Water Quality Efforts Blossom in the Cedar Valley

posted 6/6/2024

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (IAWA) – In 2008, the Cedar River – namesake of the city of Cedar Rapids – surged from its banks to leave more than a tenth of the city in muck and destruction. That disaster, among the worst in the state’s history, remains a fresh memory for the city’s residents and leaders 16 years later.

One of those leaders is Mary Beth Stevenson, who has her eyes uphill and upstream along the Cedar River. As the city’s Watersheds & Source Water Program Manager, she has helped farmers add more than 10,000 acres of cover crops to fields in the surrounding countryside. Among their other benefits, cover crops slow down runoff by improving rain infiltration into the soil. That slowed runoff helps lower flooding risks while also enhancing water quality. 

Right now, water quality is Stevenson’s main focus. Under her watch, new edge-of-field practices are springing up in the Cedar Valley thanks to cost share from the Cedar River Source Water Partnership (CRSWP) this spring.

Edge-of-field practices include buried trenches of wood chips called bioreactors. The wood chips host microbes that feed on nitrates in runoff water. Saturated buffers – buried pipes that divert runoff from field drainage tiles toward grassy stream edges – are another common edge-of-field practice. Both can remove half or more of the nitrates that would otherwise flow toward the Cedar Rapids water treatment plant. 

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