New partnerships with the cities of Ames and Cedar Rapids will add dozens of new water quality practices this year in the South Skunk and Cedar River watersheds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced last week. 

The partnerships will streamline the project management process for farmers and landowners to install edge-of-field practices such as bioreactors and saturated buffers. Grouping projects together will provide efficiencies for contractors and engineers, enabling conservation practice installations on multiple farms instead of building projects one at a time for individual landowners.

The Cedar River Clean Water Partnership anticipates installing an estimated 60 practices to protect the Cedar River in the first year. Project partners include the City of Cedar Rapids and the Benton, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Grundy, Linn and Tama Soil and Water Conservation Districts. 

“This project is a great extension of the partnership we’ve had with the City of Cedar Rapids for seven years to grow and expand conservation practices in the Middle Cedar watershed,” said Naig. 

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) also announced a partnership with the City of Ames and the Story County Soil and Water Conservation District to scale-up water quality practices in the South Skunk River watershed. Phase one of the project aims to install 25 edge-of-field conservation practices, including bioreactors and saturated buffers. 

The projects build on the success of a similar “water quality blitz” model that added more than 50 edge-of-field practices in the Des Moines and Raccoon River watersheds last year. The efforts demonstrate the importance of partnerships and collaboration to achieve shared water quality goals, said Naig.

“Together, we are implementing new, more efficient ways to implement conservation practices and accelerating our progress toward the goals outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” he said. “We’ve proven this model in the Des Moines and Raccoon River watersheds and look to expand it to even more priority watersheds across the state.” 

Proven practices

Bioreactors and saturated buffers are two of the science-based practices outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to protect water quality and reduce nutrient loss. Once installed, the conservation practices will reduce nitrogen losses by at least 40% with some sites realizing even greater efficiencies. 

In the Cedar River partnership, the City of Cedar Rapids will work with local watershed coordinators to group multiple practices into batches of 10 to 20 projects. 

“Cedar Rapids is proud to further our work with IDALS and our six Soil and Water Conservation District partners to improve water quality and reduce risk to our source water,” said Roy Hesemann, utilities director for the City of Cedar Rapids. “We have seen the data. These projects have a proven record of reducing nitrates in the Cedar River. We are excited for another opportunity to scale up our water protection efforts.”

IDALS and the City of Cedar Rapids are covering the construction costs of the project. 

For the South Skunk project, the City of Ames will manage contractors to install batches of conservation practices. IDALS, the City of Ames and Story County will cover the construction costs.