Report: Voluntary conservation practices won’t clean up Iowa’s waterways


A stream near Lisbon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)
A stream near Lisbon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

A recent report casts doubt on the effectiveness of Iowa’s current strategy for reducing pollutants in Iowa’s waterways.

The report, released last week by the Iowa Policy Project (IPP), looks at the effects of Iowa’s current strategy for reducing the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous being released into waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires states with waterways that drain into the Gulf of Mexico to develop nutrient reduction strategies that will reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous being released by 45 percent. Iowa’s current Nutrient Reduction Strategy includes mandates for wastewater treatment plants and other point sources, but takes a voluntary approach toward agricultural producers and other nonpoint sources.

The IPP study pointed out that runoff from nonpoint sources like farms contributes to 79 percent of the phosphorous and 93 percent of the nitrogen being released into Iowa waterways. Yet a survey of Iowa farmers found that just over half who were aware of the conservation programs in place chose not to participate, while around one third of farmers were unfamiliar with the programs altogether.

After pointing out that most Iowa farmers agree that they should be required to control nutrient runoff to stay eligible for federal farm program benefits, the study offered six policy additions that could improve the current voluntary strategy. These include sufficient funding for conservation measures and nutrient criteria standards for all of Iowa’s waters, not just drinking water. The report concludes that a mainly voluntary approach could only work with these such additions

For more information about the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, see the Iowa Policy Project report.

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