County board of supervisor candidates differ on solutions for water quality


Courtesy of the Story County website

The Story County Administrative building is located in Nevada, Iowa.

Katherine Kealey, Editor in Chief

On the issue of water quality, Republican candidate for Story County Supervisor James Wright supports less government restriction, while Democratic candidate Linda Murken believes the current regulations are not enough.

Wright and Murken, the incumbent, are running for the two seats up for election on the Story County Board of Supervisors in the Nov. 8 midterm. The other candidates running included incumbent Lisa Heddens and Kara Warme. The two candidates with the highest number of votes win.

Wright said there does not need to be another committee to examine and regulate water quality. Instead, he would like to see the community using Iowa State University as a resource for water quality information and practices since the state and the federal government already impose regulations. 

“All of us are worried about our water quality, and most of us in agriculture are doing all we can to be good stewards of the land and take good care of things,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, Murken said she believes the regulations around water quality should be strengthened, but she does not see that in the works at the state level. The Department of Natural Resources does regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). 

Linda Murken currently serves on the Story County Board of Supervisors. (Photo courtesy of Linda Murken)

“I don’t see that there is a willingness on the part of the legislature or the current executive branch to have mandatory regulations on agriculture,” Murken said.

Instead, Murken wants to work with landowners on conservation practices farmers can take advantage of to help protect water quality. The county can help farmers create a tailored conservation package for their land. 

Priorities if elected

Murken said one of her main priorities if elected is to focus on the need for affordable housing and accessible transportation to rural areas.

Murken, a lifelong resident of Story County, served as the director for the Department of Correctional Services for the Second Judicial District. Murken currently lives on her family farm west of Gilbert, Iowa.

“We would like to see more housing opportunities in smaller communities that are an easy commute to Ames,” Murken said. “But sometimes people don’t have the transportation they need.” 

Low-maintenance housing for seniors is another area of housing Murken said also needs to be addressed.

Wright is a farmer and was raised in Story County. He served as the president of the Iowa Farm Business Association. If he was elected, Wright said since he is in agriculture, he would like to focus on and review planning and zoning needs.

“When you go out and visit with Joe public around the county here, there is more concern out here of how the county government is being run than I ever believed,” Wright said. “What I can tell you in my heart is I think government is too big.”

Wright said as a county supervisor, he would focus on accountability for all departments within local government.

Murken’s second priority includes accessible and affordable broadband. She said the current county board of supervisors is working to determine who in the county does not have a connection. If elected, Murken said she would prioritize water quality in Story County, supporting the Nutrient Reduction Strategy Plan that aims to get fewer farm inputs and chemicals into waterways.

“We here in Ames have good water quality, but we need to protect that,” Murken said. “And soil health goes along with that because farming practices that help with water quality also help with soil health.”

The Story County Board of Supervisors maintains three seats, but Wright said he believes the board should expand to five to provide greater representation of Story County.

“I would like to have representation from all around the county, not what we have now, which is just the Ames area,” Wright said. “All three supervisors are real close to the Ames area, and I would like to see that spread out.” 

Carbon pipelines to traverse the county

Two carbon pipelines have been proposed to run through Story County. While supervisors do not have the authority to block the construction of a carbon pipeline, they do have the ability to regulate it. Murken said she is concerned about protecting agricultural land and the proximity of the pipelines to public areas.

“This is not a public utility; this is a private for-profit operation,” Murken said. “So we were the third county in fact that said to the Iowa Utility Board, please don’t use eminent domain.”

Wright had no comment regarding the carbon pipeline.


Wright said the country is going through an 8 to 10% inflation rate, and the county cannot afford to spend more taxpayer money.

“I don’t want more taxation,” Wright said. “We’ve got to look within the budgets of what we have and make that work.” 

That is not to say there will not be a day that levies may have to increase, Wright said, but it cannot be at this time. Wright said he is supportive of improving drainage district infrastructure.

“If there’s some way that we can take the funds that we have, the general funds we have, and allocate that to some different areas to improve our infrastructure,” Wright said. “I am all for that.”

The current board of supervisors has lowered the county tax rate twice in two years. Murken said they were able to do so without compromising any of the services the county provides.

The current board has also increased the budget for the Analysis of Social Services Evaluation Team (ASSET) by 25% in four years. This board of volunteers oversees the human services funding for the county.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of meeting the needs right now,” Murken said. “Childcare remains an issue; as I said, housing is an issue. We just hope that we’re able in the next few years to continue to provide some support, particularly to our smaller communities.” 

Reaching constituents

While trying to meet members of the Story County community, Wright has attended multiple public meetings. 

“I am a grassroots politician,” Wright said. “This isn’t what I want to do for a career. What I want is I want some accountability and some change going forward. So far, the people that have donated to my campaign believe in me and believed in what I stand for, and they’re ready to have someone like me represent them at the county level.”

Murken said she spends time door-knocking nearly every day.

“I love door knocking,” Murken said. “… You get to talk to people and figure out what is on their minds.”

Editor’s note: Read the Iowa State Daily’s reporting on the other two candidates running for the Story County Board of Supervisors, Kara Warme and Lisa Heddens.