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Dubuque, Iowa DNR reach 'first-of-its-kind' water quality agreement

Tubers take a rapid at the Manchester Whitewater Park along the Maquoketa River in Manchester, Iowa, on Friday, Aug. 18,
Tubers take a rapid at the Manchester Whitewater Park along the Maquoketa River in Manchester, Iowa, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa municipalities and local farmers now have a road map for teaming up to address water quality, under an agreement establishing the first use of the state’s Nutrient Reduction Exchange.

The Dubuque City Council on Monday approved an agreement between the city and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources — negotiated by the agricultural conservation not-for-profit Sand County Foundation — that will let Dubuque meet certain state water quality requirements by working with farmers within the Apple-Plum, Grant-Little Maquoketa, and Maquoketa River watersheds.

The agreement represents a blueprint for Iowa municipalities and farmers to implement farm conservation practices to reduce erosion and runoff of chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorus — and a cost-effective means for addressing water quality “beyond expensive upgrades to municipal wastewater treatment plants,” according to a news release from the Sand County Foundation.

“This is a big deal for Iowa’s cities, big and small,” said Robert Palmer, general counsel for the Iowa League of Cities. “Projects like these provide multiple layers of value to the environment and ratepayers.”

Dr. Tim Male, who leads the Environmental Policy Innovation Center in Washington, D.C., said the agreement between Dubuque and the Iowa DNR also marks a new opportunity for more investment in rural communities.

“States should set water quality goals and allow cities to be creative in how they achieve them,” he said. “This agreement, and others to follow, will allow Iowa cities to do just that.”

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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