Iowa watersheds often absorb or transmit excess sediment and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from farm origins which impairs watershed ecology, recreational health, drinking supplies, and ultimately the Gulf health. The problem illustrates the tragedy of the commons where these external costs are not captured in the cost of production* - other parties indirectly pay the price (i.e. Des Moines Water Works, recreational rivers users, Gulf fishermen). The Governor proposed using SAVE (local option sales tax currently used for education) to fund nearly $4.7 billion of mitigation expense, in effect, creating a consumer-funded mitigation solution to a farm problem. The Governor recognizes and sizes the problem, but fails in offering a fair and equitable solution. Urbanites (Cedar Falls citizens) already pay their fair burden through local property tax to fund waste water treatment, often called urban point source. This is a farm problem that calls for a farm solution. Simply stated, our goal should be to reduce agricultural nutrient and soil loss to natural occurrence by coupling best conservation practices and appropriate incentives.
My state-level solution for Iowa Water Quality -
Levy an agricultural conservation tax to capture external costs in the expense of production. The tax would be abated by employing qualified conservation practices.
ISU Extension educates and supports implementation of custom conservation practices to achieve reductions.
NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Services- Technical Services arm of USDA) will advise the Iowa DNR in assessment and scoring of mitigation practices based on unique topography, soil type (CSI), and conversation practices through GIS (Geographical Information System) aerial assessment to evaluate such practices as buffer stripping, row-crop rotation, cover cropping, no-till, etc.
Program to be funded by conservation tax revenues and would be phased out or placed into maintenance mode based on measurable pollution reduction.
Most people agree with this approach. Others have suggested that federal subsidies be tied to conservation, which is both a carrot and a heavy stick. In any event, this solution is common sense, encourages behaviors that reduce public harm, utilizes current bureaucracies for knowledge transfer and accountability, while remaining fully voluntary.
* Tragedy of the Commons on the Farm - farmers will act in their own self-interest to maximize economic gain while externalities -- environmental degradation, water treatment expense are funded directly or indirectly by another party (cities, consumers, or ecology).