Watershed Monitoring for Water Quality
In order to most effectively manage our water resources, the Cedar Rapids Water Division works with state and federal agencies to complete source water assessments, identifying potential contamination sources in the Cedar River watershed. The results of these assessments, paired with a continuous monitoring program, help us better understand our watershed. We have confirmed that some contaminants, including nitrate, herbicides and bacteria, enter the Cedar River watershed upstream from our wells. The watershed of the Cedar River upstream from Cedar Rapids is over 6,500 square miles, extending from southern Minnesota down to Muscatine, Iowa. Monitoring of these contaminants will continue to ensure a strong watershed protection program.The City also partners with conservation-minded organizations and upstream agriculture producers to provide financial and technical assistance to landowners who wish to implement best management practices that help keep nutrients on their land and out of Iowa waterways. The Middle Cedar Partnership Project was a five-year project that began in June of 2015; and the newest project is the Cedar River Source Water Partnership (CRSWP), launched in early 2023.
The Cedar River Source Water Partnership (CRSWP) is an urban-rural partnership designed to improve drinking water quality by helping farmers implement simple practices on their land. The CRSWP is a $16 million project funded by United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) and 13 partners dedicated to improving water quality in Iowa. The project is funded through the USDA-NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which promotes coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners to expand our collective ability to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns.
By actively partnering with farmers, the City is working to reduce the amount of nitrate that runs off farm fields. Nitrate is a fertilizer that is beneficial to crops, but rainfall can wash nitrate off farmland and into streams and rivers -- too much of it in drinking water is harmful to humans. While nitrate levels have never reached unsafe levels in the City's water supply, the amount of nitrate in the Cedar River has been increasing over time. Our partnership with farmers is essential to reducing the amount of nitrate that reaches the Cedar River.
Iowa growers in the Cedar River Watershed may qualify for cost-share incentives* to implement the conservation practices listed below. Every acre of farmland is different; selecting the right conservation practice for each unique farm field requires knowledge, experience, and a thorough evaluation of the land. The CRSWP provides technical assistance to farmers to help them choose the right practice and apply for financial assistance through NRCS or other financial assistance programs.
- Cover Crops: Cover crops are grasses, legumes, and forbs planted for seasonal vegetative cover to reduce erosion and improve soil health
- No-Till/Strip Till: This means limiting soil disturbance to reduce erosion and excessive sediment in surface water and improve soil health
- Bioreactors: A bioreactor is a buried trench of woodchips attached to a tile line on the edge of a field where microbes break down nitrates to improve water quality
- Saturated Buffers: A saturated buffer is an underground perforated pipe attached to the end of a tile line. It runs parallel to a ditch or stream, allowing water to release more slowly so nitrates can be broken down
- Wetlands Creation, Enhancement, or Restoration: A wetland is a shallow vegetated pool that helps filter nutrients, especially nitrates. Wetlands are usually restored in low-yield areas of a field
- Prairie Strips and Related Practices: Prairie Strips are small areas of native prairie species strategically placed in row crop fields
Where Does Our Water Come From?
The City of Cedar Rapids bears an important responsibility: to provide clean, safe, and great tasting drinking water to our residents and businesses. The City obtains its drinking water supplies from shallow vertical and collector wells constructed in the sand and gravel deposits along the Cedar River. Those deposits form an underground water-bearing layer called an alluvial aquifer. Because of continuous pumping of the City’s wells, most of the water in the aquifer is pulled from the river. The rest of the water is supplied as water percolates up from a deeper bedrock aquifer or down from the top of the ground.
Our drinking water from those wells benefits from natural filtration through the riverbank. This natural sand filtration has proven beneficial, pre-treating the water before it ever reaches the City’s two treatment plants (both conventional lime-softening facilities).
If you are interested in reviewing our source water assessment or any monitoring results, please contact the Cedar Rapids Water Division at 319-286-5910.