Vilsack calls for patience, collaboration to address Iowa’s water quality concerns

October 16, 2015

DES MOINES — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged patience and collaboration Thursday rather than conflict and confrontation to address and improve water quality in Iowa.

Vilsack was in Iowa to announce a $3 million investment in “partner-led” work that will nearly double the number of acres of wetlands protected and restored in parts of Iowa. He also used the event at the Des Moines Botanical Garden focusing on USDA conservation work to name Kurt Simon as the new Iowa State conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Iowa award was part of a $30 million investment in six states to fund wetland restoration projects making conservation improvements and to be used to acquire and restore prairie pothole wetlands and associated tallgrass prairie uplands in and around shallow lakes and marshes. He said Thursday’s announcement brought to more than $2 billion the amount of money the Obama administration has invested in efforts to conserve and protect Iowa’s land, water and air resources.

Vilsack said the “locally driven projects” will improve Iowa’s water quality, prevent flooding, enhance wildlife habitat, “recharge” groundwater and meet increasing conservation challenges while providing outdoor recreational and educational opportunities strengthening Iowa’s agricultural economy.

The voluntary nature of government easement programs, he said, allows effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes, providing benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program, as well as benefits to the local and rural communities where the wetlands exist.

However, critics of Iowa’s voluntary approach to nutrient management efforts have argued the process has not been effective and too slow in reducing farm chemical runoff that has negatively impacted drinking water supplies and prompted the Des Moines Water Works to sue three upstream counties in federal court.

During Thursday’s news conference, Vilsack strongly urged Iowans to work cooperatively to resolve the ongoing dispute, advising the “best solution for the challenges we face is a collaborative, consensus, incentive-based solution.” He pointed to the state of Washington, where environmental and conservation groups that had been battling the timber industry decided “they had enough of conflict” and began working together to protect the forest and sustain the industry.

Iowa’s water-quality concerns have built up over a considerable period of time and involve a complex set of factors that will not be resolved by a “quick answer,” but require all sides coming together toward a common goal of preserving Iowa’s land and resources using resources that are “funneled and directed in the right way,” said Vilsack, who served as Iowa’s governor from 1999 to 2007.

“The work is beginning to have an impact but it’s going to take a long time because this evolved over a long period of time,” Vilsack noted.

“No solution, regardless of how it’s ultimately determined, is going to allow for some kind of rapid, short-term, immediate solution,” the ag secretary added. “This is going to take a long-term commitment and a patient commitment and a coordinated commitment.”

Source: The Gazette

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