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Discussion: Recreation on Iowa's Rivers

posted on July 11, 2008 at 11:33 AM

An Iowa State University study on the "Economic Value of Iowa's Natural Resources" estimates the activity within the state's parks, lakes, and trail systems generate about $2.63 billion annually in spending.

The study added, the multiplier effect of such activities could translate to more than 27,400 jobs and $580 million in income.

Not included in the 2007 study was the recreational use on Iowa's rivers. This summer's floods have brought attention to the waterways, but not the kind of attention river enthusiasts and state lawmakers wanted to see or promote. Before the floods, the legislature this past session passed, and the governor signed, a $12 million investment for communities to improve their riverfronts and use these "natural" assets to their economic benefit.

Paul Yeager: Making rivers safe for human contact has never been more of a concern to Iowans than to those who have been dealing with the recent weeks of flooding and the post-flood cleanups.

Before the floods and tornadoes hit the state, as we mentioned earlier, the state allocated $12 million to help communities improve and reinvigorate their riverfronts for economic development.

How will the floods impact the state's overall goal to enhance the riverfronts and increase accessibility to rivers?

With national criticism over the water quality in the state's rivers how can the state expect to attract more canoeists and kayakers to the rivers?

And what can be done to encourage the river recreation sector to grow?

To talk about these subjects and more are Nate Hoogeveen, the River Programs Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and author of a guide book on paddling Iowa rivers and also State Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who co-authored legislation for the revitalization of Iowa's rivers. Gentlemen, welcome to the program tonight. Let's talk about the flood first. Is there a place in Iowa that is not able to go recreating on a river in the state right now?

Nate Hoogeveen: The southeastern part of the state is especially dicey still. As you can see with some of the bank stability issues we still don't know everything that's going to necessarily fall into a strain. And the other thing is, is that people just literally haven't explored all these segments at this point. So, there may be trees down in places or even bridges on some of the smaller roads ...

Paul Yeager: An area that you thought you knew well before has changed dramatically because of all the water that was coming through.

Nate Hoogeveen: That's exactly it. A lot of these rivers are, you know, not quite unrecognizable as themselves but pretty close. One section of river at Manchester actually rerouted through a dike, went through a new woods and rejoined the channel about a mile downstream. And you can imagine all the timber that crisscrosses the channel there. So, that said there are places and people are starting to venture out again and I've been out twice this week and there are segments of river that are in pretty good shape.

Paul Yeager: Plenty of areas that have gotten water, it's been a month since they've had their high water. It's had to have changed things.

Nate Hoogeveen: Well, yeah, and these rivers get reconfigured and the timber moves from one place to another. There may be some new log jams but there are also segments that are maybe clearer than they were before and we certainly encountered that these last few days.

Paul Yeager: Senator, I want to ask you about some of the legislation you helped co-author in this past legislative session about getting money and setting aside for the state. Right now that stands about $12 million. And fears or concerns that that money might disappear or get reallocated?

Senator Bill Dotzler: Well, I think that's a valid concern. There are certain legislators that feel that in view of the vastness of the event that we had, across Iowa families have been dislocated, businesses have been dislocated. In the Cedar Rapids area they're talking about destroying over 2000 homes.

In my area in Waterloo/Cedar Falls there are areas that are going to have to be bought out. So, I think that there are people looking for ways to try to help Iowa businesses and they're looking for resources. I think that we need to help Iowa businesses and we need to do what we need to help Iowa families.

But this isn't an either/or situation. I believe it can be an and. And I think it's very important that we continue to do what we are for economic development reasons. And that's why this last session I think was so widely accepted in the legislature the importance of using Iowa rivers as a resource instead of turning our back to them like we have so many years.

Really we viewed Iowa's rivers and streams as really an extension of our sewer systems and it's something that has to change. And I know that people probably, especially in my areas, would rather drain the rivers, if they could, than to even look at them because of the traumatic effect that they've had on them. I got flooded myself, my basement filled up. But economically they are so important to our state and we need to continue to invest in them and to clean them up.

Paul Yeager: Let's talk about what are some of the things that this money is going to buy? What exactly is it going to go for, at least try to accomplish?

Senator Bill Dotzler: Well, the bill was written really $12 million this year and then $10 million for the next four years so a total of $52 million over the next total five years for recreational enhancements in cities. And it's so important that we continue to recruit young professionals to Iowa and keep the young people in Iowa and there's a trend for more recreational opportunities and a more active lifestyle and it's important that we work towards that.

So, the bill was really written, the major portion of it was written to do things like amphitheatres around rivers, walking trails, maybe fishing structures, dam mitigation, white water courses within communities, just a whole gamut of things, basically anything that you can call or label recreation around rivers. And I think that we need to continue to do that.

