Twitter gives its users 140 characters to tell a story, and You Tube videos are only effective if they’re 45 seconds or shorter, according to the company’s Creative Innovationist. Why? Today’s news seekers demand quick-hitting answers. We want to know that there’s a clear-cut problem and a simple solution, as long as the solution doesn’t inconvenience us. Tell us who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, and don’t hassle us with too many details.

But as famed journalist William Feather once said, “beware of the man who won’t be bothered by details.” Understanding the particulars is crucial when it comes to complex issues like water quality protection. That doesn’t stop animal and environmental activists from blaming almost all of Iowa’s water quality issues on modern agriculture. But blaming water pollution on farming oversimplifies the issue. And, because only three percent of Iowa’s population farms, activists know they won’t upset the average Joe by claiming that only farmers are to blame.

Protecting our water isn’t accomplished by a snappy one-liner or sound bite, and focusing on one industry while ignoring the rest won’t get the job done either. In fact, the number of reported municipal releases over the past two years is nearly 15 times greater than the number of manure releases that have had an impact on surface water according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources data ( There have been at least 361 municipal discharges of 87.6 million total gallons since January 2007, and that figure doesn’t even include the sewage discharges resulting from excess rainfall, an “act of God” or the nearly 700 unsewered communities across Iowa. Yuck!

Municipal discharges aren’t the only urban threats to our water. There are storm water runoff pollution threats in every watershed in Iowa and across the country. Just ask the EPA ( Excessively applied fertilizer on lawns and golf courses often ends up washing away, and impervious surfaces – including roads and parking lots – carry everything from motor oil and pet waste to cigarette butts into our streams.

Can agriculture play a part in improving Iowa’s water quality? Absolutely, and farmers today have invested in protective buffer strips that filter sediment. Iowa leads the nation in acres devoted to buffer strips. Iowa farmers have also enrolled over 80,000 acres of former cropland in the Wetland Reserve Program, ranking eighth in the nation. Wetlands protect towns and cities against storm surges and buffer coastal areas from erosion. And the Conservation Technology Information Center ( recently announced that Iowa farmers used soil-saving conservation tillage on more than a million additional acres – an 8.5 percent increase – in 2007 (the most recent data available).

Responsible farmers understand that improving our state’s water quality requires an unwavering commitment. They continue to add conservation structures and repair those damaged by last year’s flooding. Those efforts will be better coordinated by the establishment of a Water Resources Coordinating Council, established by the Iowa State Legislature to coordinate water quality issues. “Iowa has the structure in place to devise the plan and set priorities,” says Iowa Farm Bureau environmental advisor Rick Robinson. “The sooner they get a game plan together, the sooner we make progress.” That will require a collective effort and some attention to detail.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.