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Fish tell an encouraging tale about Iowa’s water quality

Fish tell an encouraging tale about Iowa’s water quality
We hear a lot of scare stories these days about the quality of water in Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams. In their claims the self-appointed environmental activists typically blame farmers who, they say, ignore water quality issues.

After many, many visits to farms, I know that’s false. And now we have some convincing evidence, straight from the source. It appears that the activists have not convinced one very interested group: Iowa’s fish population, which appears to like Iowa’s water just fine.

In a front-page report during the Memorial Day weekend, the Des Moines Sunday Register found that Iowa’s fish population is leaping forward.

Folks, this is no fish story.

The number of trout streams in the state that support reproduction are up eightfold from only five in the 1980s to more than 40 today, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Walleye populations have also expanded in Iowa. Indeed, one fishing expert told the Register the biggest problem for walleye fisherman today is that fish are getting so big that you can’t reel in too many in a day to before exceeding the daily limits.

That’s led to strong sales of fishing licenses in Iowa, especially from non-state residents, who pay more than double the price that in-state anglers do. And there’s been a sharp jump in the number of fishermen and women have opted to pay for a trout stamp in Iowa, hoping to land a brook or brown trout from a cool, clear Iowa stream.

That means the state snags more money for its coffers and more Iowans earn an income supplying campgrounds, tackle, food and other supplies to anglers.

So why is Iowa fishing on the rise? A big reason is farmers and landowners have worked to improve fish habitat. Aided by DNR, soil and water conservation districts and others, they have taken a lot of steps to reduce sediment in the stream by planting cover crops, buffer strips and grass waterways, as well as controlling manure runoff with covered feeding operations.

I saw the improvement first-hand a year or so ago on the Tete des Morts Creek in beautiful northeast Iowa. Farmers there have stepped up to help turn the Tete des Morts from a creek that was once a site of fish kills to one that is healthy enough to support trout reproduction and attract fishermen.

The same things are happening all over Iowa as farmers embrace the state’s water quality initiative.

So when activists spout their lines about our state’s water quality, don’t bite.  Tell them to check facts, or in this case, the fishes.

 By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the News Services manager and Spokesman editor for Iowa Farm Bureau.