The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) annual progress report released last week identified $512 million in private and public sector funding for NRS efforts during 2018, an increase of $92 million from the previous year.

In addition, long-term funding will provide an additional $270 million for conservation practices and wastewater treatment upgrades over the next 12 years, according to the joint report by Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The report also showed continued gains in cover crops, considered one of the most effective working farmland practices for reducing nutrient losses. Statewide estimates indicate farmers planted 760,000 acres of cover crops in 2017, compared to 600,000 acres the previous year. There were 330,000 acres enrolled in government cost-share programs. Also, 1.8 million acres of land were enrolled in the Conservation Re­­serve Program, about 200,000 acres more than in 2011.

“We are committed to robust measuring and reporting around each of the steps necessary to reach our water quality goals,” said Mike Naig, Iowa secretary of agriculture. “This report shows progress in each of the areas measured. We are encouraged by the efforts of the public and private sectors to implement conservation practices across the state and are working to build on this success going forward.”

The annual report provides progress updates on point source and nonpoint source efforts toward the goals of achieving a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loads leaving the state. The report follows the “logic model” framework that identifies measurable indicators of desirable change that can be quantified, such as funding, staff, conservation practice adoption and wastewater treatment facility upgrades.

Partners reported 511 outreach events focused on water quality were held in 92 counties and were attended by nearly 46,000 participants.

“The report highlights the increase in activities in the five years since the release of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which is encouraging,” said Matt Helmers, director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University. “But it is also important to recognize the scale of change required to meet nutrient reduction goals and the need for increased levels of practice adoption and implementation throughout the state.”

Physical changes on the land may affect change in water quality measured through both modeled estimates of nutrient loads in Iowa surface water and through empirical water quality monitoring over time.

Iowa has an extensive water quality monitoring system in place, including 32 more real-time nitrate sensors deployed by the University of Iowa’s Hydroscience and Engineering-IIHR than in 2016.

At least 88 percent of Iowa’s land drains to a location with water quality sensors installed and maintained mainly by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Hydroscience and Engineering- IHR, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

In addition, surface-water samples are collected regularly at 302 locations, plus 582 edge-of-field sites by the Iowa Soybean Association and Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance.

Regarding point-source efforts, the report said 125 of the 154 municipal wastewater plants and industrial facilities required to assess their nutrient removal capacity have been issued new permits and 82 of those have submitted feasibility studies on potential technology improvements to reduce nutrient loss.

The full report is available to the public at