Government

Cedar Rapids water runoff projects get a little love from ag secretary

State grants help pay for permeable pavement, bioswales

Liz Martin photos/The Gazette

This practice field at Coe College in Cedar Rapids will be converted to a permeable parking lot.
Liz Martin photos/The Gazette This practice field at Coe College in Cedar Rapids will be converted to a permeable parking lot.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — “What an example Cedar Rapids is setting for other areas of the state” with its efforts to curb nutrient pollution, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said Monday during a visit to a permeable paving project at Coe College.

“A lot is going on in Cedar Rapids,” from its leadership role in the Middle Cedar Partnership Project in rural areas upstream to urban efforts to reduce runoff from heavy rains, Northey said.

Northey recently announced grants totaling $978,149 for 13 urban conservation water quality initiative demonstration projects, which capture stormwater and allow it to soak into the ground, thus reducing both pollution and flooding. Those state funds will leverage about $2.6 million in additional matching funds.

One of those 13 grants was awarded to the city of Cedar Rapids and another was awarded to Coe College.

Cedar Rapids received a $99,237 grant for a $242,000 project that will help Cedar Rapids develop four best management practice pilot projects — permeable pavement on a city-owned alley next to the Coe campus and bioswales near three schools — Bowman Woods Elementary, Kennedy High School and St. Pius Elementary.

Coe College received an $80,000 grant for a $221,000 project that will incorporate permeable pavers as part of campus improvements to reduce runoff, which currently drains directly to adjacent Cedar Lake.

While the permeable paving will allow excess rain to soak into the ground, the bioswales will store water and encourage infiltration.

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Coe chemistry professor Marty St. Clair, who coordinates environmental science studies at Coe, said the permeable parking lot will divert about 750,000 gallons of water per year. Doing so, he said, will cool the water draining to Cedar Lake and reduce its concentration of oil, salt, sand and other street pollutants.

St. Clair said work on the parking lot will begin later this spring. Sandy Pumphrey, a flood mitigation project engineer for the city, said work will start on the bioswales this fall.

St. Clair said the permeable parking lot might help reduce Coe’s stormwater bill under a new fee structure slated to begin July 1.

Pumphrey said the city projects are “loosely connected” to the city’s plan to implement on July 1 a new stormwater fee structure that bases payments on the amount of impervious surface, usually pavement, present on a property.

“We are trying to practice what we are preaching” about the need to reduce stormwater runoff, Pumphrey said.

Following widespread flash flooding in June 2014, the city analyzed its stormwater system and found it needed $50 million in upgrades.

The new fee structure is intended to raise revenue for capital expenditures while encouraging more responsible handling of excess rainfall.

For most homes and smaller properties, the change won’t make much difference, but large entities with acres of pavement and roofs will pay considerably more.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the new fee structure at its April 12 meeting.

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Northey said the urban grants are administered under the Iowa Water Quality Initiative, established in 2013 to help implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which aspires to eventually reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution by 45 percent.

The 13 new projects join 32 existing demonstration projects, of which nine are in urban settings.

The more than 100 partners will provide $19.31 million to go with more than $12 million in state funding for the projects, Northey said.

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