The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released a report on water quality in Iowa. The DC based NGO analyzed data from the state’s Department of Natural Resources to gauge water quality in almost 100 stream segments. The results, according to the EWG, indicate that none of the sites had excellent quality and 60 percent were in “poor” or “very poor” condition.

The report is a clarion call for Iowa’s agribusiness sector to ramp up its work to help keep Iowa’s water supply clean and not rely on taxpayers to front those costs.

According to the EWG, the problem largely stems from how Iowa government agencies have written and then implemented regulations related to land use. Developers and industries that “disturb” one acre or more must submit a plan on how they will avoid soil erosion or else face fines. But such activity only imposes 0.41 percent of the total nitrogen than ends up in the state’s environment; the amount of phosphorous is 1.5 percent of the total amount leached into Iowa’s soil.

Meanwhile, agribusiness faces no regulatory requirements, with the exception of some animal feeding operations (AFOs). Iowa’s state government has some financial incentives for the farming sector to take voluntary measures reducing their impact on the state’s water quality. Those programs, however, are limited, and in any event they would leave state taxpayers with the bill.

The result is an overload of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Iowa’s streams and rivers,  which in turn can cause algae blooms and the growth of cyanobacteria that can cause health problems for both animals and people. And with some of those pollutants swimming downstream, what happens in Iowa has an effect on the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.”

So what can be done? The EWG points to a voter initiative that Iowa’s residents approved in 2010 that established a trust, payed by a sales tax increase of 3/8 of a cent, to conserve agricultural soils and protect water quality. But the law still has not taken effect because the state’s legislature has not passed a sales tax increase that would fund the trust’s work. And while such organizations as the EWG are quick to demand more regulations, the political reality is that state legislators are in to rush to pass more laws.

Business can step in and create incentive plans within their supply chain to decrease water pollution. Companies such as Unilever have begun to find success by incentivizing some of their contract farms to adopt drip irrigation. But with excessive nitrates causing more environmental damage worldwide--not to mention the global phosphorous shortage--large companies must realize that working with farmers is in their own best long term interest. From Iowa to the San Joaquin Valley and beyond, some of America’s most valuable farmland, as well as water supplies, are in trouble. It is time for companies to not just mandate requirements on suppliers, but work with farmers and become smarter about how we grow food.

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Environmental Working Group

Iowa, water quality, water pollution, nitrates, phosphorous, Leon Kaye, Environmental Working Group, EWG, farming, agribusiness, agriculture

Pink dots incidate where water pollution in Iowa is at its worst (EWG)

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.