Kick-Off: Boone River Watershed Nutrient Management Initiative

Michael Naig, Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, speaks at Hagie's on Feb 28

On Feb 28, the Boone River Watershed Nutrient Management Initiative hosted the second of two kick-off meetings at Hagie Manufacturing in Clarion. The first was held Feb 27 in Algona. “What you all learn is going to teach others across the state,” Michael Naig, Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, told the meeting’s 66 attendees. 

The Initiative is the first of 8 nutrient reduction initiatives in Iowa to begin, and focuses on the Eagle Creek and Prairie Creek Watersheds – primarily in Wright and Kossuth counties, respectively. It will last three years, and is funded by a $1 million grant from the State of Iowa, about half of which will go to practice-share programs with farmers, and the other half for supplies, education, and administrative support.

The overall Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy’s goal is a 45% drop in nitrogen and phosphorus run-off through practices such as cover crops, strip tilling, bioreactors, and wetland restoration, the latter of which is a special focus for Initiative partner The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy received a grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support the restoration of oxbows, river-bends which help to remediate nitrogen runoff and serve as habitats for wildlife.

““The research is showing where [the nitrogen] is coming from and that’s why we’re really here,” said Bruce Voigts, project coordinator for Eagle Creek.

 “You had about 1,100 farmers put their hands up say, and said ‘I’ll try something different,’ and that’s what we’re going to need to be successful in this endeavor,” said Naig of the number of farmers who have received $2.8 million through state practice-share programs during the last year. Naig said these nutrient reduction strategies have “tremendous bipartisan support” in the State legislature.

“We’re talking about voluntary, science-based approaches,”Naig said, emphasizing the right “to decide for your own farm” which practices to use, that practices must fit with research, and expressing hope that farmers would implement the environmentally-friendlier strategies

 “If we are not successful in the implementation of a nutrient reduction strategy, it’s not theoretical what could happen,” Naig continued. “We can see in other parts of the country what happens when a heavy-handed government approach comes in. We certainly want to avoid that here. We simply do not believe that a regulatory approach is going to be successful. If the EPA establishes a number that folks must go out and achieve, we know that farmers will stop doing the right things…and they’ll simply try to be legal, and that is the wrong approach. We want everybody looking at how to improve their operations and doing the things that make sense on their farms to have a positive impact.”

85% of the land in the Eagle and Prairie Creek watershed is used to grow corn and soybeans. The Creeks are part of the greater 895-square-mile Boone River Watershed, which was primarily wetlands before it was drained to become farmland. Nitrogen run-off from fields in Boone River and other watersheds drains to Des Moines – where it is costly to remove from drinking water – and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, where it primary agent creating the Gulf’s “Dead Zone.” The nutrients feed algal blooms, and as the algae die, decomposers breaking them down use up oxygen that fish need to live. In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the resultant area without fish in the Gulf to be between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles.

Bruce Voigts, coordinator for Wright County’s Eagle Creek Watershed, is based in Clarion, and may be reached at 532-2165, ext. 3, or  Emily Funk, coordinator for Prairie Creek, is based in Algona and may be reached at 295-5156, ext. 119, Karen Wilke, the Boone River Initiative Project Director with the Nature Conservancy, is based in Webster City and may be reached at 832 -2916, Ext. 112,

Read more in the March 6 issue of the Wright County Monitor.