Study: Requiring buffer strips can reduce water pollution in Iowa


This riparian buffer protects Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism/Flickr)
This riparian buffer protects Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 5, 2015

Requiring farmers to utilize buffer strips could help to improve water quality in Iowa at minimal cost to the farmer according to a report released this week by the Environmental Working Group.

The report – entitled “Iowa’s Low Hanging Fruit” – outlines the potential of buffer strips which are “small areas or strips of land in permanent vegetation, designed to intercept pollutants and manage other environmental concerns” often planted between croplands and waterways. Buffer strips have minimal affect on a farmer’s crop acreage and can reduce the amount of phosphorus, nitrates, and other chemicals that run off farmland and pollute waterways.

The report examines five Iowa counties (Allamakee, Hamilton, Linn, Plymouth, and Union) which each represent the state’s major landscape regions and “reflect the wide county-to-county range in how much land is devoted to row crops” according to the report. The researchers examined buffers of three different widths (35-feet, 50-feet, and 75-feet) and concluded that a 50-foot buffer would affect 11 percent of landowners in the selected counties. The report also found that a 50-foot buffer would require only 0.12 percent of cropland to be converted to permanent vegetation to act as the buffer zone. The author’s conclude that if action requiring buffer strips is not taken at the state-level, the counties could take the initiative to each set regulations.

Organizations such as the Iowa Soybean Association have cited practices such as buffer strips as being “a good long-term investment for farmers.”

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