Iowa Drinking Water Protection Program Works with USDA NRCS to Develop a State-Specific 590 Nutrient Management Standard

By Rebecca Ohrtman, Iowa Department of Natural Resources


Editor’s Note:  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) revised its 590 Nutrient Standard earlier this calendar year to direct conservation funding and technical assistance to nutrient impacted water bodies.  Since then, state drinking water program staff such as Rebecca Ohrtman of Iowa, have begun to work with their local NRCS partners to develop State-Specific 590 Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standards.  This case study from Iowa provides a great example of how other state drinking water programs across the country can begin (or enhance) their relationships and source water protection (SWP) program goals by reaching out to partners in their NRCS state offices.  Thanks Rebecca for sharing Iowa’s story.

Earlier this month (in August 2012), Chi Ho Sham of Cadmus coordinated a conference call in preparation for a fall 2012 workshop to support ongoing SWP work in the state of Iowa.  Participants on the call included Chi Ho Sham, Kira Jacobs of EPA Region 1, Stephanie Lindberg of EPA Region 7, and myself (Rebecca Ohrtman, the Iowa SWP program coordinator for Targeted Community Water Supplies (CWS) using ground water).  During the call, we learned about the NRCS 590 Standard and the work that was taking place in the New England states to include SWP areas in their State-Specific NRCS 590 Standards.

As a result of this call, I then contacted Eric Hurley (the Iowa NRCS Nutrient Management Specialist) and set up a meeting for the following week to discuss how SWP might be included  in the State’s 590 Standard (that I learned  was currently in the process of being revised).  During our meeting, we discussed the common goal of the NRCS 590 standard to address nutrient management and the continuing efforts of the Iowa SWP program to decrease nitrate levels in susceptible CWSs that use ground water.  Though NRCS had identified SWP as an objective, it was unclear how to best identify target areas.  Through this discussion, a very positive outcome occurred for Iowa.

The outcome:  The Iowa SWP program has agreed to provide a GIS map that includes shape files for each of the state’s public water supply wellhead protection (WHP) areas to the Iowa NRCS office.  NRCS will then overlay this map into its GIS system, and reference these areas in its soon-to-be revised 590 Standard to help direct nutrient management planning.  The new information will assist farmers with their management decisions and could help target conservation funding efforts toward the most highly susceptible WHP areas.

Why is this substantial for SWP in Iowa?  We hope that this effort will have a substantial effect on alleviating some of the nutrient contamination problems in Iowa’s drinking water supplies.  When Iowa landowners enter the door to their NRCS county offices in need of assistance, the NRCS will now be able to identify if their land is within a highly susceptible public water supply wellhead protection capture zone, and help them develop a nutrient management plan that implements land use practices that are least likely to have negative impacts on public water supply sources and/or provide funding for enrolling certain parcels of land in conservation programs.  In addition, the NRCS staff will be able to share basic information about source water protection with landowners, as well as provide Iowa SWP program contact information for additional questions.

Further Outcomes: The Iowa SWP program is now partnering with the Iowa NRCS office to include a new focus on rolling out the SWP portion of the revised 590 Standard during the upcoming fall workshop that will be facilitated by Cadmus. In addition, we will gather input from workshop participants (NRCS, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Soil and Water Conservation District, the CWSs, water operators, consultants, and engineers) on how to improve our already great partnerships, and collaboratively work toward statewide SWP implementation.

For more information about Iowa’s Source Water Protection Program and this effort, please contact Rebecca Ohrtman of Iowa DNR at

For more information about the NRCS 590 Standard, visit the USDA web site HERE.  To contact your state NRCS office, visit the USDA web site HERE.


Oregon Source Water Protection Fund Supports Local Projects

The State of Oregon Drinking Water Source Protection Fund has provided funding for a Regional grant project in Lane and Benton Counties.  While the Springfield Utility Board (in Lane County) and Benton County (the primary stewards of the project) had slightly different reasons for pursuing this project, they shared similar end goals to protect multiple drinking water sources.

This vegetation map from the Portland State University shows where Lane and Benton Counties are located within the Willamette River Basin in Oregon.

