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Iowa conservation director asks for $15 million

BY BRITTANY TREVICK | JUNE 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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The wellness of Iowa’s natural resources could hinge on state budget negotiations, officials said this week.

With wetlands decreasing, open spaces are disappearing, and water quality on the decline, some environmental officials are saying a proposed cut to the Resource Enhancement and Protection portion of the state budget will make things worse.

And that’s what brought Mark Langgin, the executive director of Iowa’s Water & Land Conservancy, a group that helps support sustainable funding for natural resources, to testify before the agriculture and natural-resources appropriation subcommittee last week.

The resource program, signed into law in 1989, aims to improve and protect Iowa’s many natural resources by preventing the loss of agricultural soil, creating areas for outdoor recreation, keeping drinking water safe and helping to prevent future flooding.

It’s allocated $15.5 million per year, but this year the state government wants to cut the program’s budget by about 25 percent percent, bringing it down to $11.5 million.

“The [Resource Enhancement and Protection] program is the only comprehensive conservation program available that addresses a wide range of issues,” Langgin said.

The program affects the state government and also funds county conservation, city park and recreational departments, local education programs, and programs with farmers.

Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, the vice chairman of the subcommittee, said he agreed the money is necessary.

“Absolutely, it’s a concern,” he said. “The money [from the program] goes right back to local areas, and people can see exactly what it’s used for.”

Mike Carberry, the past head of the Iowa City Sierra Club, called for an increase in funds.

“The state and Republicans are being penny-wise,” he said. “We have severe water-quality issues. To cut back in that area, to me, is unconscionable.”

The state has a strong cash reserve, but the most altered landscape of any of the 48 contiguous states, with atrocious water quality, said Harry Graves, the director of the Johnson County Conservation Board.

In order to avoid the cut, Langgin and Dearden said, people need to contact their senators.

In November, 63 percent of Iowans voted for a constitutional amendment that promoted investing in Iowa’s natural resources, Department of Natural Resources officials said.

“There is a clear mandate there that the public is interested in funding conservation and the environment,” Graves said. “That seems to me lost on this governor and some members of the Legislature. It appears to me that what’s going on in the House is that [the members] failed to hear that mandate.”

Tim Albrecht, Gov. Terry Branstad’s communications director, declined to comment on the issue.
The Natural Resources budget will be completed once the Senate negotiates with the House and the governor.

“Nothing has happened yet,” Graves said. “So we’ll see who blinks first.”


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