As part of a new statewide push to take responsibility for cleaning the natural waterways across the state of Iowa, the city of Ames has entered into a landmark agreement to seriously address the conservation of its watershed. Ames joins Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, and Storm Lake as the four major cities in Iowa to enter into an agreement with the state’s Department of Natural Resources to meet targets for nutrient reduction in waterways.
The pact between cities is called the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and mandates that participants make efforts to reduce the levels of two particular nutrients in nearby waterways. It is expected that participants will reduce nitrogen levels by 66 percent, and will cut phosphorus by as much as 75 percent. John Dunn, director for Ames Water & Pollution Control Department, has high hopes for what the agreement will do in terms of spurring nutrient reduction initiatives within the city. “This agreement allows Ames to address nutrient reduction from multiple angles,” said Dunn.
The agreement follows a study from December of last year for the purpose of reviewing the current state of Iowa’s waterways. In it, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources concluded that, while the number of waterways within the state that could be considered “impaired” has decreased in the two years since the previous study, there are still 750 state rivers, lakes, streams, and reservoirs currently on the list. This means that almost 60 percent of state waterways were unable to meet preconditions for fishing, recreational boating, and swimming. Additionally, these waterways are often below sustainable levels in terms of aquatic insect populations, which could have adverse effects on the entire marine ecosystem.
By entering into the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the city of Ames has taken a new step in making a public affirmation of its intention to meet nitrogen and phosphorus targets. Meeting a two-thirds reduction of one nutrient as well as a three-quarters reduction in another is certainly an aggressive approach to cleaning up the state’s waterways, but it is a necessary one for ushering Iowa into a sustainable future. This step gives Ames officials the public support to invest in things like saturated buffers, bioreactors, and cover crops, as well as encourage farmers to work with their local municipalities to reach these targets. For assistance in reaching these goals, farmers will likely rely on public grants as well as potential private funding from various nonprofit organizations.
Sand County Foundation is one nonprofit that has taken the lead in the state’s waterway nutrient reduction initiative. The foundation will work with city officials and private farmers to provide a framework for finding an equitable solution that maintains the necessary requirements for meeting nitrogen and phosphorus targets. One way of doing this is through helping cities create new “conservation projects that reduce erosion and excess nutrient runoff” that will benefit upstream farmers within the state, says Bartlett Durand, who works as an attorney with Sand City, as well as with the Environmental Policy Innovation Center.
By funding conservation practices at the farms themselves, the Sand County framework looks to attack excess nutrient levels at their source, a move that should be far more efficient than the more expensive approach of upgrading state wastewater treatment facilities. If successful, this practice would also decrease the need for costly treatment facility upgrades, as there would be lower levels of excess nutrients in the water.