Guest Columnist

Report on Iowa water quality falls short

Ridges of soil indicate where drainage tile was installed in a farm field in southern Buchanan County. Some environmentalists say additional drainage tile, which increases nitrate losses from farm fields, is offsetting reductions in nitrate pollution from conservation practices implemented as part of the state’s nutrient reduction strategy. (Gazette Archives)
Ridges of soil indicate where drainage tile was installed in a farm field in southern Buchanan County. Some environmentalists say additional drainage tile, which increases nitrate losses from farm fields, is offsetting reductions in nitrate pollution from conservation practices implemented as part of the state’s nutrient reduction strategy. (Gazette Archives)

The latest annual report of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was just released. I read it hoping to learn what progress has been made, given that this program was instituted five years ago.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig says: “This report shows progress in each of the areas measured. We are encouraged by the efforts of the public and private sectors to implement conservation practices across the state. And are working to build on this success going forward.”

My entire life has been closely involved with agriculture, and I drink water. I have read the report and it does state what areas are being addressed, who is doing what and the amount of money being spent toward the goals of the program. But that doesn’t tell us anything about what progress is being made to reduce pollution in our water way systems of Iowa.

Page 9 of the report shows from the baseline period of 1980 to 1996 to the 2006 to 2010 time period, nitrogen tons from nonpoint and point sources have increased 5.3 percent, and phosphorus tons have increased 18.5 percent. I don’t consider that progress with all the money being spent in this program.

There are no other measures of how well we are doing in the report. Why not?

While the nutrient-reduction plan and actions are absolutely needed, its biggest fault is that there are no measures in place to see whether money we are spending and practices we are implementing are really making a difference.

A 2018 study by the Engineering Department of the University of Iowa looked at the nitrogen load in tons per acre that are entering the Mississippi River watershed from Iowa and the Missouri River water shed from Iowa. The study shows that from 2000 to 2016, Iowa’s share of nitrogen has increased compared to the other states emptying into these two major rivers. The goal of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy Plan was to reduce pollutants into our water systems by 40 percent over five years.

Here are the questions we should be asking, with answers reported to us, the taxpayers of Iowa, annually:

• What are the changes in nitrogen pollution into our water systems each year of the study?

• What are the changes in phosphorus pollution into our water systems each year of the study?

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

• What are the rates of erosion measured in terms of tons per acres eroding from Iowa soils each year of the study?

• Why aren’t we measuring and reporting these data sets?

• If we are not making progress in reducing the flow of these pollutants into our water systems, what changes do we need to make so that we are reducing them?

• Conservation practices now are entirely voluntary; if they are not working, what do we need to do to get the desired results?

• Do we need to move to mandatory practices, or do we need to greatly increase the incentives to get the desired results?

I believe the Nutrient Reduction Strategy report is sorely lacking what we need to know.

• Larry Neppl lives in Marion.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.