USDA awards Cedar Rapids $7 million grant for water quality project

Cedar River — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The City of Cedar Rapids will receive $7 million in funding from the federal government to improve water quality in the Cedar River.

The city announced on Thursday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) selected its Cedar River Source Water Partnership (CRSWP) project as one of the recipients of its 2020-21 Regional Conservation Partnership Project. The USDA is investing $330 million in 85 partnerships that address climate change, improve water quality, combat drought and enhance soil health, among other efforts.

CRSWP is one of three BRCS-funded projects in Iowa. The project’s goal is to improve water quality and protect source water in the Cedar River watershed. By improving the Cedar River’s water quality, the city benefits by improving drinking water quality, reducing flood flows and enhancing fish and wildlife habitats, according to a news release from the city.

The project is a collaboration with other communities and agricultural partners to support conservation practices on farmland and provide assistance to producers and stakeholders, according to the release.

The city’s Utilities Department will be the project lead and work with Charles City and 10 other partners on the project. The other project partners include: Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Land O’ Lakes Truterra, Linn County Conservation Board, the Nature Conservancy, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Ingredion Inc, Iowa Future Farmers of America and iHeart Media/WHO Radio.

The project partners will bring in about $10.5 million in match contributions, bringing the total project investment to just over $17.5 million. The City of Cedar Rapids will contribute almost $1.5 million in funds, mostly as technical support.

The majority of the funds for the CRSWP will go directly to producers so they can implement practices including the planting of cover crops and the use of wetlands bioreactors. The conservation practices are intended to reduce nitrate runoff from farm fields, according to the release.

The project is a continuation of the city’s efforts to improve water quality in the river. In 2015, the city launched the Middle Cedar Partnership Project, an initiative focused on working with farmers and landowners on best management practices to help improve water quality, water quantity and soil health.

“The Cedar River Source Water Partnership will take what we learned from that project and scale up our efforts to improve water quality in the Cedar River,” the city’s utility director Roy Hesemann said in the release.

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