DES MOINES, Iowa – A new initiative to improve Iowa’s water quality was outlined at the statehouse Monday by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers.

The result of a two year watershed planning task force, the Surface Water Protection Act is aimed at identifying problems and preventing pollution in Iowa’s largest lakes, rivers and creeks.

“Iowa needs a coordinated effort to clean up our surface water and improve water quality,” said Deb Ryun of the Conservation Districts of Iowa, who co-chaired the Watershed Quality Planning Task Force.

“We aren’t going to make progress until we assess each watershed and get all of the stakeholders in each watershed to work together,” she said. The 300 mile long Iowa River as it flows past the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. (Photo credit unknown)

Iowa’s creeks, rivers and lakes have high levels of silt, sewage and fertilizer pollution. More must be done to protect the state’s sources of drinking water, recreational interests such as kayaking, canoeing and birding, and wildlife habitat.

“Over 20 years ago, the Legislature created the Groundwater Protection Act to improve the quality of our ground water and we’ve had great success stopping contamination of our groundwater. It is time for us to focus our efforts and improve the quality of our surface water,” said State Representative Donovan Olson, a Democrat from Boone who chairs the House Environmental Protection Committee and also served on the watershed task force.

The measure creates a Water Resources Coordinating Council within the Governor’s Office to preserve and protect Iowa’s water resources and coordinate efforts to do so.

It will also complete a statewide water plan focused on water assessments and prioritization.

The Surface Water Protection Act calls for 56 regional watershed assessments and smaller community based watershed improvement and monitoring plans.

Experts would study 11 regional watersheds each year and identify the most pressing needs in each watershed.

Those that present the greatest health risks would be prioritized, and the worst areas would get any available money from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Funding would begin in fiscal year 2010 and the task force estimated about $13.5 million per year would be needed after a five year phase-in.

“We know Iowans want clean water and want to be good stewards of our environment,” said State Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, who served on the watershed task force.

“While it won’t happen overnight,” he said, “it’s time for us to develop a coordinated, long-term strategy that will improve water quality for every Iowan.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.