Experts say improving Iowa’s water quality could take decades


A stream near Elgin, Iowa, part of the Turkey River Watershed (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
A stream near Elgin, Iowa, part of the Turkey River Watershed (KC McGinnis / CGRER)
Nick Fetty | March 16, 2016

Water quality researchers across the state say that it will take decades to reduce nutrient concentration in Iowa waterways and that much of the problem can be attributed to the current voluntary approach to nutrient reduction as well as the unpredictability of the weather.

University of Iowa hydrologist Keith Schilling said he expects the cleanup of Iowa’s waterways to take several years.

“This is a long-term process to measure (nutrient reduction) progress at the large watershed scale. It will take many years, if not decades, to see changes,” Schilling said in an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

The ability to improve water quality in Iowa is further complicated by two other issues: the voluntary approach of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) and unpredictable weather patterns.

Iowa’s NRS was developed by scientists and researchers at Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2013. The strategy outlines voluntary ways farmers, watershed managers, and other landowners can improve water quality through agricultural practices (buffer strips, cover crops, etc.) and other conservation measures. Critics of the NRS – such as Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe – say that the voluntary approach is ineffective and does little to improve water quality.

Stowe has been behind a lawsuit between Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa counties. The water utility alleges that the counties are not doing enough to reduce nutrient pollution and that the water utility is then burdened with additional treatment processes. A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll found that 60 percent of those surveyed support Des Moines Water Works in the lawsuit.

Unpredictable weather patterns have also contributed to the difficulty of improving Iowa’s water quality. University of Iowa hydrologist Keith Schilling said one example of this is drought experienced in 2012 followed by an unusually wet 2013 which led to an increase in nutrients in Iowa waterways. Shilling said that nutrient loads have seen little change statewide since 1998 but changes were easier to indentify in subwatersheds where conservation measures have been installed.

One thought on “Experts say improving Iowa’s water quality could take decades

  1. How come all of these government programs are always for the farmer? I do want the water of IA cleaned up and what about the air pollution too? I am forced to smell the shit of 2 7500 hog confinements next to me and another I don’t know how many sows building also and bout 3 smaller hog confinements by me. Here’s where your pollution is coming from in large quantities. I need the government or the confinement owner to pay a portion of my property taxes because the value of my place is down 30-40% but my taxes didn’t go down. When I sell why do I have to take a lose because of these confinements? No one thinks of us average people,lived years on their place only to have a confinement move in unwelcome. I laughed when the farm bureau spokesman said the confinement owners should be neighborly and talk to the people they will build by. My rude asshole would never think to do that! And yes I wrote every single representative in the IA congress and senate and the governor and talked to all at the DNR. Nothing will be done because I don’t have the money to donate to their campaigns to stop this. Then the spokesman says law suits are up and more people are suing! We don’t want these confinements!!!!! Why does the majority of the people not being listened to? Look, I love farming. I love families that are farming. Not corporate that is rude, nasty and don’t care bout the environment, lies and runs over the top of us neighbors just to make his money. Make a government program that pays for my health problems when I get asthma or a sickness for all the stink and pollution from living next to these. Come on out to my place when he spreads the shit. I’ll call ya. When the law makers don’t live next to them, you don’t care bout the citizens that do. Even Branstad has a brother in the hog business so he ain’t gonna do a thing…..

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