On April 2, 2013, the Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee approved a new budget bill, on a 12-8 party-line vote, that would fund up to 13 new state water quality inspectors in an effort to increase Iowa’s enforcement of anti-pollution regulations. The high funding levels are partly intended to show a good-faith effort that could ward off pressure for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, who has expressed concern over Iowa’s enforcement efforts and has threatened to take over regulation of clean-water violations that pollute lakes and rivers in Iowa and downstream waterways. The hope is that this increased funding would keep federal regulators at bay and keep control of enforcement in the hands of state regulators at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The fiscal 2014 budget bill would appropriate $1.3 million for stepped-up enforcement as part of a larger nutrient management strategy and $2.4 million for an agriculture water quality initiative to assist farmers in cost-share efforts to promote conservation practices. Members of the Committee requested $2.4 million in fiscal 2014 and $4.4 million in fiscal 2015 to finance an Iowa nutrient reduction strategy in the hopes of making the state a national leader in farm conservation efforts that would ultimately improve water quality.
The new budget measure is a significant increase in funding for these programs, providing nearly $28 million more in funding for farm programs, environmental protection and natural resources preservation and enhancement than is allocated in the current state budget. Also included would be $20 million for the state’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program, $2.9 million for state park operations and maintenance, $4 million for watershed improvements and $10 million for water quality projects.
Chuck Gipp, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, has requested additional inspectors to monitor livestock operations and other “point sources” covered under the NPDES permit program of the Clean Water Act. It should be noted that Gov. Terry Branstad and majority House Republicans have proposed only $500,000 to fund five of the inspectors Gipp is seeking for the fiscal year beginning July 1, rather than the 13 approved in the Committee’s budget bill.
Senate Study Bill 1245 now goes to the full Iowa Senate for consideration, although expectations are that the budget area will end up in a House-Senate conference committee like many of the other budget pieces this session. Thus, it remains to be seen how much funding will ultimately be allocated for these programs, though it is clear from these early discussions that water quality is a top environmental priority for the Iowa Legislature this session.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your efforts to comply with state or federal water quality rules and regulations or how stepped up enforcement efforts may affect your operations, please contact your Shuttleworth & Ingersoll attorney, Steve Pace or Kelly Cwiertny at 319-365-9461.