Iowa continues to advance water quality actions

Report documents $420 million in public and private funding supporting water quality efforts in Iowa.

December 14, 2017

3 Min Read
Iowa continues to advance water quality actions
his Maryland farmer worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to plant buffers and install a stream crossing, reducing erosion and improving the stream’s water quality.USDA

Iowa continues to advance towards its goal of achieving a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loads in waters leaving the state, according to the annual report published jointly by Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The "Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Annual Progress Report" documents $420 million in public and private funding supporting water quality efforts in Iowa -- an increase of $32 million compared to the previous year. The report follows the “logic model” framework, which identifies measurable indicators of desirable change that can be quantified.

“We continue to focus highly on the main goal of water quality improvement, and it is gratifying to see we are moving in that direction. A great deal of collaboration and cooperation has taken place, which has enhanced and continues to enhance the partnerships and teamwork being done to successfully meet our end goals,” Iowa Department of Natural Resources director Chuck Gipp said.

The logic model framework recognizes that, in order to bring about a change in water quality, there is a need for increased inputs -- measured as funding, staff and resources. Inputs affect changes in outreach efforts and human behavior. This shift toward more conservation-conscious attitudes in the agricultural and point-source communities is a desired change in the human dimension of water quality efforts.

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Since 2013, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center has funded 54 projects with a primary focus on evaluating the performance of current and emerging in-field and edge-of-field practices to reduce nutrient loss. Of the 151 municipal wastewater plants and industrial facilities required to assess their nutrient removal capacity, 105 have been issued new permits, and 51 of those have submitted feasibility studies on potential technology improvements to reduce nutrient loss.

With changes in human attitudes and behavior, changes on the land may occur, which are measured as conservation practice adoption and wastewater treatment facility upgrades. Subsequently, these physical changes on the land may affect change in water quality, which ultimately can be measured through both empirical water quality monitoring and through modeled estimates of nutrient loads in Iowa surface water.

“While it will take time to reach the 45% reduction goal, the indicators we track are moving in the right direction,” said John Lawrence, interim vice president of extension and research at Iowa State University.

Government cost-share programs enrolled 300,000 cover crop acres in 2016. Iowa has experienced a steady increase in cover crop acres since 2011, and statewide estimates (beyond just cost-share) indicate that 600,000 acres were planted in 2016. Edge-of-field practices that address only nitrogen, such as bioreactors and nitrate-treating wetlands, are just starting to receive an increased focus from cost-share programs, the report noted.

Iowa has an extensive water quality monitoring system in place, and at least 88% of Iowa’s land naturally drains to a location with water quality sensors installed and maintained mainly by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the University of Iowa — IIHR and the U.S. Geological Survey. Water monitoring occurs at various scales, from edge of field to large watersheds. Long-term data will contribute to the understanding of local and statewide nutrient loss over time.

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