riverOfficials at the Des Moines Water Works, which recently fil­ed a misdirected lawsuit against three counties in northwest Iowa over water quality issues, seldom miss a chance to trash Iowa’s water quality initiative, officially the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. They’ve repeatedly call­ed the 18-month-old initiative a "failure" and want to replace it with a mandatory approach, most likely administered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But interestingly, the EPA it­self has some pretty supportive things to say about Iowa’s water quality initiative, launched by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources with technical support from Iowa State University.

The agency fully backs Iowa’s strategy, as well as similar efforts by other states in the Mississippi River Valley, said Karen Flournoy, director of the water, wetlands and pesticide division of EPA’s Region 7, which covers Iowa. "I think they have made great strides in implementation," she told Zach Bader, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s online community manager.

States across the region are working together to improve water quality, Flournoy said. "I know that other states have used Iowa’s scientific assessment information in developing their strategies. Likewise, Iowa has used some information from other states."

A long-term effort

The EPA official also stressed that while the water quality initiative is fairly new, Iowa farmers have been implementing conservation practices for years. "EPA and certainly all of the other stakeholders recognize that much work has been done for many, many years. And (the water quality initiative) is not a silver bullet that’s going to solve all of the problems," Flournoy said.

Finally, the EPA official also emphasized that it’s important to give Iowa’s water quality initiative time to work. "This is a long-term effort," Flournoy said.

She’s right: The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is the most comprehensive approach that in­­cludes both point and nonpoint sources to help achieve broad-based gains. It truly is the best route if Iowa is interested in a sustainable solution to water quality issues.

And progress toward that effort, many in Iowa fear, could be slowed or even harmed by the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit.