Profile of Becky Ohrtman, Source Water Protection Program Coordinator, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Clean drinking water is crucial to our health. Urban and rural residents alike are concerned about unsafe levels of contaminants such as nitrates in their drinking water. Some public wells are more susceptible than others to ground water contamination, often because they draw their water from shallow wells.
According to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Summary, 92 percent of the nitrogen and 80 percent of the phosphorus in the state’s drinking water comes from “non-point sources” (i.e., runoff) – and agriculture is by far the largest non-point source contributor.. Nitrates cause serious health problems, especially for infants 6 months of age and younger, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.
Becky Ohrtman is the Iowa DNR’s Source Water Protection Program Coordinator. She says that landowners who want to minimize their farm’s non-point source impacts on water quality, they have several options.
“The first thing I recommend to landowners is to find out whether their farmland is within the capture zone area of a municipal water supply,” Ohrtman says. Of Iowa’s 880 municipalities, 260 are highly susceptible to contamination because of their shallow wells, hydro-geological setting and nearby farming practices. She says landowners can find out if their land is close to a city well capture zone by talking with her agency (or similar agencies in other states – see end of article). Soon landowners will also be able to visit their Iowa USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff to find out, as well.
Especially if your farmland is within a public well capture zone, she says, consider reducing risks to the water supplies by using practices such as cover crops, buffer strips, nutrient management, and wetlands Landowners may also be paid to enroll land in the Wellhead Protection -Conservation Reserve Program. For a list of management practices you and your tenant can try, visit NRCS, Women Caring for the Land, or the Source Water Protection for Targeted Community Water Supplies Program. You can also stop by your Iowa NRCS county office and visit with the conservationists there. Ohrtman encourages landowners to join local source water teams where available; they are often coordinated by city administrators. These teams are seeking landowner members, and welcome your participation.
Ohrtman points out that conservation management is voluntary, and her program is not a regulatory one. She is happy to visit with landowners as well, and can be reached at 515-725-8332.
Iowa has approximately 92,000 farms. Ohrtman says, “Iowa’s SWP program is prioritizing susceptible community water supplies, identifying conservation practices to decrease nitrate contamination in public wells, collaborating with many agricultural partners to provide SWP information, education and outreach. Iowa has created an improved SWP program that other Midwest states are beginning to replicate. We hope landowners will take ownership of protecting their local community water supplies by getting involved in the SWP process at a local/regional level.” Ohrtman adds, “Landowners are part of the solution, and should not be afraid to ask lots of questions.”
Contact these source water protection program coordinators for more information. If your state is not listed, it may not have a dedicated source water protection program, but you can get good information and resources through the state department of natural resources or environmental quality and your local NRCS office.
Iowa Rebecca Ohrtman Source Water Protection Program Coordinator Iowa Department of Natural Resources 502 East 9th St. Des Moines, IA 50319 Phone: 515-725-8332 Email: Rebecca.Ohrtman@dnr.iowa.gov
Nebraska Lindsey Phillips Source Water Program Coordinator Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality 1200 N Street, Suite 400 Lincoln, NE 68509 Phone: 402-471-6988 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kansas Travis C. Sieve ·Environmental Scientist WRAPS Project Officer; Source Water Protection; Information & Education Kansas Department of Health & Environment BOW: Watershed Management Section 1000 SW Jackson St, Suite 420 Topeka, KS 66612 Phone: 785-296-0051 Email: email@example.com