Now, with the buyouts there are certain areas that are close to rivers that have been flooding continually and anybody thinks that this is just a 500 year event is greatly being optimistic about it because climatologists are predicting that maybe we're going to be in a wetter trend and so they're going to be buying out more areas and we're going to have to do something with that.

So, what a great opportunity to put more hiking trails and to get people more active and enjoy the rivers. I know Nate just talked about them cleaning up, they have. I notice it, I see it in the Cedar which I live on it has been cleaner until this last two inches of rain we received in Waterloo/Cedar Falls.

Paul Yeager: Is the $10 million a year for the next four years going to be enough? And what does it exactly need to do to be able to accomplish what the Senator is talking about?

Nate Hoogeveen: I think that kind of money goes a long way toward accomplishing it especially since it's running through the Vision Iowa board and they have had a great track record of magnifying local investment as well as federal investment. So, you may actually be talking about $250, $350 million that is invested along Iowa riverfronts over the course of these five years.

And I guess it's really important to think about how some of these flood plain areas that are flood prone, levees do tend to break and as houses unfortunately are being bulldozed what is our new vision for these areas. Do we want to put more infrastructure back there?

Paul Yeager: So, it opens a whole new door of opportunity you could call it because in some areas of the state they have already, from the '93 flood, knocked down a house and put in a park or twelve parks.

Nate Hoogeveen: And with the magnitude of devastation in this flood on communities especially along the Cedar and Iowa Rivers, but also on other rivers, we're going to be seeing a lot of that I think and this is probably a funding source that can be pretty useful for those efforts.

Paul Yeager: So, what exactly is the funding source on this bill?

Senator Bill Dotzler: It comes mainly through the infrastructure fund.

Paul Yeager: So, it's not a tax?

Senator Bill Dotzler: It's really gambling revenues and we're directing them towards recreation and I think that's very appropriate.

Paul Yeager: Is it too little too late in relationship of what other states have done? Or is this a way to play catch up with other states whether it's Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas have done for their rivers?

Senator Bill Dotzler: I think there are some states that have done a much better job than Iowa has and Iowans I think have taken our rivers for granted and not really noticed them as the resource they are. There are people like Nate who are out there all the time and I was out canoeing in the 60's when I was in high school.

So, we really appreciated the beauty of Iowa rivers and they're kind of an undiscovered resource and more and more people every year are utilizing them and I think that you're going to see more pressure to be on the rivers because of the cost of gasoline and the fact that people don't travel as far any more and they need local recreation and the majority of major cities in Iowa have rivers running right through them. So, we've got great recreational opportunities if we just pursue it and clean the rivers up.

Paul Yeager: Are they going over a good enough, clean enough river environment right now? Are we at good water quality for doing this?

Nate Hoogeveen: There still are problems. There still are wastewater treatment plants that literally aren't online yet and as the water volumes are dropping that means your bacteria counts are probably rising. And we put a press release out on which communities still aren't able to get those treatment plants online. Cedar Rapids, of course, is the largest one of those. And those are areas that are not going to be attractive for a while.

Paul Yeager: They're not going to be able to recreate because they're too busy trying to rebuild.

Nate Hoogeveen: Yeah, absolutely. And we need to be sensitive to the fact that we're talking about recreation here as a lot of people are suffering.

That said, I had some concerns immediately after the flooding events that boy, everybody is probably going to start thinking that these rivers are not our friends. But what we've been seeing in the last couple of weeks as these water levels are dropping down is an extreme eagerness to go blow off steam, to talk about anything but floods and it's turning out that a lot of them are very interested in knowing where can I go, which stretches can I pick.

I really want to go canoeing and kayaking on the Upper Iowa River or the Middle Raccoon or so on and we're doing the best we can to answer those questions with the information we've got.

Paul Yeager: Well, we're under a couple of minutes here, Senator. How do you keep the area's cities, agriculture and the rivers balanced when they're trying to clean it up or how do they co-exist with one another to achieve some of these goals?

Senator Bill Dotzler: That's a great question and I think that the legislature is going to really have to sit down and look at how we deal with rivers and look at long-term land use policies and maybe we need to do more filter strips and different work throughout the water shed to reduce the amount of river water, the water that gets in our rivers.

And we've created a lot of problems with run off and so we're going to have to have a discussion. I know Senator Gronstal is speaking around the state talking about the impact of this and we think that there are opportunities in disasters and we can come out as a better state and we are going to make sure that our rivers become a resource, a positive resource and utilize them and treat them better. And hopefully they'll treat us better.

But it's kind of like tough love, a family member that does something you don't want but you're stuck with them. So, we're stuck with our rivers and we've got to do what we can to make it a positive resource and look at them in a way that is very positive.

Paul Yeager: In fifteen seconds can you improve on that?

Nate Hoogeveen: I think we can learn to work with the rivers as they are, as natural systems that offer us a lot of services and functions. But we've got a ways to go.


Tags: disasters economy floods governors Iowa recreation rivers storms tornadoes water quality


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