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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa has won a $1.15 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve water quality.  The money will go toward creating wetlands to help filter farm runoff in the Middle Cedar River watershed in eastern Iowa.

Wetlands naturally collect rain and floodwater, slow it down and hold it. Wetland plants then remove nitrates and phosphorus from the water as it’s slowly released into the air, creeks, and ground.

Most of Iowa’s natural wetlands were drained over the last two centuries to make room for more farm ground.

“Wetlands function like kidneys in terms of clearing out the water, in terms of purifying water, retaining it and holding it back,” said Clark Porter with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Six of those wetlands will be created in areas near Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Cedar Falls.

“Receiving this grant is a testament to the quality of our ongoing work to improve water quality and quantity challenges in the Cedar River,” said Steve Hershner, Utilities Director for the City of Cedar Rapids. “Many partners have contributed to efforts which protect our source water. This additional agreement between the Department and the EPA toward our shared goals is an exciting new opportunity to advance this important work.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture wants to start working on the wetlands next year.