Central Iowa Blitz Project Will Add 51 Water Quality Practices within Des Moines and Raccoon River Watersheds

Public and private partners announce new conservation project during today’s Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here tour stop

DES MOINES, Iowa (April 28, 2021) – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and several public and private conservation partners announced a new water quality blitz project today. The project will add 40 saturated buffers and 11 bioreactors to farm fields in Polk and Dallas Counties to protect water quality and support recreational opportunities in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. The first phase of the project should be complete by mid-2022.

Public-private partnerships are an important component to many conservation projects across the state but this one is unique because of how many federal, state, county and local governments are collaborating. The groups are using a streamlined approach to working with landowners and contractors to get a large number of edge-of-field practices on the ground faster than using the traditional approach. Instead of working on one site at a time, the Polk County Board of Supervisors has hired one contractor to build dozens of bioreactors and saturated buffers on multiple farms.

“This project is proof that when we work together to leverage our financial and technical resources, we can get more practices on the ground and do it at a faster rate than ever before,” said Secretary Naig. “This project model is being replicated in other priority watersheds around the state. It is a great example of the types of locally-driven, community-based conservation projects that we can implement because of significant, long-term funding from the state.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Polk County Board of Supervisors are covering the construction costs of the project. The Department, Polk County Board of Supervisors and many other partners are providing ongoing technical support.

Polk County Board of Supervisors Chair Angela Connolly said, “If COVID taught us anything, it was the value of outdoor recreation and our community is taking that to heart by investing in creating a worldclass water trails system. But recreation initiatives like this don’t happen without investments in water quality and we are seeing tremendous momentum with projects like the saturated buffers and interest in water quality initiatives from all corners of our community.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided engineering and design support for the project. The Polk and Dallas Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition and Hands on Excavating are are providing construction, technical and project management support.

While phase one is in motion, project partners are surveying 100 additional sites in Polk, Story and Dallas Counties that can be constructed during phase two.

“For this project, we really wanted to make things easy for the landowner both financially and from a workload standpoint. The project focuses on bioreactors and saturated buffers, and we selected which of those practices would be best for each site based on many factors evaluated in the survey process including; tile depth, tile grade, drainage area, soil types, etc. We did this to ensure we treat as much water as possible, while preventing any negative impacts on the field and crops that could be caused by over saturation of the soil,” said Tanner Puls, WQI-WMA coordinator, Polk SWCD. “The project will be installing practices on 51 tile outlets this year, and we have already surveyed over 100 outlets in preparation for another round of installations next year.”

“USDA-NRCS is committed to helping improve water quality in Iowa by helping farmers implement nutrient-reducing conservation practices like bioreactors and saturated buffers,” said Jon Hubbert, State Conservationist for NRCS in Iowa. “Major projects like this one in Polk County don’t get accomplished without multiple conservation partners stepping up to do their part.”

“The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition believes that conservation drainage practices serve a critical role in conservation within working landscapes,” said Keegan Kult, executive director, Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition. “We see the Polk County saturated buffer project as the next step of building capacity to be able to deliver these practices at scale. While we are thrilled with the results the partners were able to accomplish, we are more excited to see how this project can serve as a springboard to continue to move from demonstration to widespread adoption.”

“Hands On Tiling and Excavating is excited to partner with this great group to bring this project to completion,” said Jacob Handsaker, owner of Hands on Excavating. “These practices serve as a great spoke in the wheel of our conservation and water quality goals.The public private partnership between federal, state, local agencies and private landowners will be a great stepping stone to ease concerns from landowners for the adoption of future water quality and drainage projects.” 

A map of the phase one Central Iowa blitz project watersheds is available at cleanwateriowa.org.

About the Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here Campaign

The campaign, created by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Soybean Association and Newsradio 1040 WHO, aims to raise awareness about the conservation work underway all across Iowa. It also highlights opportunities for both rural and urban residents to use soil health and water quality best practices, and play an active role in conservation projects happening in their communities.

During the Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign, The Big Show will visit locations throughout the state showcasing the people and practices that are having a positive and measurable impact on water quality. The conversations with farmers, landowners, agribusinesses and community leaders will be broadcast on Wednesdays during The Big Show airing from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. on WHO and 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. on WMT.

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign is a collaborative effort between a dozen public and private partners, including Agri-Drain, Hagie Manufacturing, Hands on Excavating, Heartland Co-op, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Montag Manufacturing, Practical Farmers of Iowa, The Nature Conservancy and TruTerra. 

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign began in August 2020 and highlighted 16 conservation projects throughout the harvest season. For more information about the campaign, upcoming stops, and rural and urban soil health and water quality practices, visit CleanWaterIowa.org/CleanWaterStartsHere. For assistance implementing conservation practices or to get involved in a community-based project, visit a nearby USDA Service Center or Soil and Water Conservation District office.

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About the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Led by Secretary Mike Naig, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship serves the rural and urban residents that call Iowa home. Through its 12 diverse bureaus, the Department ensures animal health, food safety and consumer protection. It also promotes conservation efforts to preserve our land for the next generation. Learn more at iowaagriculture.gov.

Media Contact:
Keely Coppess
Communications Director
(515) 326-1616           
Keely.Coppess@IowaAgriculture.gov