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Pictured from left are Brian Perry, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN account manager; Nick Meier, farmer; Nick Longbucco, Cedar Basin Freshwater manager with TNC; Kristin Aschenbrenner, state director for TNC; Leonard Youngblut, farmer; Henry Shepard, farmer; Clark Porter, new Miller Creek WQI watershed coordinator; Tariq Baloch, water utility plant manager, city of Cedar Rapids; Shaffer Ridgeway, district conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

WATERLOO — Last week the Miller Creek Challenge, an innovative fundraising effort for the Miller Creek Water Quality Improvement Project in Black Hawk County, was completed and celebrated with a check ceremony in Cedar Rapids.

A $108,000 donation from the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative helped the Miller Creek WQI complete its fundraising challenge in less than a year. Together with other private donations, the WQI raised $124,000 for conservation practices in the watershed for three years. These dollars supplement local, state and national cost-share funds.

Additional funding was needed in the watershed due to the unusually high farmer demand for conservation practices. For example, cover crops have been adopted on an estimated 20 percent of the row crop acres in the watershed, while statewide cover crops are on approximately 3 percent of Iowa’s row crop acres. The Miller Creek Challenge was created to address the funding needs of the watershed project.

The Miller Creek WQI, led by the Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District, is part of the Middle Cedar Watershed, which is a priority watershed for the MRCC.

The Miller Creek Challenge was created in 2017 and conveyed the sense of urban-rural responsibility for water quality with its theme: “It’s Our Soil. It’s Our Water. It’s Our Future.”

The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance pledged an initial contribution of $13,500 to the Miller Creek Challenge to cover half of the 2017 cost-share deficit for cover crops and challenged the WQI to seek additional funding.

“We wanted to help maintain the great momentum that the Miller Creek project had sparked for increasing farmer demand for conservation practices,” said Sean McMahon, executive director of IAWA. “This is a great example of how public-private partnerships will help us meet the goals of the Iowa NRS.”

The Miller Creek Watershed project has been successful in scaling up water quality practices and aspires to increase cover crops to 50 percent of all row crop acres in the watershed.

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