Weekend open thread: Iowa rivers and lakes edition

Summer unofficially kicks off next weekend, which means lots of Iowans will be enjoying themselves at lakes and rivers. Follow me after the jump for recent news related to lake and river projects, flood prevention, and water quality in Iowa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The final budget deals struck by Iowa House and Senate members at the end of the legislative session were a mixed bag for lakes and rivers.

-Lawmakers provided $1 million for low-head dam removal and related river projects for the budget year beginning July 1. That's in the mid-range of previous appropriations.

-Parks maintenance got a $500,000 boost, to $3.7 million. The department will keep hiring the equivalent of 50 full time, seasonal workers to help shore up the parks, as ordered by lawmakers last year. [...]

-The lake restoration program will get $6 million, up from this year's $5.5 million. [...]

-The DNR's general fund support will rise $50,000, to $12.5 million. Another $2 million will go to flood mitigation work.

-A separate appropriation provides $5 million, combined over two years, for the restoration of Lake Delhi dam.

It is critically important for Governor Terry Branstad to approve that $1 million in river funding. He line-item vetoed a $75,000 appropriation for similar purposes from the budget for fiscal year 2012. I hope business and community leaders are letting the governor know that river improvements promote economic development and tourism in addition to being good for the environment.

I'm pleasantly surprised that legislators bumped lake restoration money up to $6 million in the fiscal year 2013 budget. Still, it's worth remembering that not long ago those programs received approximately $8 million per year in Iowa. Many worthwhile lake projects will be left undone, even with the extra funding. The proposal to spend $2.5 million per year rebuilding the Lake Delhi dam is the biggest reason lake restoration money was lowered from $8 million to $5.5 million, starting in fiscal year 2012.

Flood mitigation work deserves more attention and funding too. Yet another report just released indicates that extreme storms and severe flood damage are becoming more common in the Midwest. Climate change is likely to continue that trend. Iowa legislators were foolish to ignore an expert panel's advice on floodplain management in 2010. Unfortunately, the Branstad administration has shown little interest in the Iowa Smart Planning Task Force's recommendations relating to land use and flood prevention.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate some public health problems in Iowa in future years, partly because torrential rains are likely to produce more flooding.

This post turned into a bit of a downer, so let's end on some good news. Belated congratulations are in order to Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council. Earlier this month, the nationwide River Network named her one of five "River Heroes" for 2012. Peers recognized her extensive work to improve Iowa water quality during the past two decades.

Heathcote has worked for the Iowa Environmental Council for 16 years, spending most of that time overseeing the organization's work on clean water issues. She has provided technical leadership for the Council on a number of issues, including agricultural nonpoint source pollution, livestock manure management, water quality monitoring, water quality standards, and restoration of impaired waters.

"Susan's hard work and dedication have been at the core of many of the Council's successes since the earliest days of the organization's history," Gelb said.   These achievements include securing funds to close agricultural drainage wells, helping to found IOWATER, the state's volunteer water monitoring program, and extending the protections of the federal Clean Water Act to thousands of additional miles of Iowa rivers and streams, among others. [...]

In addition, Heathcote's expertise means she is frequently in demand for boards, expert panels, and other positions tasked with protecting water quality and natural resources in Iowa.  In 2007, she was appointed by Governor Culver to serve a four year term on the Environmental Protection Commission, which oversees environmental programs at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  In July of 2011, Heathcote was invited to join a team of about 30 experts from across the US to serve as advisers for AGree, a bold new initiative created to develop solutions to improve agricultural productivity and environmental performance at the national and global levels.

Heathcote also volunteers her time locally.  She served as coordinator of Polk County's twice-annual water quality snapshot for 8 years, and is a founding board member of Iowa Rivers Revival, a nonprofit that advocates for the improvement and enjoyment of the state's rivers.

As a member of the Environmental Protection Commission, Heathcote voted to adopt anti-degradation standards that finally brought Iowa into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Corporate-backed groups including the Iowa Farm Bureau have question Heathcote's actions as part of an effort to nullify those water quality rules. A Polk County district court judge rejected their lawsuit in March. Plaintiffs have appealed that ruling.

  • Delhi Dam

    The dam should not be rebuilt for a whole host of environmental and economic reasons that I won't rehash here.  

    However, I kept wondering how it got through the Senate on a unanimous vote, with even ol reliables like Bolkcom and Hogg voting in favor of it.  Then someone 'splained it to me and it was a "duh" moment - the incumbent Hancock is retiring, and if the Demo Senate voted "no" on the dam, the Dems might well kiss that Senate seat and their slim majority goodbye.

    As it was 'splained to me, they got the thing sewered, which it was not before, and they got guaranteed public access, which despite lip service by dam backers that it was always a public lake, was simply not true in practice.

    Thank goodness the University of Iowa water ski team may someday have its practice lake back.  

    Oh, and btw, the $12 M pricetag for the rebuild is a pipedream.

    • it's possible

      that even with this appropriation, the dam project will be derailed at some point down the line. If it is rebuilt, having the sewer will be a bonus. I wonder how extensive the public access will be, though.

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