The Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship on March 4 announced that three additional watershed demonstration projects in Iowa have been selected to receive $1.4 million in funding through the Iowa Water Quality Initiative over the next three years. In addition to state funds, the three projects will provide an additional $1.4 million in matching funds to support water quality improvement efforts as well as other in-kind contributions.
One of the three new watershed projects—the one covering Calhoun, Sac and Buena Vista counties—is particularly noteworthy. These three counties in northwest Iowa are the counties the Des Moines Water Works is threatening to sue over water quality issues.
Des Moines Water Works targeting drainage districts in three counties
The Water Works board of trustees in January sent a "letter of intent to sue" to the county boards of supervisors in the three counties. The Water Works alleges the supervisors in Calhoun, Sac and Buena Vista counties aren't doing enough to prevent drainage districts from allowing high levels of nitrate in water to flow from drainage tile in farm fields and enter streams and rivers.
The Des Moines Water Works gets its water supply from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, and has had to operate its costly nitrate removal system to process the water for drinking this winter. The utility says drainage districts, and indirectly farmers, are contributing to high levels of nitrates in water supplies that must be removed to make the water safe for drinking.
The three newly selected watershed projects announced by the Iowa Department of Agriculture on March 4 will join 13 targeted Water Quality Initiative demonstration watershed projects that were previously funded to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices. The state has provided $6 million in funding to support these existing projects and has leveraged an additional $10.3 million in additional funding from partners and landowners. More than 70 organizations are participating in the projects.
Projects will focus on practices in Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy
"These three new demonstration projects allow us to have a presence in each of the nine large priority watersheds identified by the Iowa Water Resources Coordinating Council," says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. "These watershed projects are an important part of our water quality efforts as they allow us to focus on dramatically increasing efforts to spread adoption of practices proven to improve water quality. This is an important step to see what is most effective as we seek to expand our efforts all across the state."
The demonstration watersheds selected cover 274,596 acres. The projects will implement and demonstrate the effectiveness and adaptability of a host of conservation practices including, but not limited to: cover crops, nutrient management, wetlands, terraces, bioreactors, buffer strips, no-till, strip-till, nitrogen inhibitors, extended rotations, conservation cover, drainage water management and manure management.
Over 30 organizations are partnering to help provide matching funds
More than 30 partners from agriculture organizations, institutions of higher education, private industry, the local, state and federal government, and others, are working together on these projects.
Applications were requested in early December 2014 and all were reviewed by a committee including representatives from the state ag department, Iowa State University, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Northern Iowa, and the University of Iowa. The committee made recommendations that were used by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in selecting the projects to be funded. A short summary of each of the projects follows here:
Elk Run Watershed Water Quality Initiative Project – Sac, Carroll and Calhoun counties
Grant award: $354,000
Total project: $713,000
Project leader: Agriculture's Clean Water Alliance (ACWA)
Partners: Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Crop Production Services, Farmers Cooperative Company, West Central Cooperative, Iowa State University Extension, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, Sac Soil and Water Conservation District, Carroll Soil and Water Conservation District, Calhoun Soil and Water Conservation District, Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Project details: ACWA and partners are leading a demonstration and implementation project in the Elk Run watershed to target and showcase both in-field and edge-of-field practices that reduce nutrient loss to surface waters. The project will establish a one-on-one dialogue with farmers and landowners in the watershed to discuss opportunities to incorporate and build on conservation measures on their farms. Activities will include outreach events to highlight various technologies that significantly reduce loss of nutrients while maintaining the productive capability of cropland in the watershed.
Headwaters North Raccoon River – Buena Vista and Pocahontas counties
Grant award: $501,810
Total project: $1,237,830
Project leaders: Buena Vista & Pocahontas Soil & Water Conservation Districts
Partners: Ag Partners Cooperative, Farm Nutrients, First Cooperative, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa State University Extension, Antares Group Incorporated, City of Storm Lake, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service
Project details: The Headwaters North Raccoon River project will work side-by-side with local farmers and partners to promote the integration of management and other practices to decrease the loss of nutrients to surface waters. A comprehensive list of key trusted agricultural advisors and retailers have been assembled to help deliver and promote nutrient stewardship practices in the watersheds.
Leading a New Collaborative Approach to Improving Water Quality in the Squaw Creek Watershed – Story, Boone and Hamilton counties
Grant award: $609,164
Total project: $930,788
Project leaders: Prairie Rivers of Iowa Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D)
Partners: Squaw Creek Watershed Management Authority (WMA), Story County Board of Supervisors, Boone County Board of Supervisors, Story Soil and Water Conservation District, Boone Soil and Water Conservation District, Hamilton Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Ames, Story County Conservation Board, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Heartland Cooperative, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Technical Service Provider Network, Emmons & Oliver, Iowa State University Bioeconomy Institute, DuPont Pioneer
Project details: The Prairie Rivers of Iowa RC&D, in cooperation with the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Authority, is leading this effort in the Squaw Creek Watershed. This project will take a collaborative approach involving multiple stakeholders to address runoff in the watershed through practice implementation, outreach/education events, and assessment. The Squaw Creek WMA established a strategic plan in 2014 to help guide and target implementation efforts within the watershed. Included in the plan was an assessment of the watershed that will help assess and target locations for best management practices to protect and improve water quality.