U.S. Water News Online
DES MOINES, Iowa -- What began as a shaky partnership
between farmers and environmentalists has grown into an unlikely
coalition to improve Iowa's water quality.
Water for Iowans, consisting of 15 farm groups and 80
environmental organizations, is sending stronger messages these days
after the two sides have worked out their differences.
The coalition has been meeting informally for a couple years but
leaders initially did not speak publicly because they weren't sure
their ideas would mix.
"These are groups that had been lobbing grenades at each other,"
said Larry Kallem, a representative from Iowa farm groups and the
coalition's first president. "The trust that has been built between
the two groups hasn't been there in the past, but after talking with
each other for some time, we've discovered we're not as far apart as
The formation of Water for Iowans comes at a critical time.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources held public hearings this
fall to address its proposal for stricter standards for rivers and
streams. Public response showed many people blame agriculture for the
state's water quality problems.
Iowa has more than 200 impaired waterways, and DNR statistics show
agriculture is to blame for 90 percent of the nitrogen in Iowa's
waterways and 80 percent of the phosphorus. The pollution can cause
fish kills and health threats for swimmers.
The coalition is trying to find solutions, though group leaders
acknowledge it will be a challenge.
Water for Iowans grew out of a presentation in April 2002 given by
two Iowa State University faculty members -- Stanley Johnson, the
outgoing vice provost for ISU Extension, and economics professor John
Miranowski. The two told farm and commodity organizations to take a
"performance-based" approach to water quality. Under that approach,
water quality would be monitored to determine whether conservation
practices are working.
If they don't work, find ones that do, Miranowski said. He
criticized how state and federal programs have helped farmers with
erosion control, though there were never indications that controlling
erosion improved water quality.
"The government is putting in money, yet the environmentalists
keep saying farmers are polluting the environment," Miranowski said.
"Producers are tired of always being called the bad guys, no matter
how hard they've tried to be good stewards of the land and improve
The performance-based approach was not initially welcomed by farm
groups, Miranowski said.
"We've operated so long the other way, it was a foreign idea and
people had trouble grasping it," he said.
Coalition leaders said the performance-based approach is now
catching on, and environmental groups are allowing farmers
flexibility to test strategies.
"Farmers can come up with a lot of innovations," said Linda
Kinman, who replaced Kallem as president of Water for Iowans. "That's
what they're good at."
Water for Iowans has also been active in some lobbying efforts,
including one by the state's largest water utilities, the Iowa Pork
Producers Association, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the rural
water districts. The result was the passage of legislation that set
up a watershed-improvement review board, which has approved spending
$4.7 million on 17 water quality improvement projects in 24 counties.
"That kind of cooperation between the two sides isn't normal,"
Kallem said. "This is groundbreaking stuff."
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