With the 2013 Earth Day here, Iowans will likely read and hear environmental activists complain about the lack of environmental progress in the state. The activists will point fingers straight at farmers and claim that agriculture’s voluntary conservation efforts aren’t being embraced and are not effective. They’ll say a mandatory, one-size-fits-all, approach is the only answer.

Don’t believe them. Iowa farmers, over the past few decades, have steadily stepped up their efforts to improve water quality. They have planted miles of buffer strips to trap sediment and keep it out of streams. They have built wetlands, sediment basins, bio-filters and a range of other structures to protect surface water. And they have adopted conservation tillage methods on millions of acres of land, reducing erosion and keeping soil and nutrients out of streams and lakes.

While farmers are always researching better conservation efforts, their volunteer efforts to date have made remarkable progress improving Iowa’s water quality. To get a detailed look at that conservation progress, go to www.iowafarmbureau.com/conservationcounts.

Want another good sign of the progress? Take a look below the surface of the spring-fed streams in northeast Iowa. There’s a good chance you’ll see a lot more trout than you used to.

There are currently 36 spring-fed streams in northeast Iowa healthy enough to consistently support trout reproduction, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Another 30 streams support intermittent reproduction.

That is a tremendous improvement from the 1980s when surveys completed showed only six Iowa streams supported trout reproduction. “We have really come a long way in improving trout habitat in Iowa and we continue to make progress,” said Mike Steuck, DNR’s northeast district fisheries supervisor. The improvement has been built by a cooperative effort among private landowners and farmers, along with federal, state and local conservation agencies.

A big reason that trout are thriving and reproducing in the beautiful spring-fed streams of northeast Iowa: more and more farmers are using conservation practices to sharply reduce the amount of sediment ending up in the streams. Sediment tends to smother trout eggs before they can hatch, according to Steuck.

Streams full of trout have brought more anglers to northeast Iowa. And that’s making cash registers ring at outfitters, hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the region.

So when activists trash Iowa’s water quality, just remember that its important to look a little deeper. In northeast Iowa, there’s a good chance to you’ll see a speckled brown trout happily swimming below the surface.

 Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau