Agriculture groups and city of Cedar Rapids to collaborate on key water project

Agriculture groups and city of Cedar Rapids to collaborate on key water project

Posted Jan. 15, 2015

An innovative partnership was founded today between the city of Cedar Rapids and multiple agriculture commodity groups as $2 million in Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funding was approved for water quality improvement projects in the Middle Cedar River.

“The city of Cedar Rapids is to be commended for its leadership and vision to partner with farmers to implement conservation practices that will improve water quality throughout the watershed,” said Sean McMahon, executive director of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance. “We applaud Cedar Rapids for its spirit of engagement and collaboration in this innovative, public-private partnership.”

The NRCS announced the funding as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The Middle Cedar Partnership Project (MCPP) will receive a portion of the $370 million in RCPP projects nationwide.

The project will advance implementation of nutrient reduction and flood protection practices in targeted areas of the Middle Cedar, which is part of the larger Cedar River Watershed. Funds from the project will be supplemented by an additional $2.2 million from partner contributions. The city of Cedar Rapids is the lead partner on the project, which involves more than a dozen collaborating partners that are all focused on improving Iowa’s water quality. The partners include the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA), the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) and the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

“We applaud the city of Cedar Rapids for their environmental leadership in partnering with farmers in this voluntary project to enhance water quality,” said Columbus Junction farmer Wayne Humphreys, who chairs the ICGA Animal Ag & Environment Committee. “Leveraging public and private funds, the federal USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program will extend and intensify efforts in upstream watersheds to further improve water quality.”

The MCPP will focus on specific areas of the Middle Cedar watershed, which covers nearly 2,500 square miles upstream in Benton, Tama and Black Hawk counties. All three counties’ Soil and Water Conservation Districts have agreed to be collaborating partners along with several others, including the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

“The funds Iowa receives from this project will add substantially to successful efforts already under way in the state to improve water quality,” said IPPA President Jamie Schmidt, a hog farmer from Garner. “IPPA is fully committed to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and encourages its members to implement practices that will contribute to continued success.”

As part of the partnership, ISA’s Environmental Program and Services team, along with other partners, will initiate and complete watershed assessments and planning services in the first year of the project. ISA is already collaborating upstream with the Miller Creek Water Quality Initiative Project to monitor water quality conditions resulting from conservation practices and tile outlets. Data collected from the project will be used to track improvements at the field and practice scale, information that will support the MCPP.

“Realizing meaningful progress on nutrient and water quality challenges takes a commitment of leadership with the capacity and capabilities to make a difference,” said ISA President Tom Oswald, a farmer from Cleghorn. “This is why the ISA is excited about working with farmers and the city of Cedar Rapids as part of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. This RCPP project is a good example of agriculture and the urban water sector taking opportunities to work together in new and innovative ways to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality.”

Addressing water quality in the Cedar River watershed is a priority at the state and local levels as a majority of the drinking water produced by the Cedar Rapids treatment facilities is distributed to food production users, including PepsiCo, Cargill and General Mills.

Additionally, IDALS will be receiving $3.5 million of funding for the Iowa Target Demonstration Watershed Partnership Project through the RCPP program. This funding will be used to increase available resources through existing demonstration projects in key watersheds, conduct farmer-to-farmer outreach and assist farmers in implementing conservation practices across the state.