Filling Iowa's empty resources fund could aid local flood work

Environment

By Mike Moen, Public News Service- Iowa

A little-known Iowa program continues to pave the way for local coordination for flood-prevention strategies, and backers of the initiative are emphasizing there is an opportunity this year to enhance funding.

Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs) have been around for more than a decade, and program supporters hope lawmakers do not exclude a funding provision tied to the current Republican tax plan in the state Senate.

WMAs bring together cities, counties, and soil and water conservation districts to better manage flooding and other issues within a watershed.

Kate Hansen, policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said there is so much more these coalitions can do with consistent state support.

"On farm practices or educational programs for watershed planning, staffing, there's so much potential here," Hansen asserted. "We would really like to see this element stay in place."

Income tax changes, opposed by advocates for low-income Iowans, are at the center of the Senate plan. It also calls for moving forward on a voter-approved sales-tax hike from several years ago for a natural resources trust fund. While it would depend on a final formula, supporters hope there would be money for WMAs, so they wouldn't have to mainly rely on competitive grants and fundraising.

Cara Morgan, coordinator for the East and West Nishnabotna Watershed Coalitions, formed in 2017 in southwestern Iowa, said local voices coming together through the program have allowed them to plan and study solutions for a range of flooding issues.

"We really felt that we accomplished a lot," Morgan recounted. "But we also have a lot left to accomplish and that's shown in our watershed plan."

Morgan pointed out local governments and agencies offer up volunteers to be their representatives in the WMAs. But there is often turnover, and a dedicated coordinator still brings it all together. She noted it is difficult to fund such positions without state support.

"A lot of the grants are for funding specific projects, but not funding for people to assist or lead those projects," Morgan stressed.

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Feature photo by Kate Hansen