Reduce waterway pollution

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By Larry Stone


Iowans are confused and divided about the draft report, “Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The agencies, working behind closed doors with the Iowa Farm Bureau, spent two years drafting the report in response to U. S. Environmental Protection Agency orders to reduce pollution from agriculture, cities, and industries that is causing the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and DNR Director Chuck Gipp attempted to promote the strategy in their Jan. 20 op-ed. “A plan for Iowa’s water, soil quality.”

But when regional EPA official Karl Brooks sent a letter to the state about the strategy (, the Des Moines Register headline (Jan. 11) read “Iowa pollution plan criticized.” Ironically, the Iowa Farmer Today headline (Jan. 18) about the same letter said “EPA commends state plan to reduce nutrients.”

Huh? Which is it?

The Register reporter apparently read the entire 4 1/2-page letter, which included a number of criticisms and suggestions. For example, Brooks said the state’s plan ignored the importance of setting numerical limits on pollutants, relied solely on voluntary efforts by farmers, and overlooked public benefits of conservation practices such as cover crops and perennial crops.

The Iowa Farmer Today story went little further than to quote Brooks as calling the strategy a “great start.” In reality, that comment prefaced his list of more than 20 instances where the EPA said revisions were needed. Perhaps the Northey-Gipp “strategy” is little more than “hope.”

Let’s face it: Because agriculture causes most of the nutrient problems, farmers will have to bear the brunt of the burden if Iowa is going to help reduce the Dead Zone. And since billions of dollars in voluntary conservation practices over the past several decades have not solved the problem, farmers likely will be required to meet specific runoff criteria to reduce their pollution of our waterways.

Farmers should begin a transition away from intensive, industrial, petrochemical agriculture that a recent Iowa State University study blames for much of the erosion and nutrient runoff. We need more sustainable crops and cropping systems — being developed at The Land Institute. ISU’s Leopold Center and elsewhere — that mimic the native, water-absorbing landscape.

Larry Stone is a professional photographer, Clayton County Conservation Board member and author from Elkader whose work has been published in several conservation magazines. Comments:

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