Conservation practices will provide additional habitat for wildlife.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Ducks Unlimited are partnering in a five-year, $7.1 million project agreement to construct up to 60 water quality wetlands and install other proven conservation practices like multipurpose oxbows, bioreactors and saturated buffers across the state.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig joined representatives of Ducks Unlimited and the Iowa Water Alliance last fall in making the announcement while touring planning stage, early stage and ongoing conservation and water quality efforts near Chelsea in Tama County.

“Water quality wetlands not only do an excellent job of filtering water before it reaches our rivers, lakes, and streams, but these beautiful additions to our landscape also provide excellent habitat for wildlife,” Naig said. “We are proud to continue our partnership with Ducks Unlimited because it has already produced impactful results.”

Naig said the agreement will accelerate the construction of more wetlands and conservation practices that improve water quality and soil health in Iowa — noteworthy as the state marked the 10th anniversary of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy in 2023.

“We think that the nitrate-reducing wetlands are going to need to play a significant role in achieving our goals in reducing the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous leaving our landscape,” Naig said. “It’s important then that we really scale up our effort.

“We’re going to need to continue to focus on how to protect soil, how do we prevent soil erosion, how do we improve soil health. We also need to think about water quantity and quality.”

Mike Shannon, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist, praised IDALS’ efforts to provide farmers with the expertise and funding needed to install practices that preserve highly productive soil, prevent erosion and protect critical waterways.

“They focus on making sure future residents of the state can experience the same quality of life that past generations have enjoyed,” Shannon said. “Ducks Unlimited is ready to support their conservation efforts in any way we can.”

Identifying potential sites

Naig said an initial IDALS/Ducks Unlimited agreement in 2020 led to the creation of several hundred potential water quality wetland restoration locations, serving as the basis for landowner recruitment going forward.

Ten water quality wetlands are set to be constructed within the next two years because of the previous work completed by the partnership, and there will be additional focus on developing conservation practices such as bioreactors and saturated buffers that are part of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“(Ducks Unlimited) is going to be helping us through a public/private partnership to go find these places on the landscape … work with farmers and landowners … to locate these conservation practices and help us do some of the design work,” Naig explained. 

“The Ducks Unlimited partnership with the state of Iowa is one good example of where you’re layering the wildlife benefits (and) the recreational benefits with the nutrient reduction benefits, and you can get a little bit of flood reduction out of these practices as well. It’s a win-win.”

As part of the five-year agreement, IDALS will provide $5.3 million through the state’s Water Quality Initiative to cover some of the costs for Ducks Unlimited to provide technical assistance and direct landowner outreach.

The department will provide a portion of the installation costs through separate agreements with landowners.

Ducks Unlimited will provide $1.8 million and staff resources as well as outreach and technical assistance. Plans are to eventually construct 60 wetlands in total, largely in the Prairie Pothole region of Iowa, as well as design 10 multipurpose oxbows and assist with the installation of 25 saturated buffers and/or bioreactors.