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#16: More money and scrutiny over flagging water quality | The Gazette Top Stories 2018

Gazette investigation: Little evidence nutrient levels falling

Bill Waldie of Shueyville records his results on a clipboard March 20 as he tests Clear Creek near Half Moon Avenue in Tiffin for nitrates for the Iowa Water Quality Information System. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Bill Waldie of Shueyville records his results on a clipboard March 20 as he tests Clear Creek near Half Moon Avenue in Tiffin for nitrates for the Iowa Water Quality Information System. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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As we take a look back at 2018, The Gazette newsroom assembled a list of our top stories of the year. Be sure to follow along as we count down to number 1!

This was the year concerns over Iowa’s water quality reached a volume too loud for state lawmakers to ignore.

University of Iowa researchers reported in April Iowa’s nitrate discharge is disproportionate to the amount of water flowing into bordering rivers, signaling the increased nitrate share isn’t from severe weather alone.

And 10 years after Iowa and 11 other Central U.S. states committed to reducing nitrate and phosphorus flowing from farm fields and industry into the Mississippi River, there is little evidence nutrient levels are falling, a Gazette investigation showed.

The Iowa Legislature passed a bill in January providing $282 million over 12 years toward the goals of reducing nutrients in public waters, with $4 million available the first year.

While this is the first state money allocated to nutrient reduction, critics say it’s not enough to make a substantial dent in the multibillion dollar problem and the funding isn’t focused on watersheds where it can make the most difference.

There are bright spots, including efforts in the Middle Cedar Watershed, where Iowa is spending millions of dollars from a federal grant to pay for ponds, wetlands, retention basins and terraces to improve water quality and reduce flood risks.

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Now the state just needs more Eastern Iowa farmers to sign on to the program that pays 90 percent of the cost of these projects.

• Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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