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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Iowa water quality projects and programs will receive $5 million in federal funding over five years as part of new resources announced Friday by state and federal officials.
The funding, from the federal infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress in November 2021, is being dedicated to 12 states involved with a federal task force that is designed to reduce pollutants that flow from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, killing sea and plant life in a “dead zone” there.
The funding was announced at a joint news conference with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. State and federal officials called the new federal funding for water quality “unprecedented.”
Naig said the funding will help scale up existing programs designed to reduce pollutants in Iowa’s waterways and will help fund the creation of more wetlands, which meet the same goal.
“One of the key topics for discussion in the task force is around funding. You can have a strategy, you can have a plan in your states. But do you have the resources that you need to implement?” Naig said during the news conference. “So the funding being announced (Friday) is critically important to helping states accelerate the adoption of conservation practices in their priority watersheds.”
Scientists at Iowa State University in 2008 created the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, an action plan designed to provide guidance for how the state can reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous pollutants in its waterways.
Iowa is one of the 12 states involved with the federal Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, and Naig is a co-chair and the task force’s top state-level representative.
The federal task force’s other co-chair, EPA assistant administrator for office of water Radhika Fox, also spoke at Friday’s news conference. Fox said she believes the new funding will “super-charge” efforts to accomplish the task force’s goal of reducing nutrients in the Mississippi River by 20 percent by 2025.
In an investigative report called “Treading Waters,” The Gazette wrote in 2018 that the task force originally set a goal of cutting nitrate and phosphorus pollution by 45 percent by 2015 — but then pushed the goal back by 20 years.
Despite millions being spent by the states on water quality efforts, The Gazette investigation found the average size of the “dead zone” still was about three times larger than what the task force had set as its original goal. The report found efforts by the states to reduce pollution were unfocused and underfunded.
“I think what’s incredible about these resources is that we’re going to be able to invest in conservation practices that help our farmers thrive, their businesses thrive, while protecting water quality,” Fox said Friday. “It’s an incredible moment and I just can’t wait to see the work that is going to unfold over the next five years because of these resources.”
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