Iowa’s water quality progress continues to accelerate

It may be an understatement, but these past few years have provided some unique challenges. Yet, despite supply chain disruptions, inflation, and unpredictable weather, we continue to see record engagement in our state’s conservation activity. The increased level of awareness and resources, coupled with an expanding list of public and private partnerships, has led to the adoption of more conservation practices now than at any time in our state’s history.

As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, it’s important to take a moment to look at just how far we’ve come. We are approaching 3 million acres of cover crops, a significant level of growth from the few thousand a decade ago. Using our streamlined “batch and build” model, more saturated buffers and bioreactors, two practices that filter storm water before it enters our waterways, are planned for construction in the next 3-year period than have been installed in the previous 13 years. Before we had long-term dedicated funding for water quality efforts, we could construct 3-5 wetlands per year. Now, we are on our way toward constructing 30 per year. And this work is making a difference.

We have surpassed 350 public and private partners statewide – both urban and rural. Whether it’s farm organizations and ag retailers, wildlife groups like Ducks Unlimited, our 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts or cities like Ames, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, we have proven we will partner with anyone who is serious about getting conservation work done because everyone has a role to play in protecting our water.

We’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go. We are proud of our progress, but we are not satisfied. We know there is much more work to be done in the years ahead. As we head into the second decade of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the pace of this work will continue to accelerate.

Just as all technology evolves, so must our work to protect soil and water. We’re continuously innovating, learning, testing, and driving new science-based practices – all of which can make an even greater impact. We are working with our world-class land grant institution, Iowa State University, to deploy new tools and implement new practices based on the latest research. We’re utilizing Iowa State’s logic model approach to measure our progress, which includes results from the millions spent annually on water testing.

As we look ahead toward Farm Bill deliberations, we need to build upon the types of cost share programs that have been proven successful in our state and elsewhere. We must embrace working lands conservation to keep our farm land productive while also protecting soil and water. The advent of markets based on sustainability metrics and credits could be promising if it benefits the farmers making investments in soil health and conservation. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled favorably, the Environmental Protection Agency must produce a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that allows farmers to utilize modern practices without needlessly impeding conservation work.

Iowa’s economy depends on agriculture and agriculture depends on our natural resources. We know that positive changes to the land lead to positive improvements in the water. The investments we are making, the partnerships we are forming and the practices we are implementing will benefit not just the Iowans of today but the generations of Iowans yet to come.

I hope you will join us in our water quality efforts to make the next decade even better than the last.


Mike Naig, a Republican, is the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.


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