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EPA pleased with Iowa’s progress

Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 11:25 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 1:05 p.m. CST

The feds, represented by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) weren’t kidding five years ago when they advised the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that the state better clean up its waters flowing into the Mississippi, or they would step-in and “take over” to ensure that the Clean Water Act was stringently enforced.  Since DNR is a state agency, the legislature had to provide the means by which greater emphasis could be placed in reducing the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) levels of our streams. 

The problem was the absolute reality that the Gulf of Mexico was receiving so many nutrients from Iowa and other ag-state streams entering the Mississippi River that the hypoxia zone in the gulf had nearly doubled in recent years.  This zone is void of oxygen, and thus no living organism is in the affected waters.  All the oxygen had been eliminated by the massive volume of nutrients, primarily P and N.  Simply stated, Iowa’s waters were highly polluted.

The Iowa legislature provided the funding for both the DNR and the Department of Agriculture to provide farmers cost-sharing for the voluntary options to reduce the nutrient loss from their fields and animal confinements.  Bioreactors (fall rye planting), buffer strips along the streams, grassed waterways, terraces, and a variety of other means were utilized to keep the nutrients on the land and out of the run-off into the streams.  It worked, for progress has been noted.

Karl Brooks, EPA administrator, recently stated that Iowa was “ahead of other states in implementing their nutrient reduction strategy.  From the standpoint of this agency, Iowa has met more of the commitments (for nutrient reduction) than all of the states in the MississippiRiver Basin.”  Brooks went on to say that the problem in the gulf is far from solved, and Iowa can become an example of what is necessary to clean up surface waters, which will eventually lead to the size reduction of the vast hypoxia zone in the gulf.

As Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, it is my duty to provide the leadership in the Senate in gaining funding for the two departments.  Our objective this session will be to appropriate the $18.5 million that would provide for $74 million for the backlog of projects currently waiting to be implemented on farms across the state.  Under this program, the farmer assumes 75% of the cost of the land improvements to save their topsoil and keep the water on the land.

I am pleased progress is being made.  There were many that advised me that a “voluntary” program would never work.  I was told that farmers should be forced to do the job.  I had faith in the fact that the farm community would strive to meet the requirements of EPA.  Simple logic from experience was that incentive funding for land improvements would get the job done.  It has helped, and although we cannot sit back on our laurels, the trend has been set.

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During the session, call me at (515) 281-3371; write me at the Senate, Capitol Bldg., Des Moines, 50319; or e-mail dennis.black@legis.iowa.gov. I value your thoughts and opinions.