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Torbert reports on drainage legislation

Drainage district merge process under consideration

April 23, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

The Emmet County Board of Supervisors Tuesday heard about drainage issues at both the state and national levels.

John Torbert, executive director of the Iowa Drainage District Association, said one piece of legislation expected to pass at the state level dealt with the manner in which drainage districts merge. Torbert said five districts near Burlington wanted to merge; however, there did not appear to be any clear precedent on how that should happen. The legislation clarifies that procedure, he said.

Another issue is the Federal Emergency Management Administration requiring the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to sign off before disaster funds could be released. Torbert said some drainage districts objected, saying they did not believe the DNR should be involved in disaster projects involving FEMA recovery funds.

Torbert said a Monona County case in which the DNR alleged that weed spraying led to a fish kill went to the district court a year ago. He said the district court judge kicked the case back to the state, saying it had withheld evidence the first time through. Torbert said an administrative law judge ignored the judicial order and found against the drainage district and spraying company. He said two weeks ago the case was reheard and he said he would be surprised to see the judge find in favor of the DNR.

Torbert said the issue of nutrient reduction strategy is in a holding pattern.

He said Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey put the strategy up for public comment last fall and over 1,700 comments were received. He said Northey will determine if the strategy needs to change.

The issue that's crystalized is how it will change the nutrients farmers are putting into the Gulf of Mexico, Torbert said, adding that it would be either voluntary or through a regulatory process.

When asked about incentives to farmers to reduce nutrients, Torbert said the Natural Resources Conservation Service has always provided cost-share. However, Torbert added, "Programs are hopelessly underfunded." He said there are five to six times the number of requests compared to what is awarded.

Board chair Alan Madden noted a recent National Geographic article saying that China appears to be the big culprit in excessive nitrogen use, putting on 1.000 pounds an acre.

"It made the United States look a lot better than some of that information you might read," Madden said.



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