Addressing water quality

New project is set to build wetlands, reducing nitrates

-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Shawn Richmond, environmental services director for the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, speaks during a project kickoff meeting for a water quality wetlands project in Fort Dodge Wednesday.

A new project aimed at improving water quality across Iowa kicked off Wednesday in Fort Dodge with a public meeting between representatives of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa and counties that will be impacted by the project.

Known as Scaling Up Capacity for Implementation of Water Quality Wetlands, the goal of the project is to build small wetlands on farms across the state to help reduce the amount of nitrates that end up going into the water and land.

Shawn Richmond, environmental services director for the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, said representatives from seven counties were at Wednesday’s meeting, which was held at Olde Boston’s Restaurant & Pub, 809 Central Ave.

The counties included Boone, Clay, Hamilton, Kossuth, Palo Alto, Pocahontas and Story.

“All wetlands look pretty similar as far as their vegetative characteristics and they all have the ability to remove nitrates through natural processes,” Richmond said.

The difference with the water quality wetlands is that they are strategically placed in locations where they can receive large nitrate loads via tile drainage.

“In essence, we’re going to capitalize on those natural processes to maximize the nutrient tonnage reductions that are available,” Richmond said, adding that location is very important when determining where to place the wetlands.

With Gov. Kim Reynolds signing a bill last year that provides $15 million a year for 10 years for water quality, wetland and drainage projects, Richmond said now seemed like the right time to work on it.

The meeting with the county representatives — which included supervisors and engineers — was meant to let them know what’s going on and to seek their help in moving forward.

“What we want to do is tap into the existing capacities that these supervisors, as drainage district trustees, can provide, and demonstrate the capacity they have for helping the implementation of water quality wetlands across the state,” he said.

These new wetlands are estimated to be about 10 to 12 acres, or 5 to 10 acres if it’s in a wetland area.

“The nice part is that those 5 acres may have upwards of 1,000 acres of watershed,” Richmond said, adding the wetlands provide a better option than something like land retirement.

“If we were going to achieve that, say, through land retirement, it would take the better part of probably 80% of that drainage area to match that,” he said. “That would obviously have detrimental impacts to our food production. The small footprint is very effective and will have the impact of water quality we want while still maintaining that food productivity and acreage devoted to that production.”

The project is part of the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council, a collaborative effort between several Iowa agriculture groups and a number of agribusiness sectors.

Richmond said the three main goals of INREC are progress measurement, using new technology to achieve environmental goals and dedicated efforts toward outreach and education.

The second goal was the focus of Wednesday’s meeting.

“That’s really why we’re here today under that project mission,” he said. “To see ways we can take water quality of wetlands forward.”

Dean Lemke, nutrient management and environmental stewardship director for the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, said there are several factors for why Iowa farms have so many nitrates.

One of them is because of the soil itself.

“The reality is, we have a lot of nitrate here … because it’s endemic to the land use that we have,” he said.

Another factor is that Iowa’s two main foodstuffs for animal proteins, corn and soybeans, are susceptible to nitrates.

The goal is to have the wetland projects completed by the end of September 2020.


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