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Serving: IA

Vilsack Seeks $20 Million for Water Quality Improvement Projects

TAGS: Regulatory

Gov. Tom Vilsack announced October 11 the state will seek an additional $20 million in federal funding for water quality improvement projects in Iowa.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Vilsack stated that the additional money will be targeted on 23 priority lake and stream watersheds in Iowa and be administered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"The improvements that can be made with this funding have a ripple effect throughout our entire state in terms of improving water quality, improving fishing opportunities and providing valuable wildlife habitat," says Vilsack. "The bottom line is that the more of these practices we can add to our landscape, the better off we are both environmentally and economically by improving the quality of life for our residents and our visitors."

Money would help improve water quality

The funding is being requested through USDA's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) administered by the USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). The federal funds would be used in collaboration with state and local funds to improve water quality through voluntary conservation measures on sensitive lands owned by private landowners.

The project proposes to establish long-term contracts on 7,200 acres at a total cost of $20 million. This includes $16 million from federal funds and $4 million from state and local funds, including lake restoration funds appropriated during the last Legislative session, $1 million from the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund and another $1 million from private and local sources.

Voluntary, incentive-based approach

Vilsack says the CREP proposal meets Iowa's goals of improving water quality through voluntary, incentive-based approaches with landowners. "Federal funding like this would allow us to make our state commitment to water quality go even further," says Vilsack, pointing to the proposed match with state lake restoration funds.

The CREP project proposes targeting watershed improvements to those areas of highest sediment and phosphorus delivery. This proposal builds on findings of Iowa's watershed assessments; lake monitoring and classification reports; and individual lake/watershed diagnostic and feasibility reports conducted by ISU.

These studies have demonstrated that establishment of targeted conservation practices on 7% to 10% of the land in the watersheds could reduce sediment delivery by as much as 70%.

Incentives, long-term agreements

The project will use incentives and long-term agreements to maintain existing CRP lands in CRP, encourage sign-up of new, high priority fields in CRP and enroll filter strips and riparian forest buffers in areas critical to reducing sediment and phosphorus. It is planned to offer wetland restoration practices to remove surface tile inlets reducing sediment and phosphorus.

Filter strips will be offered around tile and terrace inlets to reduce sedimentation and phosphorus in those cases where wetland restorations are not practical or not desired.

If this proposal is funded, it paves the way for substantial improvements to a number of Iowa's water quality projects, according to DNR Director Jeff Vonk.

Proposal needs funding so it can work

"The water bodies all have small, well-defined watersheds that present a great opportunity to maximize an investment of public funds to benefit the health and well-being of both people and wildlife," says Vonk. "We can get the most bang for our buck by focusing efforts on the most critical lands contributing to water quality problems in these watersheds. This funding will help us do that."

Vonk says the $1 million proposed to come from the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund represents a significant investment from anglers and hunters. "When it comes to improving water quality and wildlife habitat in Iowa, the license fees paid for by hunters and anglers are almost always a vital component to success," he adds.

This CREP proposal, known as CREP II, is supported by local partners. They include Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Iowa, State Soil Conservation Committee, Pheasants Forever, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The Iowa CREP II partners will start the program in the 23 identified watersheds, immediately, upon approval by the USDA.

A list of the proposed projects where CREP II money would be used can be found on the Governor's office Web site at www.governor.state.ia.us.

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