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Watershed plan aims to reduce nitrate, phosphorus

Watershed plan aims to reduce nitrate, phosphorus

A watershed project in northern Iowa is helping farmers work toward meeting the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), with support from the Walton Family Foundation, began watershed planning three years ago in the Rock Creek Watershed in Mitchell County, which includes 44,787 acres that drain to the confluence of Rock Creek and the Cedar River southwest of Osage.

The ISA worked with local farmers and a technical advisory committee to develop goals and create a plan. It identified seven main goals:

1. Reduce in-stream nitrogen by 41 percent from 2009-2011 average levels.

2. Reduce in-stream phosphorous by 29 percent from 2009-2011 levels.

3. Increase soil organic matter by 1 percent.

4. Maintain or increase agricultural productivity and revenues.

5. Reduce flood risk.

6. Maintain or increase upland wildlife habitat.

7. Maintain or improve aquatic life.

The Mitchell County Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded a multi-year grant in 2014 for nearly $1 million to focus on in-field practices. In 2015, the ISA received funding from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for a Water Quality Initiative project to further advance nutrient reduction in the watershed.

The ISA decided to focus on edge-of-field practices, and is in the process of selecting 25 sites to install a combination of bioreactors and saturated buffers at no cost to the landowners. However, the ISA is being selective about where it installs the bioreactors and saturated buffers, says Keegan Kult, an environmental scientist with the ISA.

"We want the bioreactors and buffers to be where they will be cost effective," Kult said. Site selection for the installation of the bioreactors and saturated buffers is prioritized based on the expected potential nitrate load treated as well as the cost effectiveness based on site characteristics, according to Kult. Farmers with potential projects in the watershed are encouraged to call Kult at 515-334-1036.

Once complete, the Rock Creek Watershed will have the largest concentration of these practices in the state, says Adam Kiel, state water resources manager with the ISA.

However, Kiel says the Rock Creek Watershed project shows how collaboration can work toward a common water quality plan and goal.

"One grant or one in-field project is not going to be the single solution," Kiel said. "Rock Creek shows that many efforts and many contributions from an array of partners can work to make things happen."



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