Updated Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Dashboards Indicate Measurable Water Quality Progress
With water quality and conservation practice implementation set to accelerate, Iowa State University’s logic model reports progress made in the first decade of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy
DES MOINES, Iowa (May 24, 2023) – The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the three principals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, today jointly announced that the online dashboards that report the results of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy have been updated to reflect the latest reporting period. Today’s announcement coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Adoption of conservation practices continues to increase, and progress is expected to continue to build over the next decade as water quality and conservation practice implementation accelerate.
“The detailed dashboards demonstrate that the Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working, and Iowa’s water quality is improving. This comprehensive reporting shows that real progress is being made, but we are far from satisfied and will continue our efforts to scale up Iowa’s adoption of conservation practices,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We have always known that this is going to be a collaborative effort that will take everyone – both public and private partners in urban and rural areas – working together for decades to come. As conservation practice implementation continues to accelerate in priority watersheds in the years ahead, it will be exciting to see the additional water quality progress that can be achieved.”
“As we reach the 10th anniversary of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, we are pleased to release the complete set of data dashboards,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon. “This tool will allow us to track progress and measure the impact of our efforts more quickly, providing valuable insights to guide our work moving forward. We are committed to transparency and accountability, and this dashboard is a key tool in achieving those goals."
“Iowa State University is committed to bringing the very best science and technology, through research and extension, to bear on always improving our understanding and capacity for management of water resources in Iowa and beyond,” said Daniel J. Robison, holder of the endowed dean’s chair in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. “Our college supports land-use and water quality initiatives in its work to enhance agricultural and conservation management that makes a difference, and is to the benefit of farmers, landowners, communities and industries.”
Highlights from the Updated Dashboards:
- Estimates from more than a decade ago suggest that there were as few as 10,000 acres of cover crops planted in the state. In 2021, the number jumped to more than 2.8 million acres.
- Through the more recent development of edge of field practices, coupled with emphasis by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and partners to foster more installations, the cumulative number of acres protected by these practices, including saturated buffers and bioreactors, is 194 times higher in 2021 than it was in 2011.
- Because of increased, dedicated funds to expand water quality wetlands, the cumulative number of acres protected by wetlands has grown from 2,500 to 139,200 acres.
- Due to continued focus of public sector programs and increased interest from landowners, the cumulative acres in Iowa protected by structural erosion control practices continues to grow. These practices include terraces, ponds, grade stabilization structures, and water and sediment control basins. In addition to acres protected before 2010, nearly 290,000 additional acres from 2011 to 2021 have been protected using public sector program investment.
- Iowa farmers’ utilization of no-till on crop acres has grown from 6.2 million acres in 2010 to 9.5 million acres in 2021.
- The majority of commercial Nitrogen applied to corn acres continues to occur in the spring. Of the acres with fall Nitrogen applied, an estimated 86 percent is put on with a Nitrogen inhibitor. Improved fertilizer management continues to be a priority and the Iowa Nitrogen Initiative is one example that seeks to modernize and optimize the Nitrogen recommendations for farmers in order to maximize productivity while reducing the risk of nutrient losses to the environment.
- Total state and federal funding working in support of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy continues to climb higher, with both categories hitting record amounts in the last year. Private investment by farmers and landowners continues to rise as well, boosting the impact of the record-level public investment.
- The flow-weighted nitrate load, measured in tons per inch of flow per year, was 15,000 in 2021 which is the lowest in the monitoring period from 2000-2021. The flow-weighted nitrate load metric considers precipitation and water quantity factors that can fluctuate data significantly from year to year. Despite recent years showing a drop in nitrogen export in part due to dry conditions, there is still much more work to be done to reduce nitrogen loss.
- From 2015 to 2021, the number of point-source facilities meeting their nitrogen load reduction targets has improved from 10 facilities to 47 facilities.
- From 2015 to 2021, the number of point-source facilities meeting their phosphorus load reduction targets has improved from 3 facilities to 23 facilities.
- 63 municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants have committed to constructing upgrades to remove nutrients.
About the Logic Model Dashboards
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach developed and is deploying a logic model to track progress of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The logic model was introduced to set measurable indicators of progress and adopted by the Water Resource Coordinating Council in 2015. The four categories of the model include Inputs, Human, Land, and Water. As Iowa State University explains, “To affect change in water quality, there is a need for increased inputs, measured as funding, staff, and other resources. Inputs affect change in outreach efforts and human behavior. This shift towards more conservation-oriented attitudes among farmers, landowners, point source facility operators, and other stakeholders is a desired change in the human dimension of water quality efforts. With changes in human attitudes and behavior, changes on the land may occur, measured as conservation practice adoption and wastewater treatment facility upgrades. Finally, these physical changes on the land may affect change in water quality, which ultimately can be measured through both empirical water quality monitoring and modeled estimates of nutrient loads in Iowa surface water. The model outlines measurable parameters that can be tracked year-to-year.