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Des Moines Water Works’ great idea to reduce nitrates in water

Wetland photo
I recently read that Des Moines Water Works is creating a one-acre wetland test site to help remove nitrates from the Raccoon River (which provides drinking water for central Iowans).

You don’t need to look any further than Iowa’s own three-year old Nutrient Reduction Strategy (a collaborative, research-based solution for improving water quality) to see that it’s a good idea. The state’s water quality initiative cites wetlands (“nature’s sponges”) as a proven practice to help filter nitrates out of water.

Farmers agree and have been restoring wetlands on their own land for years. In 2016 Iowa’s restored wetland acres have grown to 413,945 – a 14 percent increase since 2014!

Nitrates are naturally-occurring and abundant, especially in Iowa. They’re the reason Iowa is known for its fertile soil, and a number of factors, including excess rainfall like we’ve seen recently, can impact the level of nitrates in the water.

That doesn’t mean we’re toast. It’s no different than going up against a formidable opponent on the basketball court – you’d better have a plan, pull together, and dig deep.

That’s why the state’s comprehensive, research-based Water Quality Initiative is so important. It includes a suite of proven practices to help improve water quality, with progress measured and reported by Iowa State University researchers. Teams of individuals, organizations, and communities are collaborating to implement it. We’re seeing it around the state, in places like Cedar Rapids, Rathbun Lake, Hewitt Creek watershed, Griswold, and Sioux Center, and the list is growing.

It’s also working. Cover crops, for example, are another practice outlined in the strategy. Iowa has seen more than a 4,600 percent increase in acres planted with cover crops since 2007. Just look at the number of stakeholders and watershed projects around the state collaborating to improve water quality.

Challenges remain, and farmers are taking them on, but to be truly effective, it will take everyone working together. We all have a role. The team must grow; the momentum must build, even if it’s one person, one community, and one acre at a time.


By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.