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Water Quality Efforts Highlighted Through Watershed Projects

Last week, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds highlighted a collaborative effort towards water quality.

She says watershed projects around the state have made significant progress on water quality under the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which seeks to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses by 45 percent.

Specifically highlighted by the governor was the Miller Creek watershed.

According to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, there's now more than 600,000 acres of cover crops across the state, 6,500 of those are in Miller Creek, which accounts for about 20 percent of its row crop acres.

Northey says, "This planning helps us put the right practice in the right place and make sure that we're getting the most for our water quality dollars and we're seeing exciting progress in some of our targeted watershed areas."

In total, the watershed based approach program in the midwest totals $48.5 million with 47 partners. About $10 million of that is in USDA funds.

The estimated cost of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy for full implementation is $3-4 billion dollars.

In Miller Creek, five farmer applications for cost shares were turned away because there weren't enough dollars.

Last week, though, the Iowa legislature passed a new bill for prolonged water quality funding totaling $282 million dollars, set to be signed by the governor on Wednesday.

Reynolds says, "We believe we have the right strategy and when we talk about funding for water quality, we want to make sure we have a dedicated long term and growing revenue source so that we can identify best practices and scale those across the state of Iowa."

Farmer engagement is one of the challenges of watershed projects, but executive director for the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance Sean McMahon says the Milller Creek watershed has efforts to reach out to the private sector to encourage farmers by providing information and resources to start expanding conservation practices on their farms.

McMahon says, "There are 19 agribusinesses that are actively engaged, actively reaching out to their farmer customers, and having conservation conversations with their farmers about practices that can both improve water quality and also increase yields and profitability. So we're really starting to make progress in reaching farmers that typically don't walk through the door of their local USDA office but work through their private sector of agronomists."

McMahon says the watershed approach helps stakeholders target best conservation practice to make good use of taxpayer dollars while also meeting local needs and improving water quality.