Strategy To Reduce Farm And Sewage Runoff Released For Comment

Strategy To Reduce Farm And Sewage Runoff Released For Comment

Gov. Branstad asks for public comment on a nutrient reduction strategy developed by the state to curb water pollution from farm runoff.

At a press conference at the State Capitol on November 19, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad released a long-awaited report detailing how the state of Iowa will reduce pollution from farms and sewage treatment plants to help shrink the "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology based approach to reducing nutrients that are entering Iowa waters and making their way to the Gulf, which is the nation's top commercial fishing area.

YOUR INPUT WANTED: Gov. Terry Branstad on November 19 released the long-awaited Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy report, explaining that the strategy is a science and technology based approach to reducing nutrients which are entering Iowa waters and flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. "The goal of this strategy is to get more conservation practices on the ground," says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. "It is not about rules or regulations instead this strategy provides resources to farmers to help them improve water quality."

Branstad was joined at the press conference by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey along with Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Dr. John Lawrence from Iowa State University to announce the release of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy for public comment. Iowans have until January 4 to comment on the report, which has been developed over the past two years.

"Iowans care about our natural resources and want to protect them for future generations." Branstad said. "This strategy keeps us at the forefront of using voluntary, science-based practices to improve water quality in our state, and is an important step forward." 

Strategy outlines voluntary efforts needed to reduce nutrients in surface water

The state officials explain that the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based approach to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy outlines voluntary efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources including farm fields and urban areas, in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, worked with Iowa State University administrators ag researchers over a two-year period to develop the strategy. The resulting strategy is the first time such a comprehensive and integrated approach addressing both point and nonpoint sources of nutrients has been completed.

EPA directed each state in Mississippi River basin to develop a plan to reduce water pollution from nutrients

The Iowa strategy has been developed in response to the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan that calls for the 12 states along the Mississippi River to develop strategies to reduce nutrient loading to the Gulf of Mexico. The Iowa strategy follows the recommended framework provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 and Iowa is only the second state, so far, to complete a statewide nutrient reduction strategy.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

The strategy's science assessment provides a research-based foundation to quantify the effectiveness of current practices for reducing nutrient losses from the landscape," says John Lawrence, associate dean for Extension and outreach programs in ISU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of ISU Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension. "The assessment reflects two years of work to evaluate and model the effects of the practices by scientists from ISU, IDALS, DNR, USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and other institutions."

Iowans are encouraged to read the report, provide feedback during comment period

Iowans are invited to review the strategy and to provide feedback during a 45-day public comment period that started November 19 and will end on January 4, 2013.  The full report, additional information and place for comments can be found online here.

In addition, presentations will be made to farmers, certified crop advisers and others in the agriculture industry as part of ISU Extension and Outreach educational meetings beginning this fall. Thousands of people will learn of the strategy, where to find more information and how to provide comments about it.

Point sources of pollution are one of the major focuses of the report

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will be working with major facilities throughout the state, such as sewage treatment plants, to reduce nutrient discharges from point sources to Iowa's waters with a goal of reducing total phosphorus by 16% and total nitrogen by 4%.

"The DNR has been working with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and ISU for nearly two years and we support this strategy document and the collaborative process that created it. Many Iowans enjoy our state's natural resources and it's important we protect them for future generations," says Gipp.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

The report generated some complaints even before it was released, as a draft of the report was obtained by a large newspaper in Iowa. The newspaper article was critical of the report, saying it contained sections that were copied nearly verbatim from Iowa Farm Bureau documents. The newspaper article also said some DNR staffers compiled comments on factual errors and disputed assumptions. DNR director Gipp says the questions raised about the report have been addressed in the latest draft.

Nonpoint sources of pollution are the other major focus of the report

To address nutrient transport from nonpoint sources, such as runoff from farm fields, the strategy outlined in the report uses a comprehensive, first of its kind scientific assessment of conservation practices and associated costs to reduce loading of nutrients to Iowa surface waters. The strategy identifies five key categories to focus the efforts in addressing nonpoint sources and identifies multiple action items within each category.

The five categories are: Setting Priorities; Documenting Progress; Research and Technology; Strengthen Outreach, Education, Collaboration; and Funding.

"By harnessing the collective innovation and capacity of Iowa agricultural organizations, ag businesses and farmers the strategy takes a significant step forward towards implementing practices to improve water and soil quality," says Branstad.

This strategy isn't about rules and regulations, it's aimed at helping farmers improve water quality

"This strategy provides the most up-to-date scientific information available to farmers as they seek to use the best practices available to reduce nutrient delivery from their farm," Northey adds. "The goal of this strategy is to get more conservation practices on the ground. This is not about rules or regulations, instead this strategy provides resources to farmers to help them improve water quality."

According to the report, the voluntary work will end up costing Iowans and federal taxpayers money by providing cost-share funding to help reduce the pollution. The farm projects would cost landowners and federal taxpayers between $77 million and $756 million a year, plus upfront costs of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion. Improvements to the state's 124 largest sewage systems would add another $956 million in capital costs and up to $38 million in annual operating costs, paid primarily by homeowners and businesses who use the sewage treatment systems.

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