The City of Burlington has reached an innovative agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), allowing investment in conservation practices on farms to improve water quality while helping its city water treatment plant meet state water quality goals.
Burlington became Iowa’s eighth community to sign such an agreement. Ames, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Muscatine, Storm Lake, Forest City, and Mason City have reached similar agreements with the Iowa DNR.
The model agreement incentivizes cities and farmers within the same watersheds to address water quality together.
“These agreements provide a roadmap for Iowa’s cities to address state water quality requirements. They create a way for cities to assist area farmers and landowners with conservation practices that reduce erosion and excess nutrient runoff,” explained Todd Peterson, a water quality partnerships consultant with the Sand County Foundation.
The Sand County Foundation is a national agricultural conservation non-profit which worked closely with the municipalities and DNR.
“This cost-effective approach of financing farm conservation work offers another way to improve the quality of rivers, lakes and streams, in place of expensive upgrades to municipal wastewater treatment plants,” Peterson said. “This opens the door to cooperation across a watershed, and for more urban-rural partnerships across Iowa.”
The agreement allows Burlington to invest in farming practices in local watersheds, such as planting cover crops to improve water quality and reduce the risk of flood damage.
“Portions of the sewer system in Burlington are old and will eventually need to be updated to meet current state regulations,” said Nick MacGregor, the City of Burlington’s Assistant City Manager for Public Works. “This agreement with the Iowa DNR outlines how the city can participate in watershed projects that directly improve water quality, expand outdoor recreational opportunities and help the city comply with state and federal wastewater discharge requirements while saving ratepayers money.”
Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy requires Burlington and about 100 other communities to reduce nutrient levels in the water discharged from their wastewater treatment plants. Timetables to accomplish this varies by community. The wastewater reduction goals are part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy that calls for urban and rural areas to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that reaches the Mississippi River.