Iowa researchers: nutrient reduction could take decades


The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods States Park in Des Moines, Iowa. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods States Park in Des Moines, Iowa. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | March 22, 2016

With both record precipitation and record nitrate loads being recorded this winter, Iowa’s nutrient crisis doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. In fact, according to Iowa scientists, Iowa’s nutrient reduction goals could take decades.

In recent interviews with the Gazette, leading Iowa scientists said the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, with the goal of reducing nutrient pollution by 45 percent, could take more than a generation, thanks in large part to fluctuating weather patterns that bring more extreme and unpredictable weather events.

University of Iowa IIHR — Hydroscience & Engineering hydrologist Keith Schilling noted that weather plays a larger role in increased nutrient loads than agricultural practices. The increased intensity of both droughts and wet weather seasons makes it tougher for farmers to plan their nutrient practices and for scientists to assess long-term trends.

Real-time data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System (IWQIS) shows that nitrate levels at more than half of the recorded streams in Iowa are above the 10mg/L drinkable threshold. More than 13,000 metric tons of nitrate have passed through Des Moines along the Des Moines River every day since the beginning of March, according to an IWQIS sensor. This well outpaces nutrient levels from previous years: nitrates in the Des Moines River didn’t reach their current levels until June in 2015 and until September in 2014.

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