Tracking the Progress of Iowa's Nutrient Reduction “Strategy”

posted on Friday, August 27, 2021 in Water and Land News

IA Bioreactors and Saturated Buffers as of 2019Iowa State University has finally published the first iterations of long-awaited data dashboards to track progress on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). The dashboards report on the “Land” component of NRS efforts, which measure agricultural conservation practice adoption and pollution point-source facility upgrades (such as wastewater treatment plants and other industrial facilities).

IEC has repeatedly called for improved communication with the public since the NRS was adopted in 2013, and the dashboards mark a significant step forward. Future dashboards will include reporting on the other components of the NRS. Most important is the “Water” indicator, which includes water quality monitoring data and nutrient load measurements. In past NRS reports, the water quality data has lacked context or comparison to baseline measurements.

The information provided on bioreactors, saturated buffers, and wetlands is the same as previousNRS Infographic reports. It tells us how many acres are treated by these edge-of-field practices, but still fails to tell us how many acres are needed to reach the 45% nutrient reduction goal in the NRS. While the data clearly show that 3,500 acres of Iowa land are treated with bioreactors and saturated buffers and 124,400 acres are treated with wetlands, it fails to explain that 6 million and 7.7 million acres, respectively, need to be treated by these practices to reach nutrient reduction goals. The pace of adoption is still on track to take hundreds to thousands of years. This important context is lacking from the new site.

Kentucky Interactive MapKentucky serves as an example of how a state should transparently report on water quality data. It uses technology in a clear and thoughtful way to communicate progress on its NRS to the public. Kentucky recently published an interactive map that displays nutrient load data and trends by watershed, land use, and Section 319 Nonpoint Source Program investments. This type of data is valuable to the public about the progress the state is making on reducing nutrient loads, as well as to decision-makers who are targeting public dollars on NRS implementation.

In addition, Kentucky recently released a report on the state’s nutrient loads and yields that evaluates trends and progress on nutrient load reduction. Furthermore, Kentucky decision-makers are going to use the information in the report to update the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The update will prioritize watersheds with high nutrient yield in a data-driven approach to nutrient reduction efforts. This may seem like an obvious point, but a strategy that has regular benchmarks, analysis, and updates is more likely to be successful than a “strategy” that is static, never analyzed for success or accuracy, and does not include goals and benchmarks.

While Iowa’s move to online reporting is a positive one, there is gaping room for improvement. The necessary improvements are not limited to the reporting however – some will only come with policy change that will transform the Iowa NRS into a real, actionable strategy. If decision-makers are serious about making the NRS successful, they can start with recommendations we here at IEC made earlier this summer. Until then, Iowans will continue to receive inadequate reporting on an ineffective list of suggestions otherwise known as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

  1. clean water
  2. nitrate pollution
  3. nutrient reduction strategy
  4. phosphorus pollution