Larry Weber

A University of Iowa environmental engineering professor says it will take $10 billion to address the state’s water quality issues and reduce the likelihood of flooding.

Larry Weber conducts research on flooding and water quality.

“If we could spend $200 million a year and divide $200 million into $10 billion, that’s 50 years,” Weber said this weekend during an appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “So like we’ve changed the way soil comes off the land in the last 50 years, we could change the way water and nutrients come off the land in 50 years, but we need the political will to do it.”

Weber said the 2023 Farm Bill could include rules to reduce farm run-off that would apply not just to Iowa farmers, but to all US ag operations.

“We’ve had a lot of talk,” Weber said. “The talk has been going on now for a decade or more and we’re just simply not making the progress that Iowans should expect to receive.”

The drought in much of Iowa will have an impact on water quality, too, according to Weber, since corn and soybean plants in dry soil are not absorbing as much of the commercial fertilizer and manure that’s been applied to fields.

“When we do get rain and the water starts to flow and our tiles flow again, we will likely see a real large movement of nitrates coming out of our farm system,” Weber said.

Some Iowa utilities that provide drinking water use surface water from rivers, but an Iowa DNR report indicates about 75% of Iowans get their drinking water from underground supplies.

“That water has taken tens of thousands and in some cases millions of years to accumulate in those deep aquifers, but it too will be stressed,” Weber said. “Those resources, although ample today, will not be endless. We will have to start thinking about what we will do at the end of the turn of the century, especially as these floods and droughts become more prevalent in our state.”