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USDA to Spend Millions in Iowa on Ag Conservation & Water Quality

formal portrait of USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack
Credit USDA / USDA
Tom Vilsack, Sec. of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

"Doing nothing is just simply not acceptable." That's what US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says about reducing water pollution in Iowa and helping farmers with nutrient management and soil conservation. A new initiative will provide $660 million over ten years for a coordinated, watershed-based strategy.

On today's WVIK News Focus, Michelle O'Neill reports after talking with Secretary Vilsack.

The former Iowa governor, state senator, and mayor of Mount Pleasant says a federal lawsuit has brought much-needed attention to the state's serious water quality problems. In the suit, the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) blames three drainage districts for allowing nitrate to pollute the Raccoon River, the source of drinking water for 500,000 people. The utility has spent millions of dollars to remove nitrate and other pollutants from the water and meet EPA standards.

The case is set for trial next summer. And Vilsack says the ruling could profoundly affect Iowa's economy. He says if the judge decide's in DMWW's favor, it'll create uncertainty that will affect farmers, banks, ag equipment dealers and manufacturers, and rural communities.

Vilsack emphasizes it's in everyone's best interest to work together to reduce water pollution. Soil erosion is a critical concern for farmers, who also don't want to see expensive fertilizer drain into rivers. And he says Iowa residents and municipalities need safe drinking water and clean waterways for recreation.

The USDA is working hard in a variety of ways and needs Iowa as a partner to help figure out how to go about it and help pay for it. Secretary Vilsack asked Iowa's governor to do just that, and came in person to support Terry Branstad as he announced his proposal. The governor wants to extend the 1%  sales tax for schools another 20 years, and spend $4.6 billion of the revenue on water quality. Vilsack says the efforts must be consistent, coordinated, sustained, and well-funded. And Iowans should consider that we need to manage the change, not be managed by the change.

Vilsack's new, ten-year water quality initiative in Iowa will also identify an independent group to monitor, review, and report results. The head of the USDA says transparency is necessary to help disparate groups and individuals reconnect and trust each other along the way.

Officially, Michelle's title is WVIK News Editor. She does everything there is to do in the newsroom and whatever may be needed around the radio station.
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