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Constitutional amendment to fund natural resources

The Conservation Districts of Iowa has estimated that Iowa farmers lose an average of five tons of rich fertile soil per acre every year. With natural wetland areas drying up, and more land being paved over as parking lots and highways, odds are more flooding in Iowa is likely in our future, local officials say.

A bipartisan group of legislators and stakeholders formed an advisory committee in 2006 to research funding needs for conservation issues in Iowa. That group recommended a constitutional amendment to establish a trust fund for natural resources as a means of ensuring money will be used for conservation issues.

Now, voters will get the chance to vote on that constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot. Public Measure 1, Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment, will create a dedicated trust fund for the purpose of protecting and enhancing water quality and natural areas in Iowa, including parks, trails and fish and wildlife habitats, and conserving agricultural soils.

The amendment would provide funding for a variety of conservation organizations, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Jasper County Conservation Board, and the Soil and Water Conservation District. Funding could be provided to the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) Program, the local conservation partnership program, watershed protection, lakes restoration, trails, natural resources management, and agriculture and land stewardship.

Conservation Board Director Keri Van Zante declined to discuss the amendment because her organization stands to receive funding if passed. However, retired Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officer Darrell Batterson said he expected Rock Creek Park to be a benefactor of funding from the amendment should it pass in November.

“There have been big changes at Rock Creek Park over the past few years,” Batterson said. “Particularly the decrease in personnel. Mowing at the park is less frequent.”

Batterson said funding at county parks is always an issue and projects have been set aside for 10 or 15 years. Siltation in the watershed above Mariposa Lake needs to be addressed, and the lake at Mariposa as well as Rock Creek are in need of dredging.

The amendment calls for establishing a trust fund for natural resource preservation. Iowa's Water and Land Legacy would then ask the Iowa legislature to increase the sales tax by 3/8 of a cent, estimated to raise about $150 million annually. Batterson said he didn’t expect the increase to happen right away, should the amendment pass.

“It won’t happen right away with the economy the way it is,” Batterson said. But, he said he hoped that enough people would think about how much Iowa’s natural resources mean to them and vote for the amendment.

Proponents of the amendment say it also benefit future generations of Iowans by increasing tourism, attract and retain residents and businesses, improve water quality and protect farm land.

Correction: The original verison of this article contained a factual error. Mark Langgin, campaign manager for Iowa's Water and Land Legacy, said passage of the amendment will not establish a 3/8 cent increase in the sales tax, but will merely establish the fund. The Iowa Legislature will be required to increase the sales tax for that purpose at a later date. The Daily News regrets this error.

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