Iowa water quality initiative aims to remove nitrates


By Mark Moran, Public News Service - Iowa 

The Iowa Legislature is considering a bill to maximize protecting the state's water.

Senate File 311 would allow the state Department of Agriculture to use urban water project funding for agricultural projects at its discretion, in what's known as the Water Quality Initiative - a strategy for protecting Iowa's watersheds.

Kate Hansen - senior policy associate for the Center for Rural Affairs - said this would allow more conservation practices to be put in place for removing dangerous nutrients, like nitrates from fertilizers.

"The WQI, the Water Quality Initiative," said Hansen, "is essentially the funding and programs putting practices out on the ground, across the state."

According to Hansen, the state funded all requests in urban areas last year and could use leftover urban project funds for agricultural projects.

Watershed Management Authorities have completed 2,600 conservation projects across the state, some of which have been funded by WQI money.

Polk County farmer and landowner Lee Tesdell has received some of that money from the state to install what are known as 'saturated buffers' on his land, low-tech earthen dams equipped with tiles through which he can manually direct water.

From there, Tesdell said, Mother Nature does the work - naturally filtering the nitrates out of the water headed downstream from his farm.

"The data that I have, and I have two years of data," said Tesdell, "prior to the last two years, when it was very dry - show that one of my saturated buffers was denitrifying at 92%."

Tesdell pointed out that he receives no financial incentives or other compensation for installing the buffers - other than knowing he is helping remove nutrient pollution from the water, making it safer for other people in the state.