December 20, 2014

Ag Secretary wants more money to close drainage wells

The Iowa Department of Agriculture wants another infusion of cash to close down more ag drainage wells which officials say present a danger to Iowa’S groundwater. Some 250 wells have been plugged since the program started in the late 1980s.

Ag Secretary, Bill Northey, wants $1.5-million to treat another dozen wells. “Those right now drain directly into aquifers, that are drinking water aquifers, and that could be a concern,” Northey says.

“We’ve been fortunate, we have not had problems with that through this time but it does make sense to close them to the extent that we can.” Iowa’s 1987 Groundwater Protection Act called for closing the wells, which farmers installed years ago to make Iowa’s wet soils workable.

Northey says the toughest ones are still left, where the soils are harder to drain. “That’s why it may make sense on some of those, if it’s an 80 acre or a 40 acres that’s drained, it may be less expensive to take part of that out of production than to find a drain a long ways away and pay a large cost,” Northey says.

After the latest round of closings, Northey says the remaining projects will cost as much as $10-million. Northey made his comments at a budget hearing where Governor Teryy Branstad said it may be more cost-effective for the state to buy up the land instead and turn it into wetlands.