Iowa cities share piece of $97M water quality grant

January 22, 2016

Dubuque, Coralville and Storm Lake will receive about $40 million of a nearly $97 million federal grant the state received to tackle flooding and water quality challenges, officials said at press conference Friday.

Much of the remainder of the money will be used to target flood and water quality improvements in nine watersheds across the state.

Gov. Terry Branstad said the federal grant builds on Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a plan designed to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus levels that contribute to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, and complements his $4.7 billion water quality plan.

Branstad earlier this month proposed extending an existing 1-cent sales tax that’s earmarked for school infrastructure improvements. The governor has recommended diverting part of the growth in the sales tax over three decades to address losses of nitrogen and phosphorus from farmland.

Branstad has said Iowa schools would be guaranteed all the sales tax infrastructure money they currently receive, plus $10 million more generated from growth annually.

The governor said Friday he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds are meeting almost daily with lawmakers and school leaders to discuss the proposal.

Bill Stowe, CEO of Des Moines Water Works, criticized using the federal grant for water quality problems, saying it taps public money for a private problem generated by the state’s agricultural industry.

“Now instead of education and clean water, we’re mixing flooding and clean water, with no specific measurements, no specific time frames, and no specific deliverables with consequences” if those goals aren’t met, Stowe said. “We’ll get no assured results from it and no accountability when the objectives aren’t reached.”

Des Moines Water Works is suing drainage districts in three north Iowa counties, saying field tiles are funneling high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for 500,000 metro area residents.

It seeks to require drainage districts, and indirectly farmers, to meet the same federal water quality regulations that business, industries and municipalities must meet on water entering the state’s rivers and streams.

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol and City Manager Mike Van Milligen said the $31.5 million the city will receive from the federal grant will be used to help with a nearly $200 million project to relieve flooding in the Mississippi River city.

The multifaceted plan includes “day-lighting” — or uncovering — the buried Bee Branch Creek that has acted as a municipal storm sewer.

The storm sewer, built more than 100 years ago, had less than one-fifth of the capacity the area needs to handle heavy rains experienced in recent years, Buol said. The city said it’s received six presidential disaster declarations from 1999 to 2011.

The city said it would use $8.4 million to help families, many of them low-income, pay for damage caused by repeated flooding — or prepare their homes so they can avoid future damage.

“We’re going to do mitigation on homes that have failing foundations, mold and appliances that have been damaged repeatedly,” Buol said.

Additionally, $23.1 million will be used to push up some infrastructure improvements. “Those projects would have had to wait up to 20 years maybe before we had the funding to implement. This will be a big help,” Buol said.

Storm Lake will receive $6.5 million for storm sewer improvements and Coralville will receive $1.8 million to relocate and rebuild pumps needed to move water outside the city.

Sean McMahon, executive director of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, said the grant emphasizes the need for cities and rural communities to work together on flooding and water quality challenges.

“Agriculture is a large part of our communities, and we’re serious about continuing to take action to improve water quality and reduce flood risk,” said McMahon, whose group is backed by the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

“We’ll have watershed planning with broad stakeholder engagement, water quality monitoring at multiple scales and targeting for maximum effectiveness,” he said.

Source: Des Moines Register

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