Iowa has rich soils and a climate well suited for producing crops for food, fuel and fiber. But when it rains, farm fields can be susceptible to nutrient loss. This can impact not only Iowa's water quality, but also is a concern downstream in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is a large area of low oxygen that can't sustain marine life. Nutrients that lead to algae growth are the main culprit.
To help reduce this problem, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have launched a new initiative. It was announced in early October.
Iowa is launching a new initiative to reduce nutrients in streams
"Working with scientists at Iowa State, we are starting technical assessments needed for the development of a statewide strategy to reduce nutrients to streams and the Gulf of Mexico," says Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.
"The initial step is a scientific assessment of the practices needed to achieve the desired environmental goals," says Wendy Wintersteen, endowed dean for the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "Once that scientific assessment is complete, which is expected by mid-2011, Iowans will have the chance to provide input to the strategy."
Northey outlined the initiative last week in Washington D.C. during a meeting of the EPA's Farm Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee, of which he is a member, and during a video presentation to the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force which was meeting in Tunica, Miss.
Northey: other states are waiting, but Iowa wants to get started
The task force, which includes five federal agencies and representatives from 12 states along the Mississippi River or major tributaries, was established in 1997 to coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity and duration of hypoxia in the Gulf. Since then the task force published the 2001 Action Plan, performed a reassessment of the science, called for an expert EPA Science Advisory Board Panel report and released the 2008 Action Plan.
The 2008 Action Plan describes actions to reduce, mitigate and control hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and improve overall water quality in the Mississippi River Basin. It also calls for each state along the Mississippi River to develop its own nutrient reduction strategy.
"Many of the other states draining to the Gulf are waiting on the hope of federal funding assistance to develop their strategies," says Northey. "Iowa is voluntarily moving forward to complete as much as we can of the assessment and strategy using existing state funds, much of which is from fees paid by Iowa farm families. We don't know if these funds will be adequate to complete the strategy, but we didn't want to wait to start the process.