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Farm Bill Key as Nutrients Flow into Iowa Drinking Water Sources

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Monday, November 18, 2013   

DES MOINES, Iowa - There is a growing problem with nutrients in drinking water sources in Iowa, but there are hopes that some solutions will flow out of the Farm Bill under debate in Congress.

According to Linda Kinman, public policy analyst for Des Moines Water Works, there's been an increase in nitrates in water sources for decades, and this past summer both the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers hit their highest levels on record, while the cost of water treatment reached nearly a million dollars.

"It takes more money to treat and it also takes a lot more diligence as far as watching what's coming into the plant and what's going out of the plant to make sure the treatment and everything is working," she said.

Kinman said they now have the world's largest nitrate-removal facility and also use off-river storage in ponds and old quarries. While those strategies are helping, she said, strong conservation policies via the Farm Bill are needed to address excess nutrients in the water.

One proposal, called Conservation Compliance, would require farmers to implement soil-conservation plans and protect wetlands on vulnerable lands as a condition of receiving federal crop insurance. Another, called Sodsaver, would help address the loss of grasslands by reducing the subsidy and guarantee level on federal crop insurance for cropland converted from native prairie.

Kinman said the need for these types of programs is especially important in an agricultural state like Iowa, where fertilizer is commonly used and many a field is tiled.

"Because nitrates are water-soluble, they go through the soil profile into the tile and are discharged, sort of bypassing nature's natural biological process to reduce nitrates. So for drainage tile, we really need to develop some type of water management practices."

Kinman noted that moving away from the voluntary conservation practices of the past 30 years to those that are more of a requirement is not only a water issue, but also a soil issue.

That's "because Iowa has lost about 50 percent of its topsoil in the last 100 years. So, to preserve the thing that makes Iowa important, which is our agricultural land, the conservation practices need to be on the land, and if you protect the soil, you're going to help protect water quality also," she asserted.

Versions of the Farm Bill have passed both the U.S. House and the Senate, but little progress has been reported from the conference committee negotiations over the past month. The previous Farm Bill expired at the end of September.

More information on Sodsaver is at bit.ly/1jeeJhs. More on Conservation Compliance is at bit.ly/1gWecnN. Farm Bill information is at 1.usa.gov/1cCJJFH.




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