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Is soil engineering the answer for improving water quality in Iowa?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Ben Nuelle

An Iowa State University professor says in order for nutrient reduction he believes soil engineering is the answer. But he says keeping the idea within a budget will be tricky. Iowa State University Climate Scientist Chris Anderson says soil engineering is mostly new to Iowa.

“In the past we really haven’t engineered our water too much. For sure in the Northwest part of the state to open up land for production but elsewhere in the state it’s been pretty spotty,” Anderson says.

Anderson says with the rainfall trend we are in a period of time when our nutrient losses because of spring rainfall are at their highest risk as far as we can tell from recorded data going back to 1893.

“This is something farmers today have to deal with that their fathers and grandfathers did not have to deal with. It means we’re going to have to look at new solutions but the trick will be putting it into practice within budget,” Anderson says.

There are lots of different ways to engineer soil. It can be anything from installing a managed drainage or drainage. Just drainage means you put in tiling and let the water come out. Managed drainage is controlling how much water flows out.

Anderson says there are new ideas about capturing water and having it around for later.

“One of those ideas is a wetland. You would not tap into the wetland. You would fill the wetland and purify the water before it goes out into the streams. Another idea is a reservoir which would collect the water while also allowing some nutrients to get removed but keep some in the water that can be put back on through irrigation in the summer when it gets hot,” Anderson says.

Anderson says those are some of the methods of soil engineering but specifically for the nutrient reduction strategy you might thing of soil engineering as more as edge of field practices such as buffer strips.