Iowa celebrated Soil and Water Conservation Week from April 30 to May 7. The event is an annual opportunity to recognize the important conservation practices placed on Iowa’s landscape and to bring attention to the ongoing work by farmers, landowners and urban residents to protect the state’s soil and water resources.
“Iowans in our towns and on our farms continue to engage in water quality and soil conservation efforts,” said Bill Northey, Iowa ag secretary. “This week is an opportunity to celebrate all the work that has been done and highlight the efforts currently underway to prevent soil erosion and improve water quality. It is vital that we preserve the soil and water resources that help make Iowa agriculture so productive and such a key driver of our state’s economy.”
On May 4, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Northey visited a farm in the Big Creek Watershed where four saturated buffers were installed last fall, and a bioreactor and oxbow restoration project will be built later this year. Branstad also signed a proclamation recognizing April 30 to May 7 as Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week during the event. The farm is located at 2155 290th St., near Madrid in central Iowa.
Urban water protection efforts
On May 3, a field day and ribbon-cutting ceremony were held for a number of urban water quality projects that have been installed in Rockwell City. The projects, undertaken by the city, will capture stormwater and use innovative methods to remove contaminants and improve the quality of the runoff prior to its discharge into the storm sewer system. The events started with a tour at Featherstone Park (large camping cabin on the south end) and included a ribbon-cutting for the downtown square improvement project at the Rockwell City Town Square.
Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week is held in coordination with National Stewardship Week, sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts. This year’s Stewardship Week theme was “Healthy Soils Are Full of Life.” More information about the activities held during Soil and Water Conservation Week in Iowa can be found online.
Iowa conservation history lesson
During the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, the first efforts to prevent soil erosion were developed. In 1939, Iowa passed a law establishing a state agency and the means for soil and water conservation districts to organize. Over 70 years later, the 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state are hosting a variety of events to highlight the conservation work being done in the state.
• Iowa Department of Agriculture. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has a Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality. This part of IDALS provides leadership in the protection and management of soil, water and mineral resources in the state. The division also works with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Iowa and private farmers and landowners to meet their agricultural and environmental protection needs, in both rural and urban landscapes. Its conservation partners include USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State University and Conservation Districts of Iowa.
• Iowa Water Quality Initiative. The Iowa Water Quality Initiative was established in 2013 to help implement the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. INRS is a science- and technology-based approach to achieving a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to the streams, rivers and lakes in the state. The strategy brings together both point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban stormwater runoff, to address these issues. The initiative seeks to harness the collective ability of both private and public resources and organizations to deliver a consistent message to stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality. Last fall, Northey announced that 1,800 farmers committed $3.8 million in cost-share funds to install nutrient reduction practices. The practices that were eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or the use of a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer.
Currently, 57 demonstration projects located across the state help implement and demonstrate water quality practices through the initiative. More than 150 organizations are participating in these projects. These partners will provide more than $25 million to go with over $16 million in state funding going to these projects.
More than $340 million in state and federal funds have been directed to programs with water quality benefits in Iowa last year. This total does not include the cost-share amount that farmers pay out of their own pocket to match state and federal programs nor does the $340 million include funds spent to build practices built without government assistance.
Do you have your own story to tell?
Do you have a story you want to share about soil and water conservation? Here are a few ways you can participate:
• Share your stories on social media using the hashtag #HealthySoilsAreFullofLife.
• Participate in the Handful of Soil campaign by taking a photo of someone’s hands holding healthy soil with an Iowa plant (seedling, cover crop, corn, native, etc.) in it.
• Nominate a farmer for an award. Nominations are being accepted for the Iowa Soil Conservation Awards Program’s Farmer of the Year and the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. Visit Conservation Districts of Iowa’s website for details.