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Officials roll out Gulf Hypoxia project

April Allen 01/11/2013 @ 8:19am Successful Farming intern

Officials in the Corn Belt have announced a new plan to slow a growing problem in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a project by the Iowa Department of Agriculture, uses science and technology to reduce particular nutrients that enter Iowa waterways and lead down to the Gulf of Mexico. This plan is unique in the fact that it integrates Iowa services to pinpoint both point and nonpoint sources, being the first plan of its kind to have such integration.

“The Iowa strategy is the first time stakeholders from both the point source community, such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farmers, have come together to develop a comprehensive plan,” says Iowa Secretary of agriculture Bill Northey.

The Gulf hypoxia -- comprising a large area of low oxygen that can’t sustain marine life -- is caused by algae growth and increasing nutrient concentrations in the water, the latter many see as an outcome of fertilizer runoff from the Mississippi River valley. The Iowa Strategy is to lower phosphorous and nitrogen nutrient levels in Iowa’s waterways that eventually feed down to the Gulf through the Mississippi river. The government’s process to slow hypoxia in the Gulf began in 1997 with the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, officials say.

The 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan requires states to develop strategies to lower those nutrients levels by 45%. Iowa is one of the 12 states along the Mississippi River included in the Action Plan of 2008. Under the new plan, large municipal wastewater treatment plants throughout the state will be coordinated by the Iowa Department of Human Resources in order to reduce discharge of phosphorous and nitrogen from their sites to Iowa waters.

For point sources of nutrient inflow, the goal is to reduce phosphorous levels entering Iowa waters by 16% and nitrogen by 4% by using existing programs and requiring them to evaluate and install treatment technologies, Northey says.

Nonpoint sources throughout the state hope to reduce nitrogen by 41% and phosphorous by 29%. The Iowa Department of Agriculture developed how effectively different conservation practices reduce nutrient losses in the landscape and the cost associated with these practices with a team of scientists from Iowa State University.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences developed the strategy.

“By harnessing the collective innovation and capacity of Iowa agricultural organizations, agriculture businesses and Iowa’s 90,000 farmers, the strategy takes a significant step forward towards implementing practices to improve water and soil quality on the state’s more than 30 million acres of farmland,” said Northey.

Northey calls this strategy a way to “protect” the water in Iowa waterways, down the Mississippi, and into the Gulf.

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