John Norwood

Thoughts on Iowa's water supply, ag runoff

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette held an hour-long water quality panel last week as part of their ongoing Iowa Ideas series. Gazette columnist Todd Dorman moderated the panel, which included University of Iowa Research Engineer Chris Jones, Iowa Environmental Council staff attorney Michael Schmidt, and myself, a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner elected in 2018.

We spoke about Iowa’s water quality challenges within the context of operating one of the world’s most productive agricultural systems, including 23 million acres of corn and soybean row crops. Dorman summarized highlights from the discussion, and the full replay is available on YouTube:

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A new vision for Iowa agriculture and Iowans

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

These are my prepared remarks from the June 17 event announcing the Central Iowa Water Quality Infrastructure Project. I initiated a new bundled approach with the help of many others after attending an agricultural field day several years ago, where I wondered, how we could improve our effectiveness? Polk County, state, and federal government agencies are involved with the project; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig also spoke at Thursday’s kickoff.

The program is novel because Polk County is moving from single installations that used to require each landowner hiring a contractor, to batch installations of 50 and next year more than 100, using a general contractor bidding approach run by the county. The Soil and Water Conservation District actively targets sites using mapping technology and direct landowner outreach to secure participation, as opposed to waiting for landowners to come forward. The county, state, and municipal sources provided 100 percent cost share, and the installation is largely turnkey for the participants.

Secretary Naig, my fellow commissioners, partners, members of the media, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate the opportunity to join you all today to celebrate this innovative ground-breaking, systematic approach to getting things done. This strategy was born from a chance meeting with Charlie Schafer at a field day several years ago, me asking a lot of questions out of curiosity, followed by several coffee conversations, where together we began to reimagine a new way for delivering conservation infrastructure at scale. And then we widened the circle to include other key players in the conversation who built on the vision and drove it forward with the help of many others. Two of whom you will hear from in a few minutes.

First let me note that this type of locally led effort can be tailored whether we are delivering water quality infrastructure or soil health systems. If the strategies are scalable, turnkey, and targeted, the impact can be magnified many times. What we do in Polk County can be replicated in any of our other 98 counties, and as a “learning organization” that is how my District can support a larger effort. Stay tuned.  

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We need a two-pronged COVID-19 strategy

John Norwood is a soil and water commissioner in Polk County. -promoted by Laura Belin

Once we get testing for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) up and running in a major way here in the U.S., if our “fire” is not burning too hot, we will be able to practice a strategy of contain and trace, like the South Koreans.

Hot spots like New York City can’t use this approach, because there are too many cases and vectors like subways and buses. In that case, the primary strategy is mitigation. We could use quarantine and self-quarantine and we try and manage the treatment demand for the most ill.

I think we may see a two-pronged strategy situation evolve. One for “hot fires,” places like New York City, and one for “brush fires” in rural states and smaller metro areas. From there, it is possible to manage new infections.

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Comments on the governor's Invest in Iowa Act

Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner John Norwood adapted comments he sent to members of the Iowa Senate assigned to the subcommittee on Senate Study Bill 3116. That legislation incorporates Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed tax changes, including raising the sales tax to fund some natural resources projects and programs that benefit farmers. -promoted by Laura Belin

Dear Senators,

As a Soil and Water Commissioner representing the 500,000 +/- residents of Polk County, I have been working hard over the past year to study, strategize and communicate how we can begin to make an impact in cleaning up Iowa’s Waters, conserving our precious soils and reinvigorating our rural economies.

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Action: Public comments needed on Iowa's Impaired Waters List

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner. Readers can email comments to Dan Kendall at daniel.kendall@dnr.iowa.gov or mail them to the address enclosed at the end of this post. -promoted by Laura Belin

Friends, Polk County Residents, Iowans,

Below, please find public comments I filed with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last week on our 2018 Impaired Waters List. The public comment period closes December 28.

My most important takeaway and message to Iowans is that our impaired waters need to be addressed by first, modernizing the vision for our state’s agricultural “machine,” and second, looking at how to support that new vision through systems, conservation infrastructure, policies and practices, and local, regional, national, or international markets.

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