By Pete Temple, Express Sports/Ag Editor
Voluntarily comply now, or be regulated later.
That was the gist of the nutrient strategy meeting held Friday, Jan. 18 at the Citizens State Bank Youth Development Center in Monticello. The meeting, attended by about 100 farmers and other interested parties, was designed to explain the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ plan to reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
DNR representatives and other experts were on hand to present information and take questions.
Chuck Gipp, director of the DNR, said the state was not mandating reduction in levels, but encouraging.
Gipp introduced Adam Schnieders of the DNR’s Water Quality Bureau, who pointed out that nutrient over-enrichment is creating problems for recreation, drinking water and aquatic life.
The goals, Schnieders said, are to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads by 45 percent, and to improve and protect Iowa water with respect to nutrients.
The high levels are caused by several factors, divided into “point sources” such as industries and wastewater treatment plants, and “nonpoint sources,” particularly farms.
The DNR will be focusing on 148 point sources throughout the state. Those include 102 wastewater treatment plants, the ones that treat more than 1 million gallons per day, which includes Monticello’s facility.
Also under scrutiny will be 28 major industries and 18 minor industries across the state.
Plants will be encouraged to submit a feasibility and planning study, within two years, about long-term plans to install nutrient removal systems.
Schnieders added that costs for such systems will be spread out, and that “we cannot force a town to do anything it can’t afford to do.”
John Lawrence, director for agriculture and natural resources at Iowa State University, discussed the comments that had come in during the comment period that ended Friday. As of noon Friday, nearly 1,200 comments had come in from farmers and others.
He said the goal of the 45 percent reduction “is doable, but it’s going to be a challenge.”
Farmers will be encouraged, he said, to find ways to reduce their nutrient runoff, through practices such as changing the application rate, extended rotations, drainage water management, buffers, and edge-of-field treating.
Future goals, Lawrence said, would include better tracking, discovering new technologies and practices, and understanding the economic benefits of improved water quality.
Dean Lemke of the Iowa Department of Land and Ag Stewardship spoke next, focused on positive aspects of the plan.
“It’s the first time cities, industries and agriculture are working together on an integrated plan,” Lemke said. “We lead the nation in production of food and renewable fuels. Maybe Iowa can be an equal leader in solving environmental problems. Our goal is that we be a leader to solve these problems.
“I would encourage you to think about these issues and practices moving forward.”
A recurring theme was for these factions to “quit pointing fingers” at one another and work together to find solutions. Following the meeting, Joe Wagner of the Jones County Soil and Water Conservation District addressed that.
“I heard a lot of things I like to hear, about communities working together. That really is what needs to happen. They’ve been pointing fingers for a long time,” Wagner said.
Rep. Lee Hein was also in attendance, and said he was pleased with how the presentation went.
“The biggest point, I think, is that it is way better that we buy into this voluntarily than get forced into it by regulation,” Hein said.
“I think it’s just the start of a long-term effort.”
PHOTO: Chuck Gipp, Iowa Department of Natural Resources director (left, with microphone) addresses the audience at the Nutrient Reduction Strategy Meeting Jan. 18 in Monticello. (Photo by Pete Temple)