Government

Leaders look to scale up Iowa's nutrient reduction strategy

Voluntary effort marks anniversary, boosted by influx of funds

Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses a group of farm, research, community and political leaders gathered Tuesday at the Iowa State University BioCentury Research Farm near Boone to mark the fifth anniversary of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy adopted in 2013 as a voluntary, science- and technology-based effort to improve water quality in Iowa. (Rod Boshart/ The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses a group of farm, research, community and political leaders gathered Tuesday at the Iowa State University BioCentury Research Farm near Boone to mark the fifth anniversary of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy adopted in 2013 as a voluntary, science- and technology-based effort to improve water quality in Iowa. (Rod Boshart/ The Gazette)

 

BOONE — Iowa farm, research and political leaders Tuesday hailed the fifth anniversary of the state’s groundbreaking nutrient reduction strategy designed to improve water quality, but said the demonstration phase has ended and the time for aggressive implementation has begun.

”As we look to the next five years and beyond, we know that we need to continue to scale up our efforts to implement practices across the state,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig told a group gathered at the Iowa State University BioCentury Research Farm near Boone to mark the occasion.

“We have a lot of work to do. We know that,” Naig added. “We’ve had an effort to demonstrate these practices and now it’s time to really scale up implementation. We’ve got dedicated water-quality funding for the first time this year. That will ramp up over the next few years and allow us to really scale up and accelerate our efforts.”

Armed with more than $280 million for water quality efforts in Iowa over the next 12 years to fund the voluntary, science-based “road map” for cutting nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into waterways, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she expects Iowa will “continue charging forward” to meet the strategy’s goal to reduce the level of nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients by 45 percent.

“We’re excited about the future, we have the right plan, we have significant funding in place and a tremendous team of partners working on this critical issue,” said Reynolds, in pointing to more farmer participation in practices including cover crops, bioreactors in wetlands, nutrient management and saturation buffers intended to shield Iowa waters from harmful pollutants.

Reynolds, Naig and other state, federal and research officials on hand all said the state has made progress but provided no preliminary statewide data on water quality improvements but rather pointed to the increased number of farmers adopting practices shown to retain nutrients as indicators that nutrient losses were being reduced.

In the five years since the science- and technology-based strategy was finalized, there has been significant work by farmers, landowners, communities, businesses, stakeholders and partners to help improve water quality by assessing and reducing nutrient loss from both point sources —such as municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants — and nonpoint sources, like stormwater runoff from both rural and urban areas.

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Jamie Benning, water quality program manager for the Iowa State University Extension and outreach, said the strategy’s overall goal is very large and researchers need to break it up into elements they can track locally to assess if efforts that will lead to cleaner water are moving in the right direction.

The first step is seeing changes on the landscape in the number of practices that are being adopted and the number of acres involved that will need to be in place to reach the 45 percent reduction goal, she said. Benning noted that the number of acres have grown into the hundreds of thousands but will need to be in the millions “so we need many, many more acres, but we are moving in the right direction.”

She said the strategy follows the “logic model” framework that identifies measurable indicators of desirable change that can be quantified, and represents a progression toward the overall goals.

Critics of the legislation say it the effort has lacked adequate funding for conservation practices on a scale needed to address water quality issues that researchers have said will require as much as $5 billion and does not provide any methods to measure the funded programs’ effectiveness.

Iowa is one of 10 states that is contributing harmful nutrient pollutants that are flowing through the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, killing marine life there.

State ag officials pointed to $420 million in private and public sector funding for water quality efforts in 2017, an increase of $32 million compared to the previous year and more than 250 partner organizations are participating in the 65 water quality demonstration projects underway across the state that will provide $37.7 million to go with the $23.4 million in state funding going to these projects as examples of progress being made. Also, water monitoring systems have improved by utilizing “real-time” sensor technology for nitrogen and turbidity that allows for a much more accurate and precise accounting of statewide nutrient loads, the said.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Annual Progress Report is available at http://www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu/documents.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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