Cedar Rapids Improves Water Quality

Outcomes and Conclusions

Since June 2015, the partnership has monitored and evaluated the impacts of the strategies on nutrient levels in the Middle Cedar watershed. In the project watersheds, tile and in-stream nitrate concentrations have shown a decreasing trend since 2015. Fields with bioreactors—or buried pits filled with a carbon source such as wood chips, through which water is diverted—showed the greatest decrease in nitrate levels. Tile nitrate concentration varied for fields with and without cover crops, which highlighted that field-scale management is very important.

City staff participating in a bioreactor installation. Photo courtesy of the City of Cedar Rapids

According to the 2018 annual report, a total of 17,382 acres used cover crops that were under contract with the partnership. Water quality models estimated 9,958 acres of cover crops reduced nitrogen by 40,000 pounds in 2017. Water monitoring showed that bioreactors decreased nitrate load by an average of 42 percent, while fields with saturated buffers resulted in an average decrease of 32 percent.

The project resulted in three returns: reduction in nutrient runoff and improved soil health, flood mitigation and stormwater storage, and anticipated long-term tax dollar savings with lower utility costs due to reduced demands on water treatment plants and decreased flood damage.

Over the span of five years, the Middle Cedar Partnership Project achieved the following:

  • Treated more than 37,561 acres
  • Had over 350 individual contacts with farmers to provide technical assistance on farm conservation activities
  • Hosted over 25 field days with farmers on agricultural topics
  • Presented five webinars to local and national audiences
  • Presented at over 20 conferences, meetings, and outreach events
  • Resulted in:
    • social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by a variety of partners
    • 20 mailings to farmers and Cedar Rapids residents
    • 60 media releases and articles about the project
  • Hosted five tours with local conservationists, farmers, elected officials, and out-of-state visitors

The City is seeking funding to continue this project beyond 2020 and plans to continue efforts to educate landowners and farmers on management practices, reduce city nutrient runoff, and improve flood mitigation practices.

Takeaway Message

It was essential to build initial community trust and develop meaningful relationships with community members to adopt the strategies. The outreach coordinator played a critical role in bridging the communication gap between agricultural experts and farmers. In addition, it was important to conduct meetings and outreach in the community by traveling to various counties, farms, and field day events to further connect with the farming communities and establish long-term partnerships. The partnerships were crucial to the success of the project as they pledged significant funding in the form of financial and/or technical assistance. During the project, it was determined that direct financial assistance was a powerful motivator in getting community buy-in. The City anticipates that future initiatives will rely on direct funding more than technical assistance funds.

Project managers highlighted the importance of “one water”, meaning that communities are all connected by water and need to work together by moving outside city boundaries to protect water.

Additional resources

For more information on Cedar Rapid's efforts, contact: