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Iowa’s clean water remains a goal 50 years after the Clean Water Act

DES MOINES, IOWA — The Clean Water Act was passed on October 18, 1973. At the time, there were many cities in the US that were still dumping raw sewage and other things into rivers. The Clean Water Act is credited with making waterways cleaner and holding polluters accountable.

That law targeted pollution from the point. Where you could show where the chemical was coming from, sometimes it was a pipe. What the Act did not address was pollution from non-point sources such as runoff from cities and agricultural fields.

“I know we’ve done a very good job of regulating point pollution, we have to figure out how to control non-point pollution because it’s a major contributor to the damage to our waters,” said David Cwiertny, an environmental engineer at the University of Iowa: “What I would say is we need to figure out how if the Clean Water Act has gaps that we could monitor, we need to figure out how to fill those gaps to better protect our waters.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Management is working to establish voluntary practices to mitigate nitrate runoff from agricultural fields. One of those ways is for farmers to use cover crops and buffer. But Iowa Secretary of Ag Mike Naig said it’s important to make the measures voluntary.

“When you start dictating practices from Des Moines, or from Washington, what it immediately takes away is the creativity and innovation of the Iowa farmers, or the community, to be able to address these issues at the local level,” Naig said. “What we’re trying to do is provide resources for technical support, financial assistance, what we should be thinking about how do you embed practices into the landscape in a way that they last for generations.”

Both Cwiertny and Naig agree that Iowa farmers are innovative. And both also agree that more farmers and more acres need to be involved in ways to curb runoff into drinking water.

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