Sometimes it’s instructive to get a neighbor’s point of view when trying to gauge progress on a challenging project, such as Iowa’s ongoing efforts to improve water quality.

That’s what I discovered last week traveling around Iowa with Farm Bureau members from Illinois. It was very informative, and pretty heartening, to listen to the visitors’ reactions as they got a first-hand view of Iowa’s efforts to reduce nutrient loss from farms, cities and industry.

Sure, local environmental activists and leaders of the Des Moines Water Works regularly slam water quality improvement efforts of Iowa agriculture and government agencies. But progress on this side of the Mississippi River looks pretty impressive to the 20 some visitors from Illinois.

The Illinois farmers noticed that there appear to be plenty of Iowa farmers who are serious advocates for water quality and that those farmers are being strongly supported by farm organizations, ag retailers and others. They were impressed by the innovative work of Iowa land contractors to work with farmers to add bioreactors, saturated buffers and other water quality improvements to the landscape.

Collaboration is key

But what really caught the Illinois farmers’ attention is the amount of collaboration in Iowa when it comes to making long-term improvements in the quality of the state’s streams, rivers and lakes. They liked the fact that the leaders of Iowa’s top agriculture and environmental agencies, leaders of Iowa State University, as well as the governor, are working in tandem to find water quality solutions. They saw the value of efforts by communities, like Cedar Rapids, that are rolling up their sleeves and working with farmers to improve sources of drinking water. And they were very impressed that Iowa lawmakers have approved funding for water quality and are working to develop a long-term financing source dedicated to deal with this ongoing issue.

All of that, the Illinois farmers said, is progress that they hope to emulate back in their own state as they, too, work to explore efforts to improve on water quality.

It’s also a good thing for all of us in Iowa to remember. We really have made tremendous progress as we work together to improve water quality. And it’s a lesson that collaboration — not finger pointing, regulation or a lawsuit — is the way to keep that progress going.