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Efforts being made to improve water quality of Raccoon River

American Rivers, an organization that advocates for protecting the nation's waterways, called the Raccoon River one of America's most endangered rivers.

ADEL, Iowa — Mike Delaney has spent three decades enjoying life along the Raccoon River.

"This is where you find a lot of wildlife in Iowa," he said. "We used to swim in the river. And it was it was clear."

But over that time, he's watched the river change.

"The bacteria is a problem. We don't swim in the river anymore," Delaney said. 

Delaney helped start the Raccoon River Watershed Association with the hopes of helping protect the waterway that helps provide water to much of central Iowa. He has also helped fund research into the condition of the river.

"The chemistry has gotten worse, as far as nitrogen and phosphorus," he said.

The blame often going to Iowa's agricultural industry and the practices that allow contaminants from the land to get into the state's waterways.

Will Cannon is a corn and soybean farmer in Prairie City. While he said in many ways that's true, it's not the whole story. 

"I've got a young family to boys, and I want them to be able to come back to the farm," he said. "And so I'm worried about what's the long-term sustainability of our farms."

Over the years, Cannon and many of his fellow farmers across the state have implemented practices designed to help, in part, protect Iowa's rivers.

For example, Cannon uses GPS technology to fertilize his fields. That precision allows him to use less fertilizer and place it exactly where it's needed.

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These voluntary measures may not be enough, especially if they are not widely adopted.

"We're going to continue to see voluntary approaches used, but we'll probably also see regulatory ideas advanced as well." said Roger Wolf, director of Research Center for Farming Innovation at the Iowa Soybean Association.

Delaney, meanwhile, will continue his efforts to keep his part of the river healthy.

"This is a beautiful river; it's been here a long time; it has supplied water and recreation," he said. "We need to protect it; we need to preserve it."

Cannon plants cover crops in the off-season, which is a practice that is growing in popularity.  He also limits how much he tills the soil.

"Those are corn stocks still covering the ground from two years ago. And then I've got bean stubble that's leftover from last fall's soybean crop," he said as he showed Local 5 what was laying on top of the soil in one of his fields. "All those things are acting as an armor, helping protect the soil so that it won't erode and move off the field."

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