What if the NRS Actually Reduced Nutrient Pollution? IEC Releases NRS 2.0 Policy Recommendations

posted on Friday, June 11, 2021 in Water and Land News

In 2019, IEC released an analysis and infographics showing that the pace and scale of conservation practice implementation was not sufficient to tackle Iowa’s nutrient pollution problem. According to data from the most recent Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) annual report, Iowa hasn’t managed to pick up the pace.  

One promising program increasing the pace and scale of conservation practice implementation is happening in Polk and Dallas Counties, with a new “blitz” effort to install orders of magnitude more saturated buffers and bioreactors in target watersheds to reduce nitrate pollution. This is an exciting and positive step toward improving water quality at the local level, and there must be accelerated efforts toward curbing nutrient pollution across the state. However, this is just one piece of the puzzle to solving nutrient pollution in Iowa.  

Progress toward Nutrient Reduction Strategy Goals

Some areas improved, other areas lost ground.

In our latest NRS report, we took a deep dive into the shortcomings of the NRS and proposed policy changes that would make significant improvements to Iowa’s water quality and natural resources. These policy changes are necessary to curb nutrient pollution, not just anecdotes that ask Iowans to feel good about supposed progress toward poorly-defined goals. In this excerpt, we note the history of the NRS and why it is necessary to reassess state policy at this time: 

“Iowa adopted the NRS in 2013 to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Iowa’s waterways. The strategy calls for mandatory, regulated pollution discharge limits on point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants, factories, and public water systems. For nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution—primarily agricultural operations—the plan outlines an entirely voluntary menu of conservation practices that can be implemented to reduce nutrient pollution. In 2018, the Iowa legislature codified the NRS as the official state policy for addressing nutrient pollution.

Thus far, however, the NRS has failed to show a significant increase in implementation and adoption rates of conservation practices across the state, and recent water quality monitoring data show that nitrogen leaving the state has increased, not decreased, over the last several years.

The original 45% nutrient reduction goal, to be reached in 2035, is now less than fifteen years away. Meanwhile, climate change continues to exacerbate current pollution and ecological problems, rural economies are suffering, and people are getting sick. The state must have a sense of urgency to address water quality and take bold action to implement policy change. Without action and change, the situation will continue to get worse, not better.” 

Policy changes such as properly addressing livestock operations and manure, adopting numeric nutrient criteria, and restoring the balance between private and public rights are reasonable steps to protect human health and the environment without endangering farmers’ livelihoods.  

  1. clean water
  2. harmful algal blooms
  3. nitrate pollution
  4. nutrient reduction strategy
  5. phosphorus pollution
  6. water quality
  7. water recreation