Iowa Department of Ag to Help Cities Fight Runoff

New state program to focus on helping towns and cities improve water quality.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey on August 24 announced that the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will hire four new conservationists to focus on a new urban conservation program. The state ag department's soil conservation division will provide one year's funding to the soil and water conservation districts in four counties. They are West Pottawattamie, Dickinson, Johnson, and Polk Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

"It's important that individuals in town and on the farm are both doing everything they can to protect the state's water supply," says Northey. "Often times our urban storm water systems take water directly from the streets to our rivers, lakes and streams. While it's important that we effectively get our water off our roadways and keep it out of our basements, the current system often carries too many pollutants directly into our state's streams rivers and other waterways."

Program will provide technical assistance

The new conservationists will be able to provide information and technical assistance on soil and water conservation methods to land development professionals, city officials, government agencies and private landowners.

Funds from the state of Iowa's Resource Enhancement and Protection program will fund the positions and are designed to supplement the work currently being done in the 100 soil and water conservation districts across the state that provide information and technical assistance to rural landowners.

While the new employees will be located in the rapidly developing areas around Council Bluffs, Iowa City, Des Moines and the Iowa Great Lakes area in northwest Iowa, the employees will also provide expertise to communities across the entire state.

"Many rapidly growing communities and the developers working there have an interest in making the investment necessary to improve water quality, but don't necessarily have the expertise to do it," says Northey. "This new water quality initiative of ours is not an effort to regulate. But rather, it is designed to provide the assistance communities need to include water quality improvement projects from the very beginning in the building of new houses and other such land development activities."

Urban conservation issues must be addressed

The program is designed to offer local government more tools for addressing urban conservation questions and concerns. Each of the four pilot projects will respond to requests for information and assistance, conduct training, and establish demonstration projects to showcase innovative and proven conservation systems, says Northey.

As part of the soil and water conservation district, project coordinators will be able to work with both private and public landowners when dealing with watersheds that have both rural and urban land uses. In many areas, efforts are needed to protect resources ahead of development to minimize the impact on water quality and local infrastructure systems.

The projects will also promote better use of available soil survey information, and will encourage consideration of alternatives that feature reduced runoff, lower impact from development, and higher priority on greenbelts, trails, stream buffers and open space.

"Soil and water districts have the responsibility for protecting natural resources in all areas of the state, rural and urban alike," says Northey. "We hope this is just the beginning of efforts to expand our efforts to assist urban areas.

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