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Leading the charge for One Water

Article cover photo
ISA's Roger Wolf serves as a panelist at the One Water Action Forum held last week in Indianapolis. The forum brought people together to gather ideas to improve water quality for all. (Photo: Carol Brown/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Carol Brown, ISA environmental communications specialist

The North Central Region One Water Action Forum, which convened in Indianapolis earlier this month, brought together a variety of professionals to advance the One Water concept.

“The idea of One Water involves everyone, no matter where you live,” said Roger Wolf, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Environmental Programs and Services (EPS) director. “Everyone needs water, so we must work together to protect and improve our water and delivery systems. Those attending the forum are actively engaged in this movement. I call this the ‘doers’ meeting.”

The national One Water Summit, held last summer in Minneapolis, was the springboard for the regional forum. The 170 attendees at the Action Forum included municipal water utility managers, watershed managers, university researchers and extension personnel, farmers and landowners, and representatives from government and private organizations.

Iowa is a leader in nutrient reduction

“I’m envious of what Iowa has through the Iowa Soybean Association,” said Jim Collins, North Dakota Department of Public Health. Collins was referring to the years of work the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) has invested in watersheds, water quality and farmer involvement.

Iowa was the first of 12 states to have an official Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) in place to reduce nonpoint and point-source pollution as directed by the EPA Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force. The ISA EPS team is creating connections between farmers and downstream communities to help reach the Iowa NRS goal of 45 percent nutrient reduction in surface waters.

 ISA is a leader in conservation finance

One of the ways ISA is making these connections is through conservation financing. A workshop on this topic was part of the Action Forum agenda. ISA EPS Operations Manager Adam Kiel and Leigh Whelpton, program coordinator with the Conservation Finance Network, Washington D.C., led the workshop.

“Conservation finance is an attempt to monetize environmental outcomes in some form. There isn’t enough federal money to fund all the conservation work needed and someone must pay for the environmental goods and services,” said Whelpton. “Through conservation finance, we’re creating a connective tissue between groups to grow in the same direction. But we’re all making it up as we go. We need your help in this emerging field.”

The workshop highlighted innovative ideas and resources that match investors with conservation practice implementation. Kiel and three other panelists provided examples of how conservation projects have been funded using new and creative financing tools. Kiel shared how ISA partnered with Charles City to connect with upstream farmers.  Using Iowa’s State Revolving Fund and Sponsored Projects program, the city will improve their wastewater treatment plant, fund upstream conservation practices on farms and improve the quality of the river that runs through the heart of the town.

Panelist Tariq Baloch, water utility plant manager for Cedar Rapids, explained how the city utilities are working with farmers to prevent future nitrate removal issues. The city is using funds from rate payer fees to invest in five watersheds upstream. They are also working with industry partners who use the local water in their factories. In Cedar Rapids, 60 percent of the city’s water is used by 25 industrial clients primarily for processing food products.

“We don’t have a nitrate removal system,” said Baloch. “It is expensive to install, and it would sit idle except for three or four months a year. We’re working to prevent future problems, so that we won’t need this facility.”

The conservation finance workshop was one of three in-depth meetings held at the Action Forum. General sessions and breakout discussions at the forum covered topics such as engaging the next generation, watershed management, climate issues, water infrastructure, diversity and equity, nutrient management and more.

“I hope everyone has great ideas to take back to their organizations to deploy in their area,” said Wolf. “The planning committee called this an Action Forum for a reason. There needs to be more than a conversation. People attending this event want to make water improvement happen and are continually looking for ways to do so.”

ISA was a host and platinum sponsor of the North Central Region Action Forum, along with the North Central Region Water Network, the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) and the U.S. Water Alliance.

Carol Brown can be reached at

For media inquiries, please contact Katie Johnson, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

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