WHAT IS ACWA
Agriculture's Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) is an association of 13 ag retailers operating in the Des Moines and Raccoon River basins. We are direct competitors. Yet, as ag retailers, we are aware of our dual mission to help farmers improve agronomic performance in the field while supporting environmental performance beyond the field's edge. We work together toward that end.
Because of their role as drinking water sources, sport fisheries and paddling destinations, the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers are important indicator streams for Iowa. Also, because their course takes them through one of the world's most fertile agricultural regions, they are
important environmental indicators for agriculture.
The Raccoon River is the primary water supply for the City of Des Moines, serving about 500,000 Iowans. Its watershed drains land from 17 counties and 2.3 million acres, 6.4 percent of Iowa's total land area. Agriculture is dominant in the basin with over 80 percent of the land area in production.
Consistently collected data along these waters draining agricultural lands was lacking before 1999. Our agribusinesses stepped up to the plate. Neither we nor our farmer customers wanted the products intended for improving crops to end up, instead, in our local and downstream waters.
Thus was born the ACWA, a nonprofit organization funded by member dues based on a percentage of our annual nitrogen fertilizer sales.
The organization began with the simple premise of collecting data through a certified water sampling effort. Just as we use agronomic data to predict agronomic performance, ACWA and its partners believe we need good environmental data to understand the nature of the problems we face, identify solutions for those problems and evaluate the effectiveness of those solutions.
In 2008, ACWA doubled our scope by recruiting members from the Des Moines River Watershed in North Central Iowa and extending our water monitoring network to cover the mainstem and tributaries of the Des Moines River, which is the secondary water supply for the Des Moines Water Works. Now made up of 13 member retailers, ACWA has monitored as many as 130 sites in the Des Moines and Raccoon River Basins; in 2011 monitoring was consolidated to 107 sites.
While monitoring remains ACWA's cornerstone, our mission now includes reducing nitrogen and phosphorous loss from farm fields. This led to a partnership with the Sand County Foundation to demonstrate bioreactors as an innovative practice for reducing nitrate transport from tile drainage. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has now approved an interim standard for bioreactors as an eligible cost share project based in part on our
ACWA water monitoring data, collected and analyzed frequently and regularly for over a decade, has characterized conditions in upstream waters, identified geographic uniqueness, shown the value of tailoring solutions to the issues and conditions in each watershed, helped target projects and been valuable in obtaining resources for implementing appropriate remedial strategies.
Since 1999, ACWA members have invested more than $1 million in water quality monitoring in the Raccoon and the Des Moines Rivers and their largest tributaries. Over 10,000 samples have been collected by more than 100 certified samplers.