The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship recently relaunched cleanwateriowa.org with additional information about how residents are taking on the challenge of improving water quality.
The updated site includes success stories, news, updates, partners and more. Conservation practice pages now feature descriptions, benefits, resources and videos. There’s also a new Tools area, showcasing partner-run resources with added information on a variety of water quality topics.
“As water quality activities underway across the state continue to expand, this updated website provides more information about water quality practices and highlights the work that’s taking place in Iowa,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. “And, it is more user-friendly, as the navigation is more in-line with how we’ve come to discuss collaboration, innovation and the latest news regarding the Water Quality Initiative.”
Expanded information for farmers
Cost-share is offered statewide to farmers interested in trying cover crops, no-till or strip till, or nitrification inhibitors. The Iowa cost-share program is an incentive to allow farmers regardless of where they live to try a water quality practice, and the site has information on these and other water quality protection practices.
The updated site also includes expanded information on the 57 rural and urban water quality demonstration projects in place statewide. The 23 rural and 34 urban demonstration projects play a central role in water quality efforts in Iowa. “The projects allow us to focus more intently on smaller watersheds or targeted conservation practices, while working directly with farmers and landowners to achieve significant results,” notes Northey.
For example, while Iowa has seen increased adoption of cover crops statewide, in some demonstration project areas, the increase has been more dramatic, reaching 10% to 15% of the cropland in the watershed in the first few years.
Early efforts have provided information that’s been valuable in identifying key areas to focus resources to complement and build upon all of the other water quality improvement projects in the state. More information about how additional funds for water quality efforts will be prioritized is included in the Iowa Water Quality Initiative Scale-up Plan that can be found online.
Progress is being made in Iowa
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance recently hosted an Iowa Water Quality Initiative project partner meeting to review these demonstration projects and discuss the progress to date, along with the next steps in meeting the objectives of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Highlights from the demo project information shared during the meeting include these observations:
• Many farmers are trying cover crops on a few acres to better understand how they work on their farm. As a result, these farmers are developing significant ability to scale up cover crop acreage as they better understand the practice.
• Leveraging private sector and partner expertise in edge-of-field practices (saturated buffers, bioreactors and wetlands) has led to early success for these practices.
• Projects are able to access other funding sources to add traditional conservation practices (grassed waterways, Conservation Reserve Program acres, etc.) through other state and federal programs to complement the Iowa Water Quality Initiative’s efforts.
• Offering services for seeding and procuring seed with partners has helped to streamline the process and encourage adoption of cover crops.
• Project participants, as well as individual farmers on their own, are learning ways that best suit seeding and managing cover crops in their areas on their farms.
The Watershed Academy, led by Iowa State University and the Conservation Districts of Iowa organization, has helped create long-term professional development training opportunities for watershed project coordinators.
Currently, more than 150 partners are involved in demonstration projects in various areas of Iowa that are providing financial or in-kind support. Encouraged by the focus on this issue across the ag industry, these partners include multi-national corporations; federal, state and local governments; local groups; and advocacy organizations. These partnerships have brought in significant additional funding to support water quality. Examples include:
• A $13 million contribution from two USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants to support water quality efforts.
• Two new entities have been established to expand implementation and measuring progress toward the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. They are the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance and the Iowa Nutrient Research & Education Council.
• A grant from the Iowa Pork Producers Association to provide up to $25,000 this year to offset up to 50% of costs for pig farmers to install saturated buffers or bioreactors on their farmland.
• A $30,000 contribution by Ducks Unlimited to a recently completed CREP site in the Boone River Watershed project in Wright County.
Monitoring of water quality
Measuring effectively is important to showing progress to the public and informing others for future conservation activities.
• The Iowa Water Quality Initiative focuses monitoring in smaller watersheds to provide information, target resources and confirm the effectiveness of water quality protection practices. Monitoring at this scale will show results well before monitoring in larger rivers and watersheds.
• As part of the watershed demonstration projects, landowners have taken water samples from 208 locations to evaluate water quality needs and the effectiveness of practices.
• In addition, Iowa has an extensive ambient water quality monitoring system in place.
Funding from Iowa Legislature
Strong bipartisan support for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative has provided nearly $10 million in each of the last two years by the Iowa Legislature. Water quality improvements are a long-term process, and sustainable funding is needed to scale up efforts.
“The demonstration projects that are part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative have played a critical role in helping us learn how to best engage farmers in water quality efforts and have guided us as we have expanded our efforts,” says Northey. “I greatly appreciate the more than 150 partners who are part of these projects. I hope Iowans will visit cleanwateriowa.org to learn more about the efforts, and see how they can become engaged in the water quality work that is underway.”
Background on Iowa Water Quality Initiative
The Iowa Water Quality Initiative was established in 2013 to help implement the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a science and technology-based approach to achieving a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to streams and rivers. The strategy brings together both point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban storm water runoff, to address these issues.
The initiative seeks to harness the collective ability of both private and public resources and organizations to deliver a clear and consistent message to stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality.
The initiative is seeing results. Last fall, Northey announced that 1,800 farmers committed $3.8 million in cost-share funds to install nutrient reduction practices. Practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Participants include 980 farmers using a practice for the first time, and more than 830 past users who are trying cover crops again and are receiving a reduced-rate of cost share. Farmers using cost-share funding are providing an estimated $6 million in their own funding to adopt these water quality practices.
A total of 45 demonstration projects are located across Iowa to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices. This includes 16 targeted watershed projects, seven projects focused on expanding the use and innovative delivery of water quality practices, and 22 urban water quality demonstration projects. In addition, 12 new urban projects have been announced and will begin working later this spring. More than 150 organizations are participating in these projects. These partners will provide $25.28 million to go with the $16.09 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 farmers pay to match state and federal programs and funds farmers spent to build practices built without government assistance.