CEDAR RAPIDS — With a shortage of state money for improving water quality, The Eastern Iowa Airport launched a fundraising initiative Tuesday to help pay for lake and wetland restoration in Linn and Johnson counties.
The Wings 2 Water program has raised $131,000 toward a $250,000 goal this year, Airport Director Mary Lenss said at a news conference attended by more than 100 people, including elected officials, business owners and conservationists from the Corridor.
“The program is all about partnerships and many people coming together for a common goal of improving water quality,” Lenss said.
He hatched the idea earlier in the year, getting local residents and companies to donate the first wave of funding before making a public announcement this week.
Future donations will come into Wings 2 Water through online donations, rounded up point-of-purchase sales at the airport or through “parking” meters in the airport terminal, Lenss explained. Donors can choose whether to support projects in Linn or Johnson counties.
Lenss pointed to a map of the Mississippi River watershed, spreading across much of the United States. It’s in these waters — and in the Gulf of Mexico — that nitrate and phosphorus coming from Midwestern agriculture and industry are causing pollution that hurts wildlife and causes cities to spend big bucks in water treatment.
Dots on the map showed the 185 commercial service airports within the watershed, Lenss said. If Wings 2 Water works, he wants to expand the program to these airports.
“So it doesn’t stop here in Iowa, but it starts in Iowa and we’re proud of that,” he said.
The Eastern Iowa Airport earlier this year started requiring farmers who lease land from the airport to switch to no-till planting and grow offseason cover crops — practices shown to reduce erosion and fertilizer runoff. Airport leaders will gather data on crop yields, soil health and water quality to share with other Midwest airports, many of which also own farmland.
One of four Eastern Iowa projects designated to receive funds through Wings 2 Water is the Linn County Learning Farm, a project to restore one of the only known prairie pothole wetlands in the county. The project, with a $1.7 million fundraising goal, recently was passed over for a $400,000 state Resource Enhancement and Protection grant.
“Government can’t pay for it all,” said Dana Kellogg, Linn County Conservation’s natural resources manager. “These public-private partnerships are the way to go.”
Other projects that will share Wings 2 Water funding include:
• Morgan Creek Wetland project, a 35-acre addition to Morgan Creek that will include a network of wetlands to capture and clean water from E Avenue NW, nearby neighborhoods and parking lots. The fundraising goal is $500,000.
• Cedar River Crossing Wetland Restoration Project in Johnson County would include restoring a 780-acre prairie wetland to increase biodiversity, improve water quality and reconnect the Cedar River to its original flood plain. That goal is $2.1 million.
Comments: (319) 339-3157; firstname.lastname@example.org