The Clean Water Act was passed on October 18, 1973. At that time there were many cities in the U.S. still dumping raw sewage and other things into rivers. The Clean Water Act was credited with making waterways cleaner and holding polluters responsible.

That law was targeting point-source pollution. Where you could point to where a chemical was coming from, sometimes it was a pipe. What the Act did not address was non-point source pollution like runoff from cities and farm fields.

“I know we’ve done a very good job regulating point-source pollution, we need to figure out how to control non-point source pollution because that is a huge contributor to the impairments of our waters,” said David Cwiertny, an Environmental Engineer from the University of Iowa. “What I would say is we need to figure out where the Clean Water Act has gaps that it may be able to provide oversight on. We need to figure out how to plug those gaps so we can protect our waters better.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has been working to establish voluntary practices to help mitigate nitrate runoff from farm fields. One of those ways is for farmers to use cover crops and buffers. But Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig said it is important for the measures to be phased in voluntarily.

“When you start to dictate practices from Des Moines, or from Washington DC, what instantly take away is the creativity and innovation of the Iowa farmer, or of communities, to be able to address these problems locally,” said Naig. “What we’re trying to do is provide the resources, the technical support, the financial assistance through cost share. But really what should be thinking about it is, ‘How do you incorporate practices into the landscape in a way that they stay for generations?'”

Both Cwiertny and Naig agree Iowa farmers are innovative. And both also agree, more farmers and more acres need to be involved in ways to curb runoff into drinking water.