Iowa Drinking Water Protection Program Works with USDA NRCS to Develop a State-Specific 590 Nutrient Management Standard

By Rebecca Ohrtman, Iowa Department of Natural Resources 

Editor’s Note:  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) revised its 590 Nutrient Standard earlier this calendar year to direct conservation funding and technical assistance to nutrient impacted water bodies.  Since then, state drinking water program staff, such as Rebecca Ohrtman of Iowa, have begun to work with their local NRCS partners to develop State-Specific 590 Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standards.  This case study from Iowa provides a great example of how other state drinking water programs across the country can begin (or enhance) their relationships and source water protection (SWP) program goals by reaching out to partners in their NRCS state offices.  Thanks Rebecca for sharing Iowa’s story.

Earlier this month, Chi Ho Sham of Cadmus coordinated a conference call in preparation for a fall 2012 workshop to support ongoing SWP work in the state of Iowa.  Participants on the call included Chi Ho Sham, Kira Jacobs of EPA Region 1, Stephanie Lindberg of EPA Region 7, and myself (Rebecca Ohrtman, the Iowa SWP program coordinator for Targeted Community Water Supplies (CWS) using ground water).  During the call, we learned about the NRCS 590 Standard and the work that was taking place in the New England states to include SWP areas in their State-Specific NRCS 590 Standards.

As a result of this call, I contacted Eric Hurley (the Iowa NRCS Nutrient Management Specialist) and set up a meeting for the following week to discuss how SWP might be included in the State’s 590 Standard (that I learned was currently in the process of being revised).  During our meeting, we discussed the common goal of the NRCS 590 standard to address nutrient management and the continuing efforts of the Iowa SWP program to decrease nitrate levels in susceptible CWSs that use ground water.  Though NRCS had identified SWP as an objective, it was unclear how to best identify target areas.  Through this discussion, a very positive outcome occurred for Iowa.

The Outcome:  The Iowa SWP program has agreed to provide a GIS map that includes shape files for each of the state’s public water supply wellhead protection (WHP) areas to the Iowa NRCS office.  NRCS will then overlay this map into its GIS system, and reference these areas in its soon-to-be revised 590 Standard to help direct nutrient management planning.  The new information will assist farmers with their management decisions and could help target conservation funding efforts toward the most highly susceptible WHP areas.

Why is this Important for SWP in Iowa?  We hope that this effort will have a substantial effect on alleviating some of the nutrient contamination problems in Iowa’s drinking water supplies.  When Iowa landowners come to their NRCS county offices in need of assistance, the NRCS will now be able to determine whether their land is within a highly susceptible public water supply wellhead protection capture zone, and help them develop a nutrient management plan that implements land use practices that are least likely to have negative impacts on public water supply sources and/or provide funding for enrolling certain parcels of land in conservation programs.  In addition, the NRCS staff will be able to share basic information about source water protection with landowners, as well as provide Iowa SWP program contact information for additional questions.

Further Outcomes: The Iowa SWP program is now partnering with the Iowa NRCS office to include a new focus on rolling out the SWP portion of the revised 590 Standard during the upcoming fall workshop that will be facilitated by Cadmus. In addition, we will gather input from workshop participants (NRCS, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Soil and Water Conservation District, the CWSs, water operators, consultants, and engineers) on how to improve our already great partnerships, and collaboratively work toward statewide SWP implementation.

For more information about Iowa’s Source Water Protection Program and this effort, please contact Rebecca Ohrtman of Iowa DNR at  For more information about the NRCS 590 Standard, visit the USDA web site HERE.  To contact your state NRCS office, visit the USDA web site HERE.