State officials have launched a website to serve as a resource to help Iowans protect and improve the quality of water in lakes, streams and rivers. "All Iowans can take steps to help improve our state's water quality and this site serves as a one-stop-shop for conservation practices we can all use—whether on the farm, at a business or by a homeowner," said Governor Terry Branstad, announcing the website Oct. 28 at his weekly press conference.
The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp for the introduction of CleanWaterIowa.org. The new website has "Farm," "Residential & Urban," and "City & Industry" sections providing information about science-based practices that can be used to improve water quality. The site includes descriptions of water quality practices, their benefits and links to additional information.
"This site is one of the resources available to help Iowans achieve the goals outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy," said Reynolds. "Working together and everyone doing their part will help us continue to make significant water quality improvements."
New site has information to help farmers meet goals outlined in Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy
Success stories, information on upcoming events and education materials are available on the site. Iowans are invited to share their water quality success stories as well. "It is an exciting time and we are seeing a tremendous amount of interest in water quality practices from Iowans across the state," said Northey. "Farmers are engaged and we are in a scaling up phase as we get these science-based practices on more and more acres."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
In addition to the website, Iowans can follow @CleanWaterIowa on Twitter or "like" the page on Facebook to receive updates and other information about the ongoing Iowa water quality initiative.
The new website arrives amid calls from environmental organizations for tighter regulations to put teeth behind voluntary water cleanup efforts. State officials have come under fire from environmentalists who claim Iowa hasn't done enough to curb water pollution. Nitrate problems in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers, which supply drinking water for Des Moines residents, have intensified the debate.
While state officials tout website, environmental activists find fault, and say the state isn't doing enough to reduce water pollution
Last spring the Des Moines Water Works used its nitrate removal system for the first time since 2007 after levels of health-threatening nitrates hit record-highs in both the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, two of the Des Moines area's main drinking-water sources. Nitrate levels in the rivers have since moved back down to low levels and Des Moines' tap water remains safe, but the $4 million nitrate-removal facility, installed in 1992, costs about $7,000 a day to run, says Bill Stowe, general manager of the water works. The nitrate removal facility is not currently in operation as nitrate has retreated to low levels.
This situation shows that voluntary conservation efforts on farms aren't working and do not bode well for the future of the Des Moines area's water supply, says Stowe. He says nitrates come mainly from fertilizer applied for crops and from field drainage systems. More drainage tile is installed on more acres each year, he notes, and he maintains his stance that voluntary compliance with government soil conservation programs and recommendations isn't sufficient.
However, DNR chief Gipp is convinced the state's voluntary water quality initiatives are going to be a success "because many Iowans want them to work," he says. At the press conference, Branstad declined to make any promises to Des Moines area residents about eliminating nitrates from drinking water supplies. He suggested it's a good idea to have the nitrate-removal facility.
Governor and other state leaders say voluntary efforts by farmers will work if given a chance
The governor said what people need to understand is Iowa went through at drought situation that was quite severe in 2012 and there was very little problem with nitrates in the water supply—the concentration was below the federal standard. Then the spring of 2013 came along and was very wet, with record rainfall. That flushed nitrates from the soil and pushed the concentration in the river water higher than federal standards allow. Thus, the Des Moines Water Works had to use its nitrate removal equipment to lower the nitrate concentration in the drinking water supply.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
"With variability in weather patterns from year to year, you are going to have that," said Branstad. "Over 90% of our land has conservation practices but when you have these severe situations and excess rain, especially in spring before the crops are growing, you're going to have these kinds of problems. I don't think you can ever assure people that won't happen. Des Moines is fortunate to have a good system to be able to protect the public when there is a problem."
During the 2013 Iowa Legislative session, lawmakers appropriated $22.4 million to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for a nutrient reduction strategy and other water quality projects. Development of the website, which cost $23,900 to launch, is the latest step in the state's efforts, Branstad said.
Farmers need different choices for conservation practices to use, depending on each field's particular situation
Northey noted that IDALS began a cost-sharing project in August and in two weeks 1,100 Iowa farmers signed up for the 50% cost-sharing to put more soil conservation practices on 120,000 acres of farmland. "That's a tremendous response," notes Northey. He also points out that a conservation program is being targeted for watersheds, intensifying efforts to plant cover crops and use other practices that will improve Iowa's water quality.
"The new website will help inform farmers of conservation options," says Northey. "Each farm is different. Each farmer is different. They need many different choices about what they can use on their farms, and this offers them that information."
Environmentalists want the state to set numeric standards to improve water quality in Iowa's lakes, streams and rivers
A spokesman for the Iowa Environmental Council, Matt Hauge, says his organization supports the state's efforts to provide information about best management practices to improve and protect water quality. But more work is needed, he adds. "We know Iowa needs to dramatically expand soil conservation practices, and we would like to see state government set goals, deadlines and timelines that say how we're going to do this," says Hauge. The council is pushing state officials to set numeric standards to improve water quality in Iowa's lakes, rivers and streams that are on the Environmental Protection Agency's "water quality impaired" list.
A spokesman for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is also skeptical about the new Iowa website's value. "Governor Branstad has made it clear he doesn't care about cleaning up Iowa's water," says David Goodner, an ICCI organizer on farm and environmental issues. "He's refused to endorse mandatory and enforceable nutrient load standards in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. His administration has been marked by a greater concern for corporate ag profits than it has been for cleaning up Iowa's polluted waterways."