Bringing the science of conservation to classrooms

The state of Iowa is blessed with attributes that combine to make it the top producer in the nation of food and commodities consumed across the country and around the world.

The challenge for Iowans is to protect the abundant natural resources of our state while limiting the damage to the environment the process of production can cause. Catholic teaching requires us to be good stewards of not only human resources but environmental ones as well, and efforts to do so have fundamental moral and ethical dimensions.

The relationship between Iowans and the water resources upon which we all rely is the focus of an award-winning Iowa State University Extension and Outreach campaign called WaterRocks!

Led by director Jacqueline Comito, the multi-media and multi-discipline program has teams that visit public and nonpublic K-12 classrooms across Iowa, at no charge, “teaching kids about water, natural resources and agriculture. Weaving science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — with the arts, students complete learning activities.”

The WaterRocks! team produced the nationally recognized computer game “Rock Your Watershed!” which teaches the effects of different agricultural land-use practices on the environment and water resources of Iowa. All of the videos, songs and the computer game can be found on the Water Rocks! website,

Preserving and protecting resources for future generations is an obligation of our faith. Our state is fortunate to have the talent and dedication of the many people dedicating their professional lives to helping take care of our world.

Pope Francis releases encyclical letter on ecology

Pope Francis has released his encyclical letter “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You). Addressing his letter to all the people living on the planet, the pope asks us to consider what kind of world we want to leave to those who come after us.

The chair of the Iowa Catholic Conference board, Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, said, “‘Praise be to you’ as an encyclical is not a political document, nor a scientific document, but a religious document which our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has developed to guide us in our moral life in order that we might be faithful to the scriptures and teaching of the Church in our times.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has welcomed the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical as well.

“In Laudato Si’, the Holy Father invites us to reflect deeply on all points of human activity, whether we consider care for creation at the level of our individual choices or in the public square,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The need for urgent action is clear and he appeals to us to become ‘painfully aware’ of what is happening to the world and ‘to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.’”

Additional resources on the encyclical are available at

Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Health Care Services

“The purpose of these Ethical and Religious Directives then is twofold: first, to reaffirm the ethical standards of behavior in health care that flow from the Church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person; second, to provide authoritative guidance on certain moral issues that face Catholic health care today.”

The Ethical and Religious Directives of Catholic Health Care Services, in its fifth edition, is created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a template for applying Catholic teaching to our relationships in the realm of health care. It provides guidance for the Catholic community of providers and patients as it strives to reflect Christ’s mission to serve the life and dignity of all.

Click here to go to the Ethical and Religious Directives document.

Cleaning up Iowa’s waterways

One of the ways we show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Among the ongoing legislative concerns of the Iowa Catholic Conference is enforcement of present environmental laws and adequate state funding for this purpose.

Through its “Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” the State of Iowa is trying to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients in fertilizer) that gets into the waterways. What Iowa sends downstream helps create the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s about the size of Connecticut this year. The overall goal is to reduce the dead zone by 45 percent. Nutrients that lead to algae growth (that use up all the oxygen) are the main culprit.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is part of a 12-state plan to protect water quality and decrease the levels of nutrients from rural and urban sources that contribute to environmental problems in the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa is one of the first states to complete a comprehensive proposal as part of the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan, designed to address both point sources of nutrients, commonly water treatment plants and industry, and nonpoint sources, generally rural areas related to crop and livestock production.

Funding levels for Iowa’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy continues to be a subject of discussion. One policy option that has been suggested was encouraging additional funding of the water quality efforts. Current state funding of about $4.4 million is too low by an order of magnitude as a total implementation cost, including projects addressing point sources, and cost-sharing with owners of non-point sources, would be well over a billion dollars.

A major focus of the water quality component of the plan is the environmental phenomenon called hypoxia, a condition of the overgrowth of nutrients that are released into waterways and travel downstream. The nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous, which comprise the “nutrient load,” collect in bodies of water and diminish their capacity to sustain marine life, creating areas called dead zones. The zones are most common in areas that collect the nutrients that drain from point and nonpoint sources upstream. The 2008 plan is designed specifically to address the nutrient load that is transported via state waterways to the Mississippi River and south to the gulf, contributing to the current environmental threat to both the gulf and the fragile land areas that border it.

The Iowa strategy follows the recommended framework provided by the EPA in 2011 and enlists a number of institutions and agencies in the statewide effort to work toward the goals set by the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan. Iowa State University, Iowa Department of Agriculture, DNR, USDA Agricultural Research Service, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and many others have been engaged to study and implement the practices that have been proven to reduce nutrients from point and nonpoint sources. The recommended goal is a nitrogen-load reduction from point and nonpoint sources of 4 percent and 41 percent, respectively, and phosphorous-load reduction of 16 percent and 29 percent, for combined totals of 45 percent for each nutrient.

This ambitious program will require years of research and coordination across the public and private sectors, utilizing science and technology and establishing best practices for water treatment management, conservation and agricultural land use. For details of the comprehensive plan, go to for more information.

A website for “clean water” efforts is