Alliance to Improve Water Quality
In May 2013, Iowa officials released the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. In August 2014, three Iowa commodity groups formed the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) to increase the pace and scale of farmer-led efforts to improve water quality. Created and funded by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Pork Producers
Association, IAWA hired Sean McMahon to lead the effort.
McMahon has worked on natural resources policy for more than 20 years. He was the North America agriculture
program director of The Nature Conservancy, focused on strategies to make agriculture more sustainable. He also has held positions with the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and Department of the Interior.
“I’ve spent my entire career working on environmental issues and seeking solutions to tough challenges. Strategic
partnerships between environmental organizations and various industries, including agriculture, are crucial to
developing solutions to our most challenging problems,” McMahon says. “IAWA is unique in that we are partnering directly
with farmers and agriculture associations to improve water quality.”
“IAWA, along with other public and private partners, is facilitating additional financial resources and new ways of delivering conservation services to farmers,” he says. “We are working directly with agricultural retailers, precision ag companies
and conservation experts to reach more farmers than possible with current efforts. We also are partnering with cities
to create new revenue streams for funding conservation practices.”
McMahon says the producer groups that created the alliance, and their farmer-directors, take improving water quality seriously.
“They’ve invested their time and resources into helping raise awareness of the challenge as well as the solutions,”
he says. “In addition to statewide farmer outreach, we are working within the associations to reach farmer-members
with information about conservation practices, planning, programs and other opportunities that improve water quality.”
Iowa State is another partner in the IAWA efforts.
“Iowa State played a strong role in defining the challenge and conducting the science assessment behind the solutions in the nutrient reduction strategy,” McMahon says. “This helps guide our work. It allows us to calculate the modeled load reductions
from implementing conservation practices, so that tells us what water quality improvements we can expect.”
John Lawrence, associate dean for extension in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and agriculture and
natural resources director for ISU Extension and Outreach, chairs the IAWA advisory council. McMahon says it will take years to see water quality improvements at the watershed scale, let alone statewide.
“We’ve had a century and a half of agricultural impacts on water quality in Iowa, so we can’t expect to solve this
challenge overnight,” he says. “We need every Iowa farmer to participate to achieve the goals of the strategy.”