In a new report to Congress, the Environmental Protection Ag­­ency’s Hypoxia Task Force (HTF) highlighted the progress that Iowa and 11 other states in the Mississippi River valley are making in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loading in the Gulf of Mexico.

The task force’s report strongly backs state strategies, such as Iowa’s Water Quality Initiative (WQI), as the best solution to reduce nutrient loss from both point and non-point sources, to improve surface waters and ultimately to reduce the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa’s WQI was implemented in 2013 by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) with technical support from Iowa State University.

“This report is a strong indication that Iowa and other states are on the right track to improve water quality in the long term,” said Rick Robinson, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation environmental policy director. “The HTF recognizes that cooperative efforts of farmers, communities and states are the cornerstone in taking on the challenge of improving water quality.”

Highlighting progress

Matt Lechtenberg, Water Qual­ity Initiative coordinator for IDALS, said the HTF report illustrates the progress that has been made and the amount of work that still needs to be done. “Achieving significant water quality improvements in water bodies as large as the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico takes time, and the variable weather patterns make monitoring progress difficult, but Iowa continues to be a leader implementing science-based practices that reduce nutrient loads to the Gulf,” he said.

Adam Schnieders, IDNR water quality resources coordinator, said the new report highlights the value of coordination among state and federal agencies to back efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus export to the Gulf. It’s also very important that efforts are backed by research from land grant universities to improve approaches and account for conservation activity conducted by a wide range of partners, he said.

The biannual report includes summaries of each state nutrient reduction strategy, progress and challenges.

For Iowa, the HTF report highlighted the investments from public and private stakeholders to improve water quality and reduce soil loss. Those efforts include education and outreach, statewide practice implementation, demonstration projects in targeted watersheds and progress tracking.

Agribusinesses involved

The report also noted the est­ablishment of the Iowa Nutrient Re­­search and Education Council (INREC), which brings together agribusinesses, crop advisors, farm organizations and others to support farmers conservation and water quality efforts. INREC, the report noted, is focused on measuring and demonstrating environmental progress, validating environmental practices and enhancing the environmental impact of ag retailers and certified crop advisors.

In addition, the HTF report noted that Iowa Agriculture Sec­retary Bill Northey has served as HTF co-chair.