The long-term water quality funding approved by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law earlier this year is being used to scale up water quality efforts. The Iowa Department of Agriculture in late October announced the hiring of a state coordinator to oversee and encourage the use of edge-of-field water quality protection practices.
Also hired are three watershed implementation coordinators to oversee the use of water quality protection practices for the three specific watersheds.
“Having dedicated, long-term water quality funding in place is critically important as we continue to expand our focus on edge-of-field conservation practices that have been proven to significantly reduce nitrate levels,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We are excited to highlight the first examples of how Iowans will benefit from this legislation that provides more than $280 million for water quality efforts over the next 11 years.”
More boots on the ground
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received an additional $2 million this fiscal year. This new funding will focus on edge-of-field conservation practices that benefit water quality. Work is being concentrated on implementation of wetlands, saturated buffers and bioreactors that reduce nitrogen loss to streams in priority watersheds.
IDALS is dedicating additional resources and restructuring responsibilities within the Water Quality Initiative program to support the growing demand from farmers and increased funding availability for these practices. New roles are being added within the department to support one-on-one outreach efforts to prospective landowners on conservation practices, with an emphasis on infrastructure-based practices that address nitrogen loss.
“We are putting additional ‘boots on the ground’ to provide technical capability and help effectively deliver these key nutrient reduction practices at an increased pace and scale. We are moving from demonstration to broader implementation of these practices, as water quality funding ramps up over the next few years,” Naig said.
Edge-of-field coordinator hired
Shane Wulf has been hired by IDALS for a new role as an edge-of-field coordinator and will focus on scaling up implementation of these practices within priority watersheds. In this role, Wulf will provide technical assistance to local soil and water conservation district offices, farmers and landowners to increase the capacity to deliver nutrient reduction practices.
Wulf previously worked as a water quality project coordinator in Miller Creek Water Quality Initiative Demonstration Project in Black Hawk County, where he gained firsthand experience implementing edge-of-field conservation practices.
Watershed implementation coordinators
In addition, three new watershed implementation coordinators will focus on scaling up nutrient reduction conservation practice delivery in the North Raccoon, Middle Cedar and South Skunk priority watersheds. They will continue to support successful water quality initiative demonstration projects and serve as regional technical resources to expand water quality efforts within larger, targeted priority watersheds.
Lee Gravel is the new North Raccoon watershed implementation coordinator and will work locally to increase the adoption of proven conservation practices within the watershed. He previously was a water quality project coordinator with the Buena Vista Soil and Water Conservation District.
Clark Porter will focus on the Middle Cedar watershed, including building on the success of the Miller Creek project.
Doug Gass has been hired as the watershed implementation coordinator for the South Skunk watershed, including a focus on the Squaw Creek watershed northwest of Ames. He has been hired by Iowa State University in partnership with IDALS.
Water quality funding increased
Earlier this year the Iowa Legislature passed, and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation providing a growing source of funding to support water quality efforts in Iowa over the next 11 years. The legislation will provide $3.9 million this fiscal year and increase to more than $27 million annually in 2021.
IDALS will receive about $2 million of the funding this year, $4 million next year and then more than $15 million annually from FY 2021 to FY 2029. The remaining funds will go to the Iowa Finance Authority to support communities upgrading wastewater treatment facilities to better protect water quality.
“We’ve made great progress and are building a culture of conservation across the state. With this long-term dedicated water quality funding, we will build on that success and accelerate the adoption of water quality practices that benefit all Iowans,” Naig said. This new funding will complement the efforts of the more than 250 organizations that are providing $42.2 million to support water quality efforts across the state. Examples include:
• $18.2 million from six USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants
• $1 million grant from EPA focused in the Des Moines River Basin and will be used to support the construction and demonstration of edge-of-field practices
• $110,000 from Ducks Unlimited for several water quality wetlands
• $50,000 from the Iowa Pork Producers Association to help offset the costs for pig farmers to install saturated buffers or bioreactors on their farm land
• $2 million from the USDA’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative that will support eight of the Water Quality Initiative watershed projects
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 Iowa waters. 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 clear and consistent message to stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality.
The initiative is seeing some exciting results. This fall 2,800 farmers invested an estimated $9 million in funding to match $5 million in state cost-share funds to adopt cover crops, no-till or strip till, or use a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Participants include more than 1,000 farmers using a practice for the first time and nearly 1,800 past users who are trying cover crops again and are receiving a reduced rate of cost-share.
A total of 64 demonstration projects are currently located across the state to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices. This includes 14 targeted watershed projects, seven projects focused on expanding the use and innovative delivery of water quality practices and 43 urban water-quality demonstration projects.
More than $420 million in funding has been documented for efforts in support of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy last year. This represents a $32 million increase of funding in support of Iowa water quality programs and conservation efforts over the previous year. More information about the initiative can be found at CleanWaterIowa.org.