Iowa's Poor Water Quality Goes South

Jul 16, 2018

With Harry Smith

Iowa’s water pollution problem is getting worse and the impact is felt all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.


Chris Jones, research engineer at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Hydraulic Research Hydroscience and Engineering Center. Author of a recent study about nitrogen pollution flowing out of Iowa and into the Gulf of Mexico

Cheryl Johnson, farmer who grows corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, and raises purebred cattle

Art Cullen, Editor of the Storm Lake Times in Iowa. He won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for taking on big agriculture and water pollution in Iowa

Gene Turner, Professor of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University

From The Reading List

Des Moines Register: Iowa Nitrogen Pollution In The Water Is Getting Worse, Despite Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars In spending, Study Shows —  “The news comes as Iowa marks the five-year anniversary of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a plan designed to cut by 45 percent the nitrogen and phosphorus levels that leave Iowa and feed Gulf hypoxia — or the dead zone. Oxygen levels within the zone are so low that marine life can no longer survive, threatening the Gulf’s seafood industry. Most of the nutrient losses come from farming, although the strategy also targets losses from urban wastewater and industrial operations.”

USA Today: Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone’ Will Persist For Decades — “A dead zone occurs at the bottom of a body of water when there isn’t enough oxygen in the water to support marine life. Also known as hypoxia, it’s created by nutrient runoff, mostly from over-application of fertilizer on agricultural fields during the spring. Nutrients such as nitrogen flow from North America’s corn belt through streams and rivers before ending up in the Gulf.”

The Storm Lake Times: Wrong Assumptions — “Not to be misunderstood: We appreciate that Gov. Terry Branstad is trying to do something to promote water quality in Iowa. His plan to skim $4.7 billion from school sales taxes over coming decades and devote it to water quality enhancement at least gives us a foundation from which we can have a discussion — just as the Des Moines Water Works did when it filed a federal lawsuit against Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties over nitrate pollution of the Raccoon River by drainage districts.”

Read Chris Jones’s report here

Come mid-July, the farm fields of Iowa look like a rich blanket of green. Millions of acres of corn and soybeans. And most years when the rain is right, there is bountiful harvest. But at what cost to the environment? A new study from the University of Iowa says its farmers are still sending massive amounts of nitrates into both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, creating a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

This hour, On Point: Iowa’s gift to the gulf.

Harry Smith

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