Tag Archives: conservation programs

Soil is the foundation of a healthy state

This post was written by Agricultural Policy Specialist Jennifer Terry

The Midwest is known for being one of the friendliest regions in the country, and for the most part, the reputation is well-deserved. It’s not uncommon for strangers to exchange pleasantries as they pass each other on the street, or to see someone lend a hand to a neighbor in need, and we should apply the same care and consideration to the resources we share, including our land and water.

Today is World Soil Day and the start of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization International Year of Soil. Both events celebrate soil and aim to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food systems, agriculture and the environment.

If Iowans care about their communities (and I think we do), we should care about out watersheds, because a watershed is just that – a community. Urban or rural, everyone is a watershed neighbor, and protecting our soil is an important part of being a good watershed neighbor.

Healthy soil is quite literally the foundation of a healthy state, and in Iowa where a large percentage of our land is used for agriculture, healthy soil plays a huge role in improving our water quality. This in turn improves our health, environment and economy.

Healthy soil is capable of holding water longer, helping mitigate flooding in towns and farms downstream, and aiding communities in combating washed-out roads, bridges and a myriad of other flood-related problems.

Additionally, because of its ability to hold water, healthy soil helps prevent water from washing away down the watershed, carrying with it excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. According to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy – which aims to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our lakes and rivers – 92% of nutrient runoff is from agricultural land. This runoff causes toxic algae blooms in our state’s lakes and rivers that can make our water unsafe for drinking, swimming and outdoor recreation.

To effectively protect our soils and prevent agricultural runoff, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy must include clear local goals, timelines and water quality testing to measure progress, as well as sustained funding not subject to the Governor’s veto. All elements it is currently lacking.

A farmer once told me “My farm isn’t Las Vegas; I know what happens here doesn’t stay here.” He’s right, and when we neglect soil health we all lose.

So today, as we celebrate the many benefits soil provides to our state, let’s engage in bold discussions about how we can work together to create meaningful, measurable solutions that improve soil health and water quality.

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Severe erosion and lack of conservation progress cause for alarm among Iowa experts

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Former Iowa Environmental Council executive director Linda Appelgate captured this image of a corn field eroding into the Nishnabotna river in 2010. According to the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, nearly 80% of Iowa farmers agree they need to do more to “reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into streams and lakes.”

Last week was Soil and Water Conservation Week in Iowa, a time to reflect on how well we are protecting one of Iowa’s most precious natural resources.  Unfortunately, soil erosion remains a serious problem in our state. Recently several top experts on Iowa soil conservation weighed in and expressed alarm about the state of our soil.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs.  Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.  Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these models do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

The Iowa Daily Erosion Project can create estimates of soil erosion the morning after a rainfall event occurs. Here, estimates are shown for a 2-day precipitation event on April 12-13, 2014.   Still, without advances in modeling, project manager Rick Cruse says these estimates do not tell the whole story of Iowa soil erosion.

Most unsettling was a reminder from Iowa State University agronomist Rick Cruse that our present methods of estimating soil erosion are badly flawed and may be missing between 20 and 90% of the erosion in the state.  In total, Cruse estimates the economic harm to agricultural yields Iowa suffers from historic soil erosion may be as great as $1 billion each year–harm that will grow as erosion continues.

Cruse, who manages the Iowa Daily Erosion Project, said current models only account erosion that occurs evenly across the soil’s surface and fail to account for ephemeral gullies that form when heavy rainwater forms channels and washes out a trench along a slope.  He answered questions about soil erosion recently in the Des Moines Register and spoke about his research at length in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar, which is available free online.

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A historic victory for REAP: What happened, what comes next?

Council Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg, center, addresses the assembled crowd at Environmental Lobby Day, March 18.

Nearly 150 Iowans participated in a clean water and conservation statehouse day held on March 18 with $25 million for REAP ranked high on the list of priorities.

The last day of April brought exciting news to Iowa’s conservation community as a sequence of bills adopted by the general assembly appropriated a record $25 million to Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection program.  In a flurry of activity leading up to adjournment of the 85th General Assembly, the final vote on REAP funding did not take place until after 3:00 a.m. on May 1.

This is the first time in 25 years REAP has been “fully funded” by the Iowa legislature, meaning approved funds meet or exceed the authorized level, currently $20 million.  In all, funding approved will come from three sources:

  • $16 million through HF2458, the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Department of Natural Resources.  This money comes from Iowa’s Environment First Fund.  It is noteworthy that controversial proposals in this bill to violate the spirit of the REAP funding formula and divert funds from the open spaces account were removed from the final bill.
  • $4 million through SF2349, appropriations from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund.
  • $5 million through SF2363, a bill making various one-time appropriations to a variety of programs, including REAP and several other conservation programs.

