Report calls for more aggressive action on nutrient runoff in Iowa

Cyanobacteria leads to depletion of oxygen in water, which can be deadly to wildlife and dangerous for swimmers. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 28, 2018

A new report provides evidence that cyanobacteria in Iowa’s waterways is getting worse, and more aggressive legislative action is required to make it better.

The report, published by the Iowa Public Policy Project, argues that the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a voluntary effort for farmers to implement strategies to reduce nutrient runoff into Iowa’s rivers and streams, is failing and more specific action must be taken.

The report calls for vegetative buffers to protect all of Iowa’s streams, which can filter harmful nutrients out of the runoff from stormwater or irrigation. Some states like Minnesota do require vegetative buffers on the banks of waterways. Unlike the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, mandatory vegetative buffers would be on a 10-year timeline.

“This is a reasonable goal that is achievable, effective and quantifiable — unlike the no-deadline, no-requirement nature of the current Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” said David Osterberg, co-author of the report, in a press release.

The report called this strategy a “low hanging fruit” approach to Iowa’s nutrient problem. It would also have an indirect benefit to reducing climate change, because the additional vegetation would pull carbon out of the atmosphere.

Not only is cyanobacteria dangerous for aquatic life, but it can also contain toxins to humans, sometimes requiring beaches to close, and could be risky to communities that obtain their water from contaminated sources.

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