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Seeking a ‘one water approach’

By Staff | Aug 8, 2014

KEEGAN KALT, left, speaks with Jim Patrick, city manager for Storm Lake, during the Aug. 1 water quality field day at the Ann Smeltzer Trust Farm in Otho. Patrick is studying how cities and farmers can join resources for reducing the amount of nutrients that escape from fields into surface waters.

OTHO – Edge-of-the field monitoring, bioreactors, oxbow lakes, and land management practices designed to keep nitrogen and phosphorus in row-cropped fields, was the agenda on Friday to show rural and urban leaders the practices Iowa farmers are using to keep surface waters clean.

On the first day of National Water Quality Month, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Ag Clean Water Alliance, sponsored a field day for three dozen attendees at the Ann Smeltzer Trust Farm in Otho.

“We’re trying to raise awareness of the practices that are in the ground,” said Roger Wolf, executive director of ACWA. “We’re also trying to build relationships with cities who have a long-term interest in (water quality) issues.

“We all have an impact on water and must do our part.”

Wolf said he sees the need for a “one water approach” for meeting water quality goals through farm and city alliances and shared resources.

Chris Jones, an environmental scientist with Iowa Soybean Association Environmental Programs and Services, explains how a restored oxbow lake works to trap and use nutrient runoff from tile lines on the Ann Smeltzer Farm.

At the end of the day, it was how Iowa’s farmers and urban leaders can work together to help Iowa meet its Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals: a 45 percent drop in nitrates and 24 percent drop in phosphorus from surface waters.

The target goals were assigned to Iowa in early 2012 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean watershed throughout the Mississippi River Basin and lower the nutrient loads that reach the Gulf of Mexico.

To date, EPA has not set a deadline for reaching those goals and is allowing farmers to voluntarily install devices and switch to land management practices that will hold nutrients in their fields.

Nutrient trading

Jim Patrick, city manager for Storm Lake, said he attended Friday’s event because Storm Lake was one of two Iowa cities chosen to pilot a new urban-rural alliance for “nutrient trading.”

Tony Seeman, a watershed management specialist for the Iowa Soybean Association, talks to field day visitors Friday about edge-of-the-field water monitoring technology that was installed on the Ann Smeltzer Farm in Otho in 2013. The device on the table is an automated water sampler, with 24 bottles inside for collecting water samples as runoff passes through tile lines.

Patrick said cities are investing millions of dollars in water treatment facilities, which don’t take enough nutrients out fast enough.

He said he’s getting educated on best ag practices for conserving water quality.

Working with researchers at Iowa State University, Patrick said there are Storm Lake-area farmers willing to work with the city for reducing the nutrient loads from nitrate leaching from soil and phosphorus escaping through erosion during and following heavy rain events.


Below-ground structures installed on the Smeltzer Farm include edge-of-the-field structures such as runoff monitors and bioreactors, plus the restoration of old oxbow lakes, to slow and reduce nitrate loads in tile lines.

Above-ground technology includes precision ag techniques such as strip-till and no-till, plus variable rate fertilizer applications, soil sampling to know how much fertilizer to apply and when, and other ag products designed to feed plants when they need it, rather than the traditional method of applying all nutrients at once.

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