April 24, 2024

Jasper County interested in IDALS partnership to improve water quality

Estimated $200K project would install 25 bioreactors, saturated buffers

Matt McDonald, water quality initiative projects coordinator at IDALS, provides documents to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors on March 21. McDonald said the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship wants to work with the county to install saturated buffers and bioreactors near watersheds.

In an effort to protect water quality and reduce nutrient loss, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship wants to work with Jasper County supervisors to install a number of bioreactors and saturated buffers between farm fields and local watersheds.

Matt McDonald, water quality initiative projects coordinator at IDALS, works on land improvement projects involving conservation practices across the state. McDonald told the board of supervisors on March 21 that the state wants to pursue a project in Jasper County to install 25 saturated buffers and bioreactors.

“We definitely want your support with this process,” McDonald said, noting he has already spoken with the director of conservation to pursue the project. “…We kind of started five years ago with a proposed project on the Jasper County farm where we installed a bioreactor. It is designed and ready to go.”

Which McDonald said could be used as a demonstration as part of this initiative from the state and to showcase what the projects can do.

Bioreactors and saturated buffers act like a kidney, McDonald said. Whenever a field is tiled and drains into a waterway or ditch, the bioreactors and saturated buffers intercept that and filter the water before it is released. The state has completed projects like this Boone, Dallas, Polk and Story Counties.

In 2013, the State of Iowa established its nutrient reduction strategy and began experimenting with different practices to address nitrate loss from agricultural fields, McDonald said. In 2020, the state dedicated funding to install conservation practices like bioreactors, saturated buffers and wetlands.

According to a February 2022 press release from IDALS, the state partnered with the City of Ames and the Story Soil and Water Conservation District to scale up water quality practices in the South Skunk River watershed. Phase One of the project also installed 25 bioreactors and saturated buffers.

Installation of the bioreactors and saturated buffers are expected to reduce nitrogen losses by at least 40 percent.

The old approach to installing these conservation practices was the state working with individual land owners. Those land owners would be responsible for hiring, managing and paying the contractor to do the job. The state would then reimburse the land owner a certain percentage of the cost.

“This new initiative we’ve been working on is we actually go out and look for projects, 25 or 50 at a time. We batch them together, we bid them out publicly and then we install them with one contractor,” McDonald said. “What that does is we get cheaper costs and get contractors more interested in the projects.”

More land owners get interested in the practices, too, because it is more hassle-free than the old approach, McDonald said. However, since these practices are so new, the state would be meeting with land owners to survey their land before getting started with a project and share what has been done so far.

Ever since the new approach was adopted two years ago, the state has installed 250 practices around the state. Before that, about 100 were installed.

“We’ve definitely installed quite a few more practices,” McDonald said.

As part of the project in Jasper County, IDALS would identify locations for bioreactors and saturated buffers. The county would process the claims to the contractor, hold the public hearings and then be reimbursed for financing the projects. McDonald said reimbursement could be a quick turnaround, too.

The county would also establish temporary lease agreements to allow the contractor to enter onto a private land owner’s property for construction.

IDALS would handle all the “legwork” to coordinate with landowners. McDonald estimated the project would cost about $200,000.

Construction of the 25 projects in Jasper County would start in the spring and summer of 2024. IDALS wants to start near the Indian Creek watershed. McDonald, who lives in the county, has been wanting to do a project near there for a long time. But other areas in the county will be considered, too.

Supervisors were intrigued by the project, which would require a 28E agreement with Jasper County and IDALS before moving forward.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.