirts when they are at the Capitol so they can be identified with the clean water we all want.

Please join in any of these activities that you can:

  • 8:00 a.m.  Preview briefing at the Wallace Building Auditorium. This will include background on the movement to raise the sales tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund and tips for how to talk your legislators about the fund.  Then we’ll walk across the street to the Capitol together.
  • 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Talk with your elected representatives in person about why protecting Iowa’s air, water, and land really matters.  Iowa Environmental Council, REAP Alliance, and Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Coalition team members will be on hand to support you, and there will be talking points about legislative priorities available  It also never hurts to bring a friend to join you as you chat with legislators.
  • 11:00 a.m.  News conference in the rotunda regarding the legislative issues and conservation funding.

All day (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) you can also visit booths for many Iowa conservation and environmental organizations.

Commit to attend Lobby Day in person and the Iowa Environmental Council will send you updates about the event by e-mail!  Visit http://envirolobbyday.eventbrite.com or click the button below to sign up.

Eventbrite - Commit to attend 2013 Environmental Lobby Day!

Can’t travel to Des Moines?  This is the perfect time to join the Council’s Action Alert Network.  On February 26, the Council will e-mail you a link to contact your legislators via e-mail.  It’s a great way to participate from wherever you live.  And as an Action Alert Volunteer, you’ll be ready to speak out to decision-makers on a variety of environmental issues right when it matters most.

Rosenberg: Water problem ‘self evident,’ but will state officials act?

In many parts of Iowa last summer, the state’s poor water quality was plainly evident. Algae blooms, helped along by high water temperatures and low water levels, clogged many waterways.

Ralph Rosenberg

Ralph Rosenberg is the executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council.

These blooms are a sign that far more of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous are present in Iowa’s waters than should be there in a healthy ecosystem. Combine this with chronic soil erosion which continues around the state, and you have Iowa’s polluted waters, which are more frequently brown and green than clear and clean.

Nitrogen and phosphorous pollution comes from many sources, including agriculture, wastewater from cities and industries, and other sources. In Iowa, research shows that most of this pollution comes from agricultural sources.

In November, with much fanfare, state government released Iowa’s nutrient reduction strategy, a plan that state officials say will help resolve this pollution problem. Developed over two years, the strategy calls on cities to install — and their residents to pay for — mandatory new wastewater treatment practices that will provide some benefits. It also includes an important new Iowa State University science assessment that can guide improvements on, around and downstream from Iowa’s farm fields.

Unfortunately, though, as the plan is currently written, the strategy is not likely to achieve Iowans’ goals for cleaner water.

First, unlike the approach used for cities, the strategy continues to rely on all-voluntary farm conservation programs, which have fallen short of protecting our waters in the past. Even though research clearly shows significantly increasing farmer participation in conservation programs is critical for success of the plan, the document does not set timetables or goals to ensure that this will happen.

Iowa does have a group of outstanding conservation-minded farmers who are achieving important results. However, Iowa’s “new” strategy continues to depend on these farmers to step forward even if their neighbors do not.

A 2011 survey by Iowa State University reported that 72 percent of Iowa farmers spent less than $5,000 on conservation practices on land they own in the decade prior to the survey. Half spent nothing. One third said even if more money and technical assistance were available to them, they would still not implement more conservation practices. (See the note with this column to learn where to find this report.)

Although the strategy sets a price tag for proposed conservation efforts with initial costs as high as $1.2 billion to $4 billion, it does not explain where this money will come from or when.

Second, the strategy fails to list either short-term or long-term goals for water quality improvements for Iowa’s rivers and lakes. Without setting clear goals for clean water in Iowa at the outset, it will be difficult for Iowans to assess whether the strategy has been successful.

Third, while the strategy contains important research on farmland conservation practices by an Iowa State University-led team, additional work is needed to explain how this research will be put to good use.

The Iowa State team examined how successful currently available conservation practices are at reducing water pollution. Their research suggested combinations of actions by Iowa farmers that could achieve the goals of the strategy, if implemented broadly across the state. The science team states these combinations are suggestions, not policy recommendations, and the policy portion of the document does not propose a combination of practices Iowa should implement, or set goals or timelines for doing so.

Further, the strategy made efforts to quantify the costs of implementing various practices, but it did not attempt to estimate the economic and quality of life benefits Iowans would enjoy if we achieve our clean water goals.

For Iowans who choose to travel out of state to fish or canoe in cleaner water, Iowa’s pollution problem is self-evident. For Iowans who grew up swimming in the Raccoon River and no longer feel safe letting their children swim there, the problem is self-evident. For those living in municipalities that have to construct multi-million-dollar water treatment facilities, the problem is self-evident.

These Iowans want to join together with others to solve this problem, but unfortunately, the strategy was written mostly behind closed doors with minimal public input.

Now, after the release of this strategy, the public should challenge state government leaders to explain how they will establish accountability and measure success. Iowans want clear, measurable results for actually achieving clean water.

Fortunately, the science has never been clearer on how Iowa can achieve this result. The question now is whether our leaders will commit to making sure the job gets done.

This essay also appeared in the Des Moines Register on January 6, 2012.