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Burlington Partnering with Farmers on Water Quality Goals

The City of Burlington has reached an innovative agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It allows 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.

Sand County Foundation worked closely with these municipalities and the Iowa DNR to develop a model agreement that incentivizes cities and farmers within the same watersheds to address water quality together. Sand County Foundation is a national agricultural conservation non-profit whose mission is founded on the principles of conservationist, and Burlington native, Aldo Leopold.

“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 Sand County Foundation.

“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, 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.

“Cities and local farmers should be given flexibility to achieve the water quality goals set by the state,” said Peterson, who noted that Burlington could see a $10 match in public and private grants for every $1 it invests in conservation practices.

When the Iowa Department of Natural Resources agreed to these urban-rural partnerships, Robert Palmer, general counsel for the Iowa League of Cities, said, “This is a big deal for Iowa’s cities, big and small.”


Photos courtesy of the City of Burlington.


Sand County Foundation inspires and empowers a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.