How long will it really take to clean up Iowa water?

Past floods and current agricultural practices aren’t helping nitrate levels

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | July 23, 2019

A 2018 water quality bill signed by Kim Reynolds outlines methods of reducing Iowa’s nitrate levels in its water by 45% over the next 12 years. But how long will a reduction actually take?

The Iowa Environmental Council estimates that a 45% decrease in nitrate levels could take well over 90 years of cover crop planting and natural reduction strategies to reach.

Nitrate levels in Iowa are startlingly high, with runoff from agriculture polluting rivers and streams that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, creating an environment wildlife can’t survive.

Cover crops, wetlands, and bioreactors are all natural ways to reduce nitrate pollution, but reduction will likely take much longer than projected. If Iowa wants to enter a period of nitrate-free waters, it will take many more years–and, perhaps, some mandatory practices–to reach that milestone.

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