EPA tours Boone River Watershed

By Joseph L. Murphy

A combine unloads corn into a trailer near Webster City. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and others toured farms and conservation areas near Webster City recently. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A combine unloads corn into a trailer near Webster City. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and others toured farms and conservation areas near Webster City recently. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) staff, members and partners hosted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Washington, DC, staff on a Boone River Watershed tour, earlier this week. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and two colleagues arrived early for the 3-day Hypoxia Task Force meeting held in Ames, this week, in order to see what Iowa farmers and ag retailers are doing to improve Iowa’s soil and water quality.

Arlo and Claudia Van Diest, who farm near Webster City and participate in ISA’s Environmental Programs and Services (EPS), welcomed Stoner and her staff to their home, where they described their family farm—how and why they grew their operation, planning for the next generation, and how conservation is integral to their success.  The EPA visitors got to see the Van Diests’ strip till equipment and hear how Arlo became an innovator, sharing the benefits of conservation tillage with neighbors and helping disseminate the practice locally. Stoner rode in the combine to get a feel for harvesting corn, and Van Diest pointed out the mellowness of his soil and the winter rye cover crop emerging in the stubble.

ISA EPS Director Roger Wolf, who organized the tour, demonstrated management of one of Van Diest’s bioreactors, installed to remove nitrate from tile drainage water. Along with Van Diest’s description of his nitrogen management efficiency improvements, tillage reduction, and cover crops, the visitors got to see integrated solutions for nutrient reduction in an agricultural landscape.

Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) President Harry Ahrenholtz and ISA EPS Operations Manager and Watershed Coordinator Todd Sutphin took the tour group to see water monitoring sites, funded primarily by ACWA and the Nature Conservancy, and described how EPA’s funding had been used to help advance implementation of solutions in Lyons Creek Watershed, within the Boone. Sutphin had worked with local leaders to write a watershed plan for Lyons Creek, leading to the IDNR-EPA grant, and wrote similar plans for other local watersheds, paving the way for significant USDA cost share funds to the area.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

Missouri River flood recovery

By Joseph L. Murphy

Today driving through the I-29 corridor near Iowa towns like Hamburg and Percival you would never know the area had experienced a widespread flood. Crops are green, businesses are open, and people are getting back to their normal lives. That was not the case one year ago when the over swollen Missouri River breached levees in Fremont County sending water on a destructive course killing crops, destroying roads and ruining homes from Sioux City to Hamburg.

Leo Ettleman and Jeff Jorgenson stand on a recently rebuilt levee near the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired the levees back to the original flood protection giving residents the security to rebuild their farms and homes. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Leo Ettleman and Jeff Jorgenson stand on a recently rebuilt levee near the Missouri River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repaired the levees back to the original flood protection giving residents the security to rebuild their farms and homes. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

People in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri, had to deal with the prolonged flooding and damage. Farmers like Jeff Jorgenson, an Iowa Soybean Association Director, and Leo Ettleman, an Iowa Soybean Association member, witnessed significant losses and damage to their cropland, homes and roads. Some areas dealt with floodwaters from June to November of last year.

“Overall we are very pleased with the progress.” Ettleman said looking at one of his soybean fields. “The goal was to get our security back, through flood risk reduction, to where we could get on with our lives, get our homes back, get the roads back and get commerce back.”

To accomplish that, they needed help from the federal government to rebuild levees that were breached during the flood. Ettleman along with other farmers in the area formed the group Responsible River Management (RRM) That group has been credited with creating a unified voice for agricultural interests in the area while making flood control needs known to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Some of the projects in the past have been detrimental to agriculture and to flood risk,” Ettleman said. “Now they are (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) starting to see, by us being at the table, that those things need to change.”

The main focus of the group following the flood last year was to regain flood control at the original 100-year protection levels. Due to a lack of funding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers originally planned to repair the levees at 25-year flood levels. By doing that crop insurance would be jeopardized for many farms in the area. After a flood of calls from farmers and others involved with RRM, the federal government recognized the importance of rebuilding the levees to the original strength.

“Now, I think they see that when flood control fails everything fails,” Ettleman said about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Fish and wildlife projects were shot, recreation was shot, and everything fails when flood control fails.”

In late December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received the funding that they needed to restore the levees to the original strength. That, combined with a mild winter, allowed the construction projects to go full speed ahead. By the beginning of March, the levees repairs were completed.

“The protection that they are helping to provide (RRM) for Fremont County is tremendous,” Jorgenson said. “Otherwise you feel like you are getting stepped on. The RRM understands policy better than most of the people at the state house when it comes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior.”

Once the protection of their farms and fields were secure both Jorgenson and Ettleman said they were able to focus on recovering from the floodwaters and preparing their fields for spring planting. “The outlook in October was very meager because we didn’t know if we could get back in and start farming again,” Jorgenson said. “For the most part we were able to plant like normal this spring. The weather bailed us out. Otherwise, it would have been a whole different situation.”

The mild winter weather allowed farmers in the area to fill holes and move sand off of many fields in the area. Jorgensen said that he moved 4,000 yards of sand a day for twelve days to get just one 80 acre section cleaned up. Today the crop stands look healthy in the impacted fields, and both Ettleman and Jorgenson are optimistic for average yielding beans. Although they are concerned that continued dry weather could impact the crops quickly because of the sandy soil. “We’ve got good stands, and we’ve had some timely rains,” Ettleman said. “ We’re very pleased with the progress.”

Neither farmer would have expected to be in this good of a situation after the destruction they experienced last year. Now they have optimism that newly constructed levees can offer the protection needed for them to concentrate on their farms. Ettleman hopes that, in the next five years, his farm and life will be back to normal.

“There’s about two years of progress done now, and it happened in the last six months,” Jorgensen said. “But now it will slow down because we will be fine tuning the soil to get the production back to where we want it. That will take time.” For more information on Responsible River Management you can follow this link: http://responsiblerivermanagement.com/