Runoff from a heavy rain carries topsoil from a crop field in central Iowa.
Runoff from a heavy rain carries topsoil from a crop field in central Iowa.

For generations, Iowans have farmed the fertile Iowa soil efficiently to deliver the best yields in the world. When I meet with agriculture producers throughout the sixteen counties of the Third District, they tell me about the strategies they’re using to maximize the land’s potential.

Iowa farmers recognize having healthy soil and clean water is vital to their success and share with me the work they’re doing to conserve and enhance the environment.

Inspired by their actions, and everyone’s desire for quality water, I’ve introduced legislation to address the nation’s watersheds to improve water quality and promote conservation efforts. My bill, the Water Quality Conservation Act of 2017, uses existing federal money to assist with innovative programs to increase nutrient retention in soil, reduce soil erosion, improve soil health and improve overall water quality by focusing holistically on the watershed and engaging communities and stakeholders.

As stewards of the environment, many farmers are already doing the right thing. They use waterways to collect soil runoff, establish watersheds with their neighbors, use buffer strips and bio-reactors, plant cover crops, and so much more.

It’s hard to control Mother Nature and rain. Water running off of Iowa fields has the potential to carry excess nitrogen and other substances with it. To prevent this from happening, communities can implement measures to improve nutrient retention in order to protect the quality of our water.

As new technology – such as satellite imaging – has allowed farmers to precisely target where to use yield enhancing applications, the same federal government one–size-fits-all conservation programs are in place. But they may not necessarily always work. Even on a farm or an acre, land can be different in terms of soil composition and topography, and broadly tailored federal directives simply don’t work.

My legislation promotes conservation by harnessing new technology to pinpoint which water quality conservation practices will be the most effective in different places across the country. Iowans often hear about precision agriculture, well the Water Quality Conservation Act offers grants for precision conservation programs designed on a local level aimed at keeping soil healthy and protecting the quality of our water.

My bill will award cost-sharing grants to states creating innovative programs combining the knowledge of all stakeholders – producers, non-profits, universities, local to state government entities, advocacy groups and everyday Iowans.

Together, they will collaborate and explore new technology and develop innovative strategies to fit the needs of the community. New programs will harness technology to precisely implement practices in the right place, at the right time and at the right scale.

A community-based process will allow for flexible government programs that aren’t locked into a pre-defined set of practices. In addition to an improved process, the new partnerships will lead to science-based conservation programs tailored to particular areas, making the most of taxpayer dollars.

The federal government doesn’t know our communities like we do. Because people on the ground understand their terrain and environment better than those in Washington, D.C. who’ve never lived in our communities, Iowans can better protect their water and environment and be more effective with less red tape. The collaborative process created to secure the grant will bring together stakeholders to engage on an issue that affects all of us.

As communities develop and implement holistic ideas, there will be a constant analysis of the program. Data is submitted to the Department of Agriculture for the creation of a transparent, interactive, and user-friendly database showing the results of conservation practices in different areas with varying terrain and soils. When all of the data is combined, farmers will be able to learn what will work best for them and implement their own precision conservation plan to enhance water quality in our communities.

When writing this legislation, I sought input from a number of Iowa organizations – from researchers at Iowa State University, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Des Moines Water Works, and Nature Conservancy.  It was important to me to bring together diverse ideas and opinions to solve a common problem because that is the Iowa approach.

As I continue to serve Iowa’s Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives, I’ve made it my mission to bring Iowa’s voice and values to Congress. In Iowa, we recognize the best solution to any problem comes from collaboration and innovation. I was proud to have worked with Iowans to develop legislation to address water quality reflecting these values and putting our local communities in charge of how best to ensure real water quality for our families, communities, and our great state.

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