Iowa Water Quality Demonstration Projects Get $4 Million Boost

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey on Dec. 20 announced another round of state funding for projects aimed at improving water quality in Iowa. Eight watershed-based demonstration projects funded in 2013 that were set to end this year will receive a second round of funding totaling $4.09 million over the next three years. In addition to the state funds, the eight projects will access about $6 million in matching funds to support water quality improvement efforts as well as other in-kind contributions.

The locally led projects will build upon previous demonstration objectives and continue working toward accelerated implementation of practices that improve water quality, he says. “Extending to these initial projects will allow us to continue to expand the reach of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative and continue to learn more about the best ways to get water-quality-focused practices on the land,” adds Northey. “These projects create a great opportunity for farmers to see practices up close and better understand how they might work on their own farm.”

The funds will allow the projects to focus on scaling up implementation of conservation practices identified in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and continue to build additional assessment, monitoring and evaluation methods. Also, $250,000 of the funds have been targeted for implementation of select priority nutrient reduction conservation practices, including wetlands, saturated buffers and bioreactors.

Broadening efforts

“We know it will take time to accomplish all that is needed for significant improvements within a watershed. These projects are hitting their stride in terms of engaging farmers, getting practices on the ground and coordinating with partners and stakeholders. I’m excited to continue to learn from these projects as we work to scale up and expand water quality efforts across the state,” Northey says.

These eight projects will continue to build upon existing partnerships as well as expand efforts to include new partnerships developed during the first three years. So far, 53 partners from ag organizations, institutions of higher education, private industry, and the local, state and federal government are working together on these projects.

“Thanks to the involvement and investment that have been made by farmers, landowners and partners, these projects have been successful to this point and are very well positioned to significantly expand the number of water quality focused practices on the ground in these areas,” he says.

The projects receiving extensions are the Benton-Tama Nutrient Reduction Demonstration Project, Boone River Watershed Nutrient Management Initiative, Central Turkey River Nutrient Reduction Demonstration Project, Demonstration of Targeted Nutrient Reduction Systems for Clayton County, Miller Creek Water Quality Improvement Project, Van Zante Creek Water Quality Improvement Project, West Branch of the Floyd River Water Quality Initiative, and West Fork Crooked Creek Water Quality and Soil Health Initiative. More details about each of the projects are at Cleanwater Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has been successful in securing additional federal resources for these projects through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservation Partnership Project. These funds pair well with Iowa Water Quality Initiative and partner investments to do more than what they can accomplish alone.

Background on initiative

The Iowa Water Quality Initiative was established in 2013 to help implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which is a science- and technology-based approach to achieving a 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to Iowa waters. The strategy brings together both point sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban stormwater runoff, to address these issues.

Farmers use cost-share

The Iowa Water Quality Initiative seeks to harness the collective ability of both private and public resources and organizations to deliver a clear and consistent message to stakeholders to reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality.

“The initiative is seeing some exciting results,” says Northey. Last fall he announced that 1,800 farmers committed $3.8 million in cost-share funds to install nutrient reduction practices. The practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or use of a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Participants include 980 farmers using a practice for the first time and more than 830 past users who are trying cover crops again and are receiving a reduced rate of cost share. Farmers using cost-share funding are providing about $6 million of their own money to adopt these water-quality practices.

A total of 45 demonstration projects are located across the state to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices. This includes 16 targeted watershed projects, seven projects focused on expanding the use and innovative delivery of water quality practices, and 22 urban water quality demonstration projects. More than 150 organizations are participating in these projects. These partners will provide just over $25 million to go with the $16 million in state funding going to these projects.

More than $325 million in state and federal funds have been directed to programs with water quality benefits in Iowa last year. This total does not include the cost-share amount that farmers pay to match state and federal programs and funds spent to build practices built without government assistance.

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