Hi, I’m Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Thank you all for joining us here today.
The Nature Conservancy is the largest environmental non-profit in the United States, with more than 1 million members and conservation projects in every state across the country, as well as in 35 countries around the world. But I’m particularly proud to be standing here today in Iowa – alongside the outstanding officials who are helping lead the fight for healthy waters and floodplains across the state.
The livelihoods of every Iowan are inextricably linked to keeping the state’s water systems clean and productive. More than 90% of Iowa’s landscape is used for farming and one out of every six jobs is supported by the agriculture industry. Yet Iowa farms lose an average of 5 tons of soil per acre each year due to erosion. More than half of Iowa’s waters are ranked by the Department of Natural Resources as poor quality and there are nearly 500 impaired water bodies in the state. Without clean water and improved soil conservation, Iowa’s $21 Billion agriculture industry cannot survive. In addition, the people of Iowa know all too well the devastation that floods can wreak. Flooding across the state is becoming a growing threat due to changes in land use and as rivers are increasingly cut off from their floodplains.
We must take action now to conserve Iowa’s waterways and to protect Iowa’s communities. Restoring our wetlands and floodplains will improve water quality, enhance soil conservation, and help to lessen the impacts of future flooding events. But keeping the state’s waters, wetlands and floodplains strong and healthy is not only important to Iowans. As the head of The Nature Conservancy, I have to say that it’s also important to the nation as a whole.
Iowa’s lands not only serve as America’s breadbasket, but the state’s rivers lie at the heart of the country, pumping water across the entire United States. The Missouri River drains nearly one sixth of the area of the United States. And the Mississippi River feeds directly into the Gulf of Mexico, carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment and nutrient runoff into the Gulf of Mexico each year. When it comes to the state’s waterways, what happens in Iowa definitely does not stay in Iowa. For the good of Iowa and the nation, we must take immediate action to scale up conservation of the state’s rivers, lakes, watersheds and floodplains. The Nature Conservancy has been working in the Mississippi River Basin for more than two decades. In the Cedar River Watershed, The Nature Conservancy has invested millions of dollars in restoring critical habitat and we’ve been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on a watershed plan that will address altered hydrology and rebuild floodplains. In the Boone River, we’ve partnered with farmers to reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss – saving farmers the cost having to constantly replace these nutrients while also preventing damaging runoff from entering the Mississippi River and ending up in the Gulf of Mexico.
We’re working with government agencies and academic institutions to study how the restoration of native plant species can strengthen degraded floodplains, increasing water storage in soils and helping shield local communities against damaging floods in the future. And today I’m happy to announce that The Nature Conservancy is taking the scientific data and knowledge we’ve gathered over the years to expand protection to even more critical watersheds across the state. The Nature Conservancy is expanding our work in the Lower Cedar River to address the threat of altered hydrology throughout the entire Iowa-Cedar Basin. We have recognized that the globally rare plant communities that we have invested millions of dollars in protecting and restoring in the Lower Cedar will not be viable unless we can address altered hydrology throughout the basin. Over the next year, we will work with partners to launch new scientific studies on local wetlands and floodplains and we will identify new target areas in need of conservation and restoration in the Iowa-Cedar Basin. But much more needs to be done -- on the local, state and federal levels.
As state officials develop flood management plans, we call on them to not rely solely on the construction of levees and reservoirs. Such “gray infrastructure” may provide temporary flood protection for some communities, but it will degrade fish and wildlife habitat, lower water quality and worsen flooding elsewhere. Lower-cost and longer-term natural solutions exist to prevent further weakening the state’s waterways and floodplains while improving water quality, enhancing fish and wildlife habitat, generating outdoor recreation income and preventing flooding. On the federal level, we must ensure that future Water Resources Development Acts include ample funding for restoring Iowa’s rivers, watersheds and floodplains to help protect Iowa’s communities against the devastating impacts of future flooding. We must also work to ensure that the next US Farm Bill includes the funding and policy support needed to protect the lands and waters vital for agriculture. I’m proud to say that Sean McMahon – director of our Iowa state chapter – will lead the Conservancy’s efforts to make sure the Farm Bill provides strong incentives to safeguard our waters, wetlands, farms and natural areas.
And this November 2nd Iowans can take action into their own hands by voting for the Iowa’s Water and Lands Legacy constitutional amendment. This initiative will triple current state funds for natural resources and establish permanent and constitutionally protected funding that will strengthen watersheds, benefit local economies, support farmers, enhance wildlife habitat, help to shield communities against flooding and ensure the incredible landscapes that make Iowa great will be here for our children and grandchildren. Just as we depend on Iowa’s lands and waters for food, shelter and income, these lands and waters depend on us to keep them healthy and productive.
I’m proud to be here today with Senator Hogg and these outstanding officials and conservation leaders from local, state and federal agencies. Much has already been accomplished in Iowa to restore wetlands and floodplains and improve our rivers and watersheds. Yet so much more needs to be done in order to meaningfully address flood protection, water quality and soil conservation. I urge all of you to join The Nature Conservancy in helping to secure the long-term funding needed to get the job done. Protecting Iowa’s land and waters is not only important to Iowa. It’s important to the entire nation.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.