Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, along with agriculture and conservation leaders, highlighted the collaborative, watershed based approach being used successfully across the state to address water quality challenges. This approach has allowed the state to bring in significant outside funding from both the public and private sector, including a $10 million grant from the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in 2016.

“We’ve built a wide range of partnerships comprised of diverse stakeholders who share a common goal of improving water quality and creating new economic opportunities,” Gov. Reynolds said. “These partnerships are a great way to grow vital funding resources and support our coordinated efforts between the public and private sectors to scale proven practices.”

The Midwest Agriculture Water Quality Partnership Program was selected in 2016 and was the largest project awarded that year. The program is delivered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is co-led by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA).

In total, it is a $48.5 million project with 47 partners. That includes $10 million in USDA funds and $38 million in non-federal partner match. The funds are targeted towards five watersheds that have been identified by the Water Resources Coordinating Council as being priority watersheds for improvement.

Highlights from the first year include:

  • Public and private partners in the RCPP have held more than 80 field days, 24 webinars and conducted nearly 200 workshops.
  • Information from these events reached nearly 12,000 farmers and landowners who are vital to scaling up conservation practices.
  • $1.23 million in funds were allocated for cover crops, no-till, strip-till, fertilizer management, bioreactors and saturated buffers on 1.35 million acres in 11 counties in Iowa.
  • An innovative partnership with two private firms was developed with NRCS to add technical capacity for conservation planning efforts. Through this non-traditional approach, utilizing private agronomic, conservation and engineering services providers, it is anticipated that 240 new or updated conservation plans will be created, covering an estimated 46,000 acres.

“This project is focused on supporting farmer profitability and sustainability,” Lt. Gov. Gregg said. “It’s building public-private capacity for conservation, integrating precision ag with conservation and improving soil health. It’s also increasing pollinator and wildlife habitat.”

Watershed approach

IDALS Secretary Bill Northey and IAWA Executive Director Sean McMahon highlighted four targeted watershed projects that have made significant progress on water quality in the last few years.

The Headwaters of the North Raccoon River Project, which is working in Buena Vista and Pocahontas counties, saw a 400 percent increase in cover crop acres from 2016 to 2017, with 5,450 acres of cover crops in 2017. This represents 7.25 percent cover crop coverage of total row crop acres in the North Raccoon River watershed.

The Miller Creek Water Quality Improvement Project, which operates in Black Hawk and Tama counties, had nearly 6,500 acres of cover crops in 2017, which is nearly 20 percent of the row crop acres in the watershed.

“The watershed approach enables farmers and other stakeholders to target the best conservation practices where they will be most effective,” McMahon said. “This helps us make the best use of taxpayer dollars while meeting local needs and improving water quality in accordance with the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

The goal of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses to our waters by 45 percent.