Nitrates Before and After: This is what happened

Photo: confluence of rivers with nitrogen loads - This is what happened

Many people are curious about Iowa stream nitrate before modern agriculture became established across the landscape. They want to know what the “natural” level of nitrate was. It turns out we do have some actual data. In 1955, the Iowa Geological Survey published a document titled “Water-Supply Bulletin No. 5, Quality of Surface Waters of Iowa, 1886-1954” (1). Some of these data are shown below (as nitrogen).

Confluence of the … [more…]

In the Heart of the Corn Belt, an Uphill Battle for Clean Water

photo: In the Heart of the Corn Belt, an Uphill Battle for Clean Water

Iowa State Senator David Johnson has led the fight to reduce agricultural pollution of the state’s waters. Casey Beck

Runoff from farms and feedlots has badly polluted Iowa’s waterways, more than half of which do not meet federal quality standards. Now, an unlikely coalition is calling for stricter controls to clean up the drinking water sources for millions of the state’s residents.

“Health trumps politics,” said Iowa State Senator David … [more…]

On Water Problems, Governments Actually Work Together

photo: wildlife is affected by algal blooms. On Water Problems, Governments Actually Work Together

Photo: Algae blooms are a frequent problem in Lake Erie. (AP)

When it comes to dirty lakes and rivers, governments have learned how to cooperate.

The greatest lubricant for intergovernmental harmony may well be water. I know that sounds odd, but the nation’s largest bays and lakes offer compelling examples of how multiple states can work with each other — and also with towns and cities, federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, … [more…]

How About That Water Quality? Ocean Acidification

photo: coastal tidal zone and rising sea levels. How About That Water Quality?

Talking about water quality isn’t most people’s idea of the ideal ice breaker. In the Lowcountry (loosely defined as coastal South Carolina and Georgia), folks typically find common ground discussing the region’s warm weather, great food, vibrant culture and remarkable history.

But water quality is quickly becoming the talk of the town as locals are growing concerned about how sea level rise and increased rainfall amounts are impacting their local

[more…]

The simple river-cleaning tactics that big farms ignore

The simple river-cleaning tactics that big farms ignore

Ione Cleverley wasn’t eager to break up with her tenant, who had been farming 88 acres of her central Iowa land for more than a decade. He was affable and hardworking, but after harvesting his corn and soybeans, the farmer left her fields un-planted.

Cleverley had learned that each spring, as the soil warmed and moistened, it released nitrogen—both naturally occurring and left over from the last application of synthetic … [more…]