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Water and Land Stewardship Program Priorities

2021-2022 Clean Water and Land Stewardship Program Priorities

The long-term goal of the Water and Land Stewardship Program is to improve and protect Iowa’s water and land to strengthen Iowa’s resiliency, economy, public health, and quality of life. This requires widespread land-use change across Iowa. We will focus on increasing conservation and land stewardship practices that achieve any of the following: improve water quality, mitigate flooding, increase wildlife habitat, enhance outdoor recreation opportunities, protect soil health, and sequester carbon. Many practices provide several of these co-benefits. Widespread behavior change is necessary to achieve the goal of transformative land-use change across Iowa. Our policy priorities reflect a mix of incentives and requirements (carrots and sticks) to drive behavior change.

To that end, that Council will prioritize the following work in 2021-2022:

agricultural pollution

Agricultural Pollution

Runoff and leaching of sediment, fertilizer, and manure from agricultural land is the largest source of water pollution in Iowa and is largely unregulated. Surface runoff and tile drainage convey pollutants into Iowa’s waterways, resulting in nitrate and bacteria contamination, harmful algae blooms, degraded water quality for recreation, expensive drinking water treatment, and continuous contributions to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. While point sources (water utilities, industrial facilities) are subject to regulation, non-point sources (primarily agricultural land) are largely unregulated. Because non-point sources contribute the vast majority of pollutants to Iowa waterways, the strictly voluntary approach to non-point source pollution is inequitable and ineffective.

The Council supports:

  • Mandatory best practices as part of a basic standard of care on agricultural lands. Such a framework includes flexibility to tailor to individual operations and financial assistance to install conservation practices.

  • Implementing statewide water quality standards to address contamination from agricultural production and operations, including but not limited to nutrients and bacteria.

  • Holding regulatory agencies accountable for enforcing water quality laws, such as the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and corresponding administrative rules.

  • Adequate funding to plan, implement, and monitor water quality improvement at the watershed level across the state, including benchmarks and targets for water quality goals and accountability measures to ensure goals are met.

water quality standards and enforcement

Investing in a diverse, inclusive, and multi-functional Iowa landscape    

Iowa is a state that is rich in natural beauty and outdoor opportunities, but the state has not historically invested in its natural resources. Iowa’s water quality, in particular, has been treated as an externality of agricultural production rather than a resource that, if invested in, can provide a solid economic return. Public lands and investment in conservation have numerous benefits, including improved air, water, and land quality, physical and mental public health benefits, economic development opportunities for local businesses, increased workforce recruitment and retention, improved quality of life, increased resiliency to natural disasters, and critical habitat for native plants and animals.

The Council supports:

  • Policies that maintain, improve, and expand public parks, recreation opportunities, and public access to Iowa’s land and water resources.
  • Funding for protection and restoration of Iowa’s natural landscapes, such as wetlands and prairies, that contribute to cleaner water and increase wildlife habitat.
  • Long-term funding for state and local staff necessary to effectively implement conservation, water quality, and land stewardship efforts.

conservation funding

Flood Mitigation and Climate Resiliency

Flooding continues to be an issue across the state, and the threats are increasing due to climate change. Flooding increases water pollution, harms communities, damages habitat and outdoor spaces, and disrupts economies. Natural infrastructure solutions such as floodplain restoration, wetlands and oxbows, and perennial vegetation help to hold water on the landscape and mitigate floodwater downstream. Agricultural production contributes the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from the state, but agriculture also has significant opportunity to lead on climate change by implementing practices that reduce carbon emissions, sequester carbon, and increase climate resiliency across the state. Land-use change is essential to Iowa’s ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The Council supports:

  • Flood mitigation plans that include natural infrastructure solutions, and implementing natural infrastructure in flood-prone areas to reduce flood impacts and protect communities.
  • Increased funding and support for communities and watersheds to develop and implement climate and flood mitigation plans that incorporate natural infrastructure and climate resiliency principles.

  • Change in land-use practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon, and increase climate resiliency.