Iowa Utilities Seek to Slow Soil Erosion and Improve Water Quality | AG

(Grinnell) – A cattle farm in Grinnell has been fined for storing manure on its property that spilled into a nearby creek. It’s the latest in a string of pollution cases that go back generations – and vex agencies trying to keep drinking water clean.

Ted Corrigan, CEO and Managing Director of the Des Moines Water Plant, the city’s water department, said it was testing for nitrates, phosphates and now, dangerous algae blooms. But they also join farmers who are introducing cover crops, which prevent erosion and provide nutrients to the 20 million acres of bare soil that remain after Iowa farmers harvest their crops.

“And a cover crop is a crop that you don’t harvest,” he said. “It stays there on the ground during the winter months. It provides living plants there, which are there to hold the soil in place. Their roots tend to hold the soil in place.”

In some cases, Corrigan said, crops are provided free of charge by state agricultural partners. While it might seem like a common-sense solution, he noted that some longtime farmers aren’t willing to try it. In the case of the Grinnell cattle rancher, the manure flowed into a tributary of Middle Buck Creek – and ultimately, into the Des Moines water supply.

Many farms have been in the same family for generations, but Corrigan said there was a growing trend towards “non-farming landowners”, a fancy way of saying people who rent their land rather than farm it themselves. themselves. He said he saw it as a troubling trend that could create stumbling blocks for conservation efforts.

“You can imagine that if someone rents this land they won’t spend a lot of money improving the land, because it’s not theirs – and they might not even be able to rent it. next year or two years from now,” he said. “And so that’s a real barrier to implementing conservation practices, it’s non-farming landowners and their lack of connection to the earth.”

Corrigan said conservation groups and local natural resource agencies are working hard to stay ahead of the latest method of yield improvement or corporate agricultural production. He likened it to a game of chess between conservation and utility officials and large-scale agricultural producers.

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