All three of these bills will require the Governor’s signature for $25 million in REAP funding to become law.  The Governor will have approximately 30 days to act on each bill, and appropriations bills are usually subject to strong review by the Governor’s office prior to being signed.

In addition to leadership shown by numerous conservation-minded legislators, Iowa’s REAP Program is supported by approximately 37,000 Iowans who have purchased natural resource license plates.  Last year and this year, hundreds of Iowans took part in a public participation process to make recommendations for the program’s future.

In March, the Iowa Environmental Council and Iowa REAP Alliance partnered with over 30 organizations to host a clean water and conservation rally at the statehouse.  An untold number of Iowans, through conservation organizations or acting independently, spoke out in favor of providing the program this historic funding level.

Thank you to all Iowans who spoke out to help make this progress.  We do know the work of protecting clean water and a healthy environment is not finished.  Together, we will continue to push for similar funding of REAP year after year.

Editor’s note:  Many environmental issues, including controversial provisions concerning confidentiality of water quality data in Iowa’s pollution reduction efforts, have seen action in the closing hours of the legislative session.  The Council will continue to summarize legislative action on a variety of issues in the coming days.

278 organziations sign letter in support of farm bill conservation

farmbillblogAs work on the long-stalled Farm Bill resumes in a Congressional conference committee this week, across the nation, 278 organizations including many in Iowa have signed a new letter calling on Congress to take responsible action for conservation.

The groups urge Congress to reconnect taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance to common-sense conservation protections for soil and water–a part of the farm bill known as “conservation compliance.” The letter also calls on Congress to support a national “sodsaver” provision to reduce taxpayer subsidies for converting native grasslands to crop production.

“Both of these provisions, included in the Senate bill, ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to incentivize risky or environmentally destructive practices,” the 278 groups say.  “Conservation compliance and sodsaver are among the top farm bill priorities for our groups, and both will be determining factors as we consider our support for a final bill.”

As the letter explains, much is at stake as Congress considers this policy:

Without these key protections, billions of taxpayer dollars spent on crop insurance over coming years will subsidize soil erosion that will choke our waterways, increase the cost of water treatment and dredging, and reduce the long term productivity of farmland. It will also allow for the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of valuable wetlands, resulting in increased downstream flooding, loss of wildlife habitat and decreased water quality.

A diverse group of organizations representing Iowans, including the Iowa Environmental Council, have signed the letter.  Other Iowa organizations signing include Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, the Des Moines Water Works, the Driftless Chapter of Iowa Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Bowhunters Association, the Iowa Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, the Iowa Farmers Union, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, the Iowa Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League of America, Maquoketa Valley Chapter, the North Bear Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Quad City Audubon Society, the Spring Creeks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Council of Trout Unlimited, and the Wagner Conservation Coalition.  The Environmental Law and Policy Center, a regional organization with offices in Iowa, also signed, as did the Environmental Working Group, whose national agriculture program is based in Ames.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) coordinated this national effort.  NSAC’s website has the full letter and list of organizations.  You can also read about the latest grassland loss data from USDA by clicking here.

Important public participation opportunities approaching for key Iowa conservation program

The REAP logo with the text "It's time: Fully Fund REAP!"

The Iowa Environmental Council strongly supports providing full funding to the REAP program.

The Iowa Environmental Council is a strong supporter of REAP and is a member of the Iowa REAP Alliance, a coalition of organizations who support the program.  The following is from a press release by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The public will have a chance to shape the future of Iowa’s conservation and outdoor recreation at any of the 18 Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) assemblies this fall.

REAP is a program that provides grants for and encourages enhancing and protecting Iowa’s natural and cultural resources. The assemblies will show local impacts of REAP.

“We get the opportunity to go out to the public to talk about REAP’s local impact,” said Tammie Krausman, REAP coordinator.

The assemblies will also allow attendees to voice ideas for changes and modifications to REAP and its programs.

“People who are passionate about conservation and outdoor recreation should get involved to make decisions on what’s happening locally,” said Krausman.

The assemblies will also allow participants to elect five members for REAP Congress. REAP Congress will meet Jan. 4 at the state capitol to talk about a variety of conservation topics such as soil conservation, water quality and outdoor recreation.

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