I write to bring attention to the recently released Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy document (www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu), and the fact that the 45-day period for public comment on the strategy has just been extended by two weeks (to Jan. 18. The goal of the strategy is to reduce the amount of nutrients, in particular nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, that enter into Iowa's waterways and the Gulf of Mexico.
Besides causing biological and recreational issues for Iowa's rivers, lakes and streams (and potentially groundwater), these nutrients result in the Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" by causing the depletion of oxygen in a ~6,000 square mile area (stretching a distance roughly equivalent to that between Chicago and Des Moines). The dead zone, devoid of all marine life, is an ecological disaster that has huge impacts on the biology and economy of the Gulf Region.
Recent research has determined that Iowa, Illinois and Indiana contribute the largest amount of nitrogen (N) to the Gulf and that Iowa is one of the top seven highest contributing states for phosphorus (P). The nutrient reduction strategy indicates that in Iowa, non-point sources (largely agricultural runoff) contribute 92 percent of the N and 80 percent of the P, while point sources (municipal and industrial waste) contribute 8 percent of the N and 20 percent of the P.
The strategy seeks to reduce total N and P by 45 percent, with initiatives that target both point and non-point sources. The point source strategy will require 102 municipalities (including the Decorah Wastewater Treatment plant) and 28 industrial facilities to implement nutrient removal processes, and is expected to reduce N by 4 percent and P by 16 percent. Costs for necessary improvements will be supported primarily by increases in municipal water fees.
The non-point source strategy will rely on a voluntary program for agriculture producers and has a goal of reducing N by 41 percent and P by 29 percent. This latter strategy will be largely based on a comprehensive science assessment (performed by Iowa State University) that identifies the most effective nutrient-reducing conservation practices, along with their costs and variability.
Estimated initial investment costs of this strategy are $1.2-$4 billion. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has stated, "If we don't address these issues ourselves, we should expect regulation" [from the EPA]. Northey has recently requested $2.4 million in state funding for the 2013-14 year and has indicated he will seek $4.4 million the following year.
If you flush a toilet, wash laundry, recreate in Iowa's waterways, drink Iowa water, pay city water fees, pay taxes in Iowa, spread fertilizer on property you own or rent, or own or rent property which water flows over or through, you are an important stakeholder in this process.
Water is arguably the most important molecule for life on earth, and the quality of this resource is under serious threat. The current severe drought has also heightened our awareness of the uncertainty of water availability.
Literally, water connects us all. I urge you to view the presentations available on the website, read at least the executive summaries of the strategy components and provide your feedback to the authors by Jan. 18. The Des Moines Register, which has a searchable website, has also covered this issue extensively in the last several months.
I will reserve my detailed thoughts on the strategy to the comment section, but believe that while there are multiple positive elements, the policy portion of the strategy, as currently written, has some serious inadequacies in terms of effectively addressing Iowa's water quality problems.