Iowa getting $3 million for wetland enhancement projects

Money is part of $44.6 million awarded by USDA

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The USDA announced Thursday it is awarding $44.6 million through its Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership to support 10 wetland enhancement projects in Iowa and 11 other states.

The $3 million awarded to Iowa is being used to create wetlands covering 580 acres in the headwaters of the Iowa and Cedar rivers. It’s designed to improve water quality and reduce downstream flooding, among its benefits, said Ryan Harr, a private lands biologist with the Department of Natural Resources.

“Improving water quality is the big issue,” Harr said. “The idea is to intercept tile drainage water and allow natural wetland processes to reduce nitrate levels before the water eventually drains into the Iowa and Cedar rivers.”

The wetlands also can store runoff from heavy rains, slowing and lowering floodwater pulses, and provide habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, he said.

The money is to buy easements from landowners in Winnebago, Worth, Hancock and Wright counties, all of which are in the Des Moines lobe landform that is noted for high nitrate levels, Harr said.

“It builds on an existing easement purchase program in the area,” he said.

The $3 million in federal funds is to be combined with $175,000 in partner investments, according to the USDA.

The easements, Harr said, typically range from 5 to 120 acres and are positioned where they can intercept large volumes of water.

The $44.6 million in federal grants, coupled with $4.2 million in partner investments, is helping to protect, restore or enhance 15,000 wetland acres in critical watersheds, USDA officials said.

“These are high-impact projects that will ensure our land and water resources are healthy now and for the next generation,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Since 2009, almost 1.3 million acres have been enrolled in Natural Resources Conservation Service wetland easement programs for a total NRCS investment of $3.2 billion in financial and technical assistance, USDA officials said.

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