Ending Iowa's water-quality woes by bridging urban-rural divide?

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service; check out the original article here

DES MOINES, Iowa -- There's been a lot of focus on ensuring safe, affordable drinking water from public systems in Iowa’s urban centers. But some groups believe just as much attention is needed in rural communities. 

Stephanie Enloe, program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, said most of the more-than 500 water systems in Iowa susceptible to contamination are in rural areas, and nutrients and sediment in surface water are among the culprits. She argues that approaching the problem at the watershed level could help build better collaboration between rural and urban communities.

"We're seeing this rural/urban divide grow in Iowa, and part of that is over the water quality debate. And there's a lot of blame game going on,” Enloe said. “So farmers are really feeling the need to come up with some solutions here."

She said farmers can bring insight from the grassroots level when strategies for watershed management are considered. And by working together, she said people can ensure the right projects are implemented in the most effective places in their area - which might mean cover-cropping or developing alternative uses for marginal land.

State lawmakers have proposed several bills to improve funding for water-quality management programs. Enloe said there is also talk of passing a three-eighths of a cent sales tax increase to fund the dormant Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

"Which would raise between $150 and $180 million a year for things like watershed planning, supporting local watershed groups, cost-share practices, lake restoration; and then also, supporting outdoor recreation investments that bring economic opportunity to rural communities,” she said.

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee approved House Study Bill 135, that would levy a 6 cent excise tax on water sales to support collaborative water quality efforts around Iowa.