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Common Ground on Iowa Water Quality?

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio
Panel Discussion at Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines

What's the solution to Iowa water quality issues? One approach is to get cities, suburbs, and farms together to find solutions.  In this special edition of River to River, hear highlights from a recent panel discussion held at the Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines.  IPR's Clay Masters moderated the conversation.  

Panelists are CEO and General Manager at Des Moines Waterworks Bill Stowe, Executive Director of the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance Sean McMahon, the Nature Conservancy in Iowa External Affairs Manager Kristin Aschenbrenner, and Iowa State University Professor of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering Matt Helmers.

Early in the discussion, Stowe and McMahon have a spirited back-and-forth about the process and progress of addressing water quality.

Masters asked what are the biggest issues with addressing water quality problems. Stowe says, "it is the denial of  many in leadership positions that there is a water quality problem in this state."  He points to nutrient problems, bacterial problems, suspended solid problems.

"All of these in my view are attributable to agri-toxins coming from industrial agriculture, that's the  issue we need to address," Stowe says.

McMahon says that nutrients are the biggest challenge. But he says resources are a limiting factor to addressing the issue. 

"We need additional resources for more technical assistance, more people, more boots on the ground to reach farmers.  We need more financial resources for practices; need more funding for watershed planning," says McMahon.

He adds, "We also need more collaboration, but there's been phenomenal momentum in the last four-and-a-half years since the nutrient reduction strategy was created.  But demand from farmers is not the limiting factor, it really is resources."