ISU projects to help reduce runoff pollution

By Marco Santana, Associated Press Writer
April 2, 2009, Chicago Tribune,0,5607682.story

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $600,000 to help reduce runoff pollution in Iowa.

The agency said that Iowa State University researchers will receive three separate grants of $200,000 each as part of the EPA’s Targeted Watersheds Grant Program. The money will fund ongoing studies that could help landowners decrease pollutants released into waterways.

The money will help research teams develop and test economic models to see if they are cost effective enough to implement on a wider scale.

"(Funding) is a very important aspect of the work we do," said Phil Glassman, who is a part of a six-person team conducting the study.
Officials announced the grants at Raccoon River Park in West Des Moines, which is next to one of the locations researchers will use in the study.

The two-year projects focus on watershed pollution along the Raccoon and Boone rivers and Walnut Creek, all in central and north-central Iowa. The team will work with landowners to collect data from the waterways and enter it into computer modeling programs.

In all three waterway areas, researchers would conduct hypothetical scenarios in which landowners would propose measures they would take to reduce pollutants. In return, they would determine who would receive funds to pay for the measures. Researchers would then evaluate the impact the process might have on pollution levels.

The teams will then test water quality trading along the Raccoon River. In this process, a maximum emission level is established. If exceeded, polluters would have to either buy credits or earn them through conservation measures.

Although the ultimate goal is to reduce an oxygen-depleted zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the director of the EPA’s water, wetland and pesticides division said the measures would also have an effect on areas near the local waterways.

William Spratlin said the cleaner the water is, the less it costs for water treatment plants to filter. Also, cleaner water means a more broad use in agriculture.

"These ideas, hopefully, can reduce the contaminants that are going into it in the longterm," he said.

A nationwide search was launched in December seeking water quality improvement projects the Environmental Protection Agency could evaluate.

The agency made $4.2 million available to fund the projects, which focus this year on the Mississippi River, which stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Runoff pollution of rivers throughout the Midwest has been blamed for an increased dead zone in the gulf.

Scientists say the 8,000-square-mile, oxygen-depleted zone makes it nearly impossible for organisms to live.

Gassman said the team relishes the chance to help in the ultimate goal of providing relief to waterways everywhere.

"This is a long-term problem," he said. "This will help better define incentive-based approaches to try to find solutions to these water-quality problems."

The agency’s Targeted Watersheds Grant Program has awarded more than $55 million since its inception in 2002.