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Study: Lakes hurt by farm runoff

Iowa State researchers studied the impact of farm runoff on Iowa's natural lakes, like Storm Lake in Buena Vista County. (mrsdkrebs/Flickr)
Iowa State researchers studied the impact of farm runoff on Iowa's natural lakes, like Storm Lake in Buena Vista County. (mrsdkrebs/Flickr)

Despite conservation efforts, farm runoff is still harming Iowa’s lakes, according to a new study from Iowa State University.

And the findings, the researchers said, are reflective of any part of the country where modern agriculture has a presence.

The ISU researchers collected soil from Iowa’s 32 natural lakes and found the buildup of farm runoff, or sediment, has accelerated. Practices like increasing the usage of fertilizer and tilling more land are contributing to the problem.

Still, researcher Adam Heathcote doesn’t fault farmers.

“There will always be agriculture in the state of Iowa, it will always be our number one export,” Heathcote said. “It’s not that we’re saying they’re doing anything wrong – they’re doing exactly what we want them to do.”

The researchers said there’s been a substantial amount of federal dollars spent on soil conservation in the last decade – nearly $250 billion– and while that’s helped control the problem, it’s not enough.

“The money that we spent is not enough to reverse this trend, but it could have been far worse had we not put conservation practices into place,” Heathcote said.

Heathcote said Iowa is a bellwether for how the environment responds to industrial farming. And in the wake of this study, Heathcote said, federal regulators should continue to examine the balance between maximizing farm production and environmental protection.