Wallaces Farmer

Water quality efforts to be made visual at farm showWater quality efforts to be made visual at farm show

Wetlands, bioreactors, buffers and private well testing are all part of this year’s ISU Extension and Outreach exhibit at the Farm Progress Show.

July 28, 2022

3 Min Read
Aerial view of a water quality bioreactor
WATER QUALITY BIOREACTOR: A water quality bioreactor is one of several water quality improvement projects being installed across Iowa. The water flows through a carbon source such as woodchips, where nitrates are reduced through a naturally occurring process.Courtesy of ISU Extension

Water quality improvements often happen in fields and underground — places that can be hard to see up close and in one setting. But thanks to the aid of computer monitors, visual demonstrations and printed material, the water quality team with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is planning to make water quality improvement visual during this year’s Farm Progress Show.

Kay Stefanik, assistant director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State University, says this year’s exhibit will include a video on the water quality benefits of wetlands, specifically related to nitrogen reduction.

The Conservation Station trailer, developed by Iowa Learning Farms, will show visitors what saturated buffers and bioreactors look like and how they function.

“The display will allow people to see components of water quality improvement practices that are often underground and not visible to the human eye,” Stefanik says. “There will be educational opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds and information on what they can do to help improve water quality.”

Private well program

Catherine DeLong, the water quality program manager for ISU Extension and Outreach, says visitors can also pick up a copy of a brochure that explains the Private Well Stewardship Program, a new initiative to help Iowans who depend on drinking water from private wells.

In Iowa, about 230,000 people, or 7% of the population, rely on private wells as their main household water source. It is the responsibility of the well owner to test and ensure that their drinking water is safe, but many Iowans are unsure how to maintain the quality of their well and who to turn to for advice.

The Private Well Stewardship Program seeks to provide information on testing, maintenance and funding resources to maintain private well water quality.

Stefanik says visitors can take a postcard with instructions on how to view ongoing water quality projects across the state, thanks to an interactive digital map organized by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Projects are marked with a pin, with site-specific information available about each.

New programs

The exhibit will also offer visitors who are interested in having a water quality project of their own the chance to sign up to connect with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

“The Farm Progress Show is a great opportunity to visit with producers about the range of conservation practices that can be used to reduce the export of sediment and nutrient from agricultural lands,” says Matt Helmers, director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

“We look forward to highlighting practices such as bioreactors, saturated buffers and wetlands. Some of these practices are new, so being able to utilize the saturated buffer and bioreactor models will help in improving the understanding of these practices.”

Stefanik and other water quality specialists will be at the exhibit to answer questions about water quality and the kinds of trends the state is seeing.

She said progress is being made, but added the state still has a way to go to meet the goals set by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Stefanik is looking forward to the opportunity to meet and engage with Iowans. She said the show will provide a great opportunity to connect with farmers and others who are directly involved with land management and conservation.

Kick writes for ISU Extension.

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