Lane and Benton Counties are located in the southern portion of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Lane County has an approximate population of 321,000 persons who are served in part by 252 water systems.  Benton County is somewhat smaller, having a population of 82,600 persons who are served in part by 48 water systems.  The primary surface water supplies are the Willamette River and its tributaries.  The eastern margin of the Willamette Valley is defined by the Cascade Mountains and the western margin is defined by the Coast Range Mountains.  Most groundwater supplies come from the Willamette aquifer system, though some smaller amounts of groundwater are obtained from bedrock materials within the Cascades and Coast Range (in both Lane and Benton Counties).

Lane County:  For this part of the project, the Springfield Utility Board partnered with the City of Veneta in Lane County to bring the counties and public water systems together to work collaboratively on protecting the drinking water supply.  Recognizing that not all communities would be able to implement protections through land use policy, the project provided multiple options for addressing source water protection at the county level.

Benton County:  For this part of the project, the City of Adair Village partnered with the Benton County Planning Department to address the county’s interest in supporting long term protection of drinking water resources with a focus on public groundwater systems by:

  • Determining the impact of current and possible future land uses on water quality;
  • Learning directly from the groundwater system board/operators on current and future issues and concerns related to source water quality; and
  • Developing a planning review process to prioritize notification of potential water quality impacts to groundwater systems, prior to the completion of a proposed building or land use action.

Grant Project Products:  Many interested parties (e.g., county staff, watershed councils, public water systems, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality staff) provided input into each phase of this regional project, resulting in a collaborative effort with broadly-supported final products.  The project outcomes for both counties included the development of the following list of products.  The counties then rolled out these products by sending letters of introduction to all of the public waters systems.

  • TapSource, a new interactive web site with source water protection resources and tools for obtaining site-specific information in Lane County and Benton County (;;
  • County-wide overlay maps of drinking water source areas;
  • Public water system notification tool – Lane and Benton Counties now have GIS-based systems for sending notice to public water systems regarding land use proposals within their source water areas.  This system will enable public water systems to become more informed of and active in land use changes within their source areas; and
  • Public Water System Drinking Water Protection Action Kit – this tool is available on CD and on the TapSource web site.  It provides technical assistance and guidance for incorporating drinking water protection into land use.

This collaborative project highlights the need for communities to identify and involve many parties and jurisdictions in source water protection planning and implementation activities.  The conveners highlighted the importance of ensuring that partners know how to participate, and developing real tools and mechanisms for their participation.

Most of the products (and particularly the interactive website) from this grant could be adapted for other parts of the country.  State drinking water programs will want to consider whether this type of project and the resulting products and tools might be used as examples for particular communities in their states that are seeking funding and assistance on how to protect drinking water sources.

For more information about Lane County, visit their website here:

For more information about Benton County, visit their website here:

For more information about the Oregon Source Water Protection Fund, view this Oregon Drinking Water Source Protection Fund document.  If you have questions, please contact Tom Pattee of the Oregon Health Authority at or 541-726-2587.

New Free Webinar Series: “Findings from the Enabling Source Water Protection Project”

ASDWA is pleased to announce this new series of five free source water protection webinars.  REGISTER NOW at, and pass this along to your friends and colleagues.  Registration is open to anyone who would like to participate!


The Enabling Source Water Protection team, led by The Trust for Public Land and the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, with support from the River Network and the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, worked with eight state partners over a three-year period on projects to improve drinking water source protection. The projects aimed to help states work across political and programmatic boundaries to better align planning, economic development, regulation, and conservation to protect drinking water sources at the local and watershed levels. Now that work with the eight states is nearing completion, the team and state partners will report on the most innovative, replicable state agency approaches to protect drinking water in a series of five webinars during the fall of 2012.  The dates and titles of the webinars are as follows.


Wednesday, September 5: GIS tools to assist state drinking water and clean water programs and non-government partners.

Wednesday, September 19: Models for improving collaboration between state source water and clean water programs.

Thursday, October 11: Non-traditional sources of funding for source water protection.

Tuesday, October 30: Successful state agency efforts to support and coordinate with local planning activities.

Thursday, November 15: Incorporate source water protection in state economic strategies.


For more information about the state projects, visit the project web site at  For questions, please contact Kelley Hart at or 415-800-5201.