DES MOINES — House members offered high praise for the state’s voluntary water quality strategy during a joint subcommittee Thursday even as they acknowledged it lacks some measurable goals.

The state rolled out the strategy in November 2012 and added a Water Quality Initiative in 2013 in response to federal Environmental Protection Agency concerns over water quality in the state.

The strategy includes offering matching funds to farmers who implement water-quality improvement practices, such as planting ground cover, and hosting water-quality demonstration projects throughout the state.

During a joint meeting of the House’s Agriculture and Environmental Protection Committees, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said the program has proved popular with farmers throughout the state.

“There’s been so much support from the agricultural community,” Northey said, who added the state went through $2.8 million in matching money for ground cover in two weeks and left more farmers waiting.

“It certainly is a breath of fresh air,” said Republican Rep. Pat Grassley, who farms in New Hartford and chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “It’s a good start, and it looks like it’s going to be very successful.”

Rep. Dan Kelley, D-Newton, however, criticized the strategy for its lack of measurable outcomes. His concerns echoed those of environmental groups that have asked for additional requirements in Iowa’s law.

“More and more, people are concerned about water quality,” Kelley said. “We don’t have timelines, targets, benchmarks or the like. Who’s responsible for developing those? Where are those?”

Northey said it would be hard to put benchmarks in place without the Legislature promising to allocate a specific amount of money each year.

Gipp added he wouldn’t want to set “unrealistic expectations” one year and then have funding cut the next.

“You have to understand the immensity of the issue,” he said.

“In order for us to be a leader, we need quantifiable and measurable efforts,” Kelley shot back.

Despite the back-and-forth, the comment by farmer and Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, was more characteristic of the tone of the meeting.

“I want to applaud you guys,” he told Gipp and Northey. “You’re doing a great job.”


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