Cedar Rapids, partners to establish 6 wetlands to help with water quality, habitat on Cedar River

A saturated buffer of native prairie grasses borders a creek at the Weber farm north of Dysart, part of the Middle Cedar
A saturated buffer of native prairie grasses borders a creek at the Weber farm north of Dysart, part of the Middle Cedar watershed. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A wetland effort in the Middle Cedar watershed could reduce downstream nitrogen loads by 58,000 pounds per year, thanks to a federal grant worth more than $1 million.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received the $1.15 million grant through a cooperative agreement by the Environmental Protection Agency and its Gulf of Mexico Program, the state agency announced on Wednesday.

The money will be used to install up to six wetlands in targeted locations to improve water quality and habitat in the Middle Cedar River watershed, which is a 1.5 million-acre area covering 10 counties including Black Hawk and Linn.

Locations for the wetlands still are being identified, and the first wetland is expected to break ground in 2020.

“Receiving this grant is a testament to the quality of our ongoing work to improve water quality and quantity challenges in the Cedar River,” Steve Hershner, Cedar Rapids utilities director, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Many partners have contributed to efforts which protect our source water.

“This additional agreement between the department and the EPA toward our shared goals is an exciting new opportunity to advance this important work.”

Cedar Rapids has been part of a Middle Cedar partnership in hopes of mitigating extreme flooding events and reducing nitrates by investing in better practices upstream. Cedar Rapids drinking water largely comes from the aquifers along the Cedar River.


Cedar Rapids has invested $303,344 on upstream efforts through the Middle Cedar partnership since fiscal 2015.

The effort is a partnership, according to a news release, with the state agriculture department; the cities of Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls and Waterloo; Iowa State University; Iowa Corn Growers Association; Iowa Soybean Association; and Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The groups are helping to locate, promote, design and implement these watersheds.

“Working with the EPA and local communities, we are taking on the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality by implementing conservation practices in priority watersheds,” Iowa agriculture secretary Mike Naig said in a statement. “Whether you live in the city or the country, we all have a role to play. These types of public-private partnerships and rural-urban projects are perfect examples of what we can accomplish when we all work together to achieve our common goal — preserving Iowa’s natural resources for the next generation.”

The watersheds also are expected to enhance the local wildlife habitat, and the area will be seeded with pollinator-friendly plants to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinator species, according to the news release.

Nitrogen, a common ingredient in fertilizers, washes off from farm fields, lawns and other sources into rivers and creeks causing problems downstream such as algae blooms, and it strains municipal water plants working to make the water supply safe to drink.

Nitrogen also is a factor in the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, where marine life struggles to survive.

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