By DOUG SCHMITZ
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad has announced a public comment period to help develop plans for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS), a proposal he said would reduce nutrients in the state’s waters, keeping them from streaming down to the Gulf of Mexico.
“Iowans care about our natural resources and want to protect them for future generations,” he said. “This strategy keeps us at the forefront of using voluntary, science-based practices to improve water quality in our state, and is an important step forward.”
Branstad joined Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Chuck Gipp and John Lawrence, associate dean for extension and outreach programs in Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to announce the plan last month.
Established in 2010, the INRS is a science- and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico, designed to reduce nutrient loads discharged from the state’s largest wastewater treatment facilities. This is in combination with targeted practices to reduce loads from nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban areas, in a scientific, reasonable and cost-effective manner.
The plan would establish a goal of at least a 45 percent reduction each in total riverine nitrogen and phosphorous loadings.
The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force was established in 1997 to coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity and duration of hypoxia in the Gulf. Hypoxia is a large area of low oxygen that can’t sustain marine life, but allows nutrients to stream down river, resulting in algae growth – which the task force said is the main problem.
In 2008, the task force’s Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan called upon each of the 12 states along the Mississippi River to develop its own nutrient reduction strategy. Officials from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), DNR and ISU developed the proposed plan.
The Iowa strategy follows the recommended framework provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, and is only the second state to complete a nutrient reduction strategy.
“The strategy’s science assessment provides a research-based foundation to quantify the effectiveness of current practices for reducing nutrient losses from the landscape,” Lawrence said.
“The assessment reflects two years of work to evaluate and model the effects of the practices by scientists from ISU, the IDALS, the DNR, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and other institutions.”
Public input sought
Public input on the plan will be considered before the strategy is finalized and as operational plans are developed. Iowans were invited to review the strategy and provide feedback during a 45-day comment period that will end on Jan. 4, 2013.
Presentations will then be made to farmers, certified crop advisors and others in the agriculture industry as part of ISU extension and outreach educational meetings.
The IDNR will be working with major facilities throughout the state to reduce nutrient discharges from point sources to Iowa’s waters, with a goal of reducing total phosphorus by 16 percent and total nitrogen by 4 percent.
“The DNR has been working with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Iowa State for nearly two years, and support this strategy document and the collaborative process that created it,” Gipp said. “Many Iowans enjoy our state’s natural resources and it’s important we protect them for future generations.”
The strategy identifies five key categories to focus the efforts in addressing nonpoint sources and identifies multiple action items within each category: Setting Priorities; Documenting Progress; Research and Technology; Strengthen Outreach, Education, Collaboration; and Funding.
Northey said this strategy provides the most up-to-date scientific information available to farmers as they seek to use the best practices available to reduce nutrient delivery from their farms.
“The goal of this strategy is to get more conservation practices on the ground,” he said. “This is not about rules or regulations; instead, this strategy provides resources to farmers to help them improve water quality.”
Mark Jackson, a Rose Hill farmer and president of the Iowa Soybean Assoc., which backs the plan, said the draft strategy is a science- and technology-based approach that recognizes the diversity of the state’s topography and complexities of individual watersheds.
“Every Iowan lives in a watershed,” he said. “Therefore, any effort to improve water quality must be holistic, pragmatic and involve multiple stakeholders, including agriculture, industry and municipalities.
“The plan unveiled (Nov. 19) meets those criteria as we work together to make water quality improvements in Iowa and downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Public comments may be submitted in two ways until Jan. 4: electronic – fill out the form online at www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu/comments or mail comments to: Nutrient Reduction Strategy, ANR Program Services, 2101 Agronomy Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-1010; include your name and address.