DNR budget calls for increases for lake restoration, water trails

Johnston, Iowa, Mayor Paula Dierenfeld, front, leads a group of kayakers at the dedication of Johnston's new Beaver Creek access. (Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization)

The Iowa Natural Resource Commission on Thursday endorsed a mostly status quo budget  that would seek more money for lake restoration and water trails. 

The Department of Management ordered the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to use the budget for the current fiscal year as a base for the 2021-22 budget proposal. 

DNR complied, with three exceptions. The budget for lake water quality projects would rise $1 million, to $9.6 million; spending on water trails and low-head dam projects would double to $500,000; and park infrastructure would get $2 million, also double the current budget.

All of those increases would come from the state’s gambling tax receipts, if approved by the Legislature. Gov. Kim Reynolds would use the proposed budget, which still must be approved by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, to compile her own proposal for the department.

Most of DNR’s money comes from fees and grants rather than the state’s general fund. 

The proposed budget of $100.1 million, up from this year’s $97.9 million figure, would include $50 million in non-general-fund spending. Most of that would go to fish and wildlife operations, with small amounts to groundwater work and an underground storage tank program.

Spending under the Environmental First program, which also comes from gambling taxes, would remain at $24 million. That would include the Resource Enhancement and Protection program ($12 million), parks maintenance and operations ($6.2 million), along with air and water quality monitoring, livestock confinement programs and floodplain management.

General fund spending of just under $14 million would help pay for department operations, floodplain management and forestry. 

DNR Director Kayla Lyon, in response to a commissioner’s question, said she hasn’t heard that there will be across-the-board cuts in the aftermath of the pandemic. However, she added that it’s possible departments will be asked to consider reductions in spending later. 

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission is expected to consider the budget Sept. 15. It must be submitted to the Department of Management by Oct. 1 under state law.