CLINTON — Where Iowa is at and where Iowa is going was the focus of a water quality summit in DeWitt this week.

State Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, hosted the event and said the summit showed that water quality isn’t an easy issue.

“I thought there was so much expertise up here on the stage and when I was putting it together I thought that people need to know how complicated this is,” Hart said. “It is not easy and not something we can just say a, b, c and d and then we’re all set.”

The night consisted of three panel discussions over three hours that took a look at different aspects of water quality — the first on watersheds, the second on practices and the third on resources, with questions from the audience peppered in between.

Matt Lechtenberg from the Iowa Department of Land Stewardship spoke of his work with the nutrient reduction strategy and Iowa’s participation in the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. The IWQI aims to combat Gulf Hypoxia, or dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, due to nitrogen and phosphorus losses to water by reducing them by 45 percent from a baseline of 1980-1996.

He said they’re focusing on getting the most efficient reduction with the capital available, which includes constructed wetlands, bioreactors and increasing use of cover crops. He said part of the projects’ work includes more efficiently mapping what is already happening and comparing that to watershed data to “be more targeted in how we talk to landowners.”

After that, Adam Schnieders with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources put in perspective some of this history of wastewater treatment in the state of Iowa by showing a map of treatment centers around the state in the 1930s, including that wastewater in Maquoketa was simply dumped straight into the river.

“No treatment was normal; a lot of things have changed over the last 100 years,” Schneiders said.

Schneiders spoke about advancement in wastewater treatment across the state and included some information about the Clinton Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility.

According to the City of Clinton website, the RWRF is one of the first in Iowa to include processes for biological nutrient removal. Schneiders said places like Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Sioux City are crafting plans to also remove nutrients from the water.

During the second panel discussion, people heard from the city of Clinton and Davenport on what efforts are taking place at wastewater treatment plants now and what cities are doing to combat nutrient runoff, from Iowa State University Extension employees on what the research says and implementation, the Iowa Corn Growers and both a Clinton County and Scott County farmer.

Dennis Campbell, a farmer based in Clinton County, said his efforts over the last few years focused on water quality but took the angle of the long-term investment in his soil and business.

Campbell described things like using cover crops, vertical tillage, grass buffer strips and other techniques as an investment for his future grandchildren. He said he understands it is a long-term investment and mentioned that he himself owned a farm that had been in the family for generations.

Campbell gave insight into what a small but growing amount of farmers are working toward on improving their water quality and nutrient efficiency. According to Matt Helmers and Greg Brennemann from Iowa State University Extension, Campbell is on the cutting edge of this.

They spoke of the numbers behind what it would take to get to the 45 percent reduction in both nitrogen and phosphorus, and cover crops were just a portion of the reduction but progress there is only in the 2-3 percent range of what it would need to be to meet the goal.

The summit wrapped up with a third panel that gave information about financial assistance available to farmers to put these practices into reality and Steve Falck from the Environmental Law and Policy Center who spoke about how they advocate for water quality efforts while still taking into account the fact that farmers need to be profitable for things to work.

Hart said the Summit educated people while showing them that the subject of water quality and all of the efforts behind it and moving forward are complicated.

“I was pleased with that aspect of it that there was all that expertise on the stage that made it clear there is so much to learn here and it will take a lot of people trying to figure this out together,” Hart said.

The audience consisted of around 50 people, including other state representatives and senators, area farmers and interested residents.

Interested in water quality?

Information on Gulf Hypoxia and Iowa's water quality efforts, including the 2017 water quality legislative report, can be found at IowaAgriculture.gov. The legislative report details the water quality initiative founded in 2013 and efforts, funding and other aspects of the project.