Nutrient Reduction Strategy key to keeping Iowa a national leader in conservation

By Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Chuck Gipp, Director of the Iowa DNR

Iowans have a long history of deep care for the land and working together to solve problems.  The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy continues those traditions and makes Iowa a leader in finding solutions to nutrient loading to the waters of our state and improving water quality.

The Iowa strategy is the first time stakeholders from both the point source community, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farmers, have come together to develop a comprehensive plan.

In the past, there has been a tendency on both sides to point fingers and place blame, and the result was inaction.

The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan calls for the 12 states along the Mississippi River to develop strategies to reduce both nitrogen and phosphorus loading to the Gulf of Mexico by 45 percent.  The Iowa strategy follows the recommended framework provided by EPA in 2011 and is only the second state to complete a statewide nutrient reduction strategy.

In the development of this strategy we have focused on using a science and technology-based approach to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and, eventually, to the Gulf of Mexico.  As a result, the Iowa strategy is the first time such a comprehensive and integrated approach addressing both point and nonpoint sources of nutrients has been completed.

At the core of the strategy is a scientific evaluation of practices that have been proven to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, the key nutrients that have been targeted for reduction, from agricultural landscapes combined with feasible and reasonable wastewater treatment technologies for point sources.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will be working with large municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities throughout the state to reduce nutrient discharges from these sources to Iowa’s waters.  These large municipal facilities treat more than 80% of the wastewater produced by all Iowa cities and serve 55-60% of Iowa’s population.

The approach relies on existing programs to require evaluation and installation of proven treatment technologies that are determined to be feasible, reasonable and cost effective with a goal of reducing the amount of total phosphorus entering Iowa streams and rivers by 16 percent and total nitrogen by 4 percent.

For nonpoint sources, the goal is to reduce the statewide nitrogen load by 41 percent and phosphorus load by 29 percent.  The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship worked with a science team led by Iowa State University to quantify the effectiveness of a variety of conservation practices at reducing nutrient losses from the landscape and estimate the load reductions and cost of implementing these proven practices.

The assessment team included scientists from ISU, Iowa Department of Agriculture, DNR, USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and other institutions.

To achieve these aggressive nutrient reduction goals, 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.

To help start getting more of these practices on the landscape that have been proven to reduce nutrient loading, the Iowa Department of Agriculture has requested an additional $2.4 million in the next fiscal year for water quality work and $4.4 million in fiscal 2015.

By harnessing the collective innovation and capacity of Iowa agricultural organizations, ag businesses and Iowa’s 90,000 farmers, the strategy takes a significant step forward towards implementing practices to improve water and soil quality on the state’s more than 30 million acres of farmland.

To be successful, this strategy needs the input and support of all Iowans.  The full strategy is available at and public comments will be accepted until Friday, January 18, 2013.

We see this strategy as a key first step as all Iowans, both those on the farm and in urban areas, renew their efforts to move forward together to better protect the water here in Iowa and downstream, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.