U.S. Agriculture Secretary visits Lake Panorama
By SUSAN THOMPSON
PANORA — The nation’s top agriculture official made a stop Aug. 30 in Guthrie County at a wetland built to protect Lake Panorama from nitrates and sediment.
Sonny Perdue has been the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture since April 2017, and was in Iowa for two days. He spent time at the Farm Progress Show, attended several meetings with farmers and agribusinesses, and toured farms to view conservation practices.
Ducks Unlimited personnel wanted to take Perdue to two different types of wetlands, and asked Iowa conservation officials for a CREP wetland recommendation. That led to the Lake Panorama visit.
CREP is an acronym for the Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a joint effort of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
State and federal technical assistance and cost-share funds are available for CREP wetlands established in 37 north-central Iowa counties.
Perdue, Congressman David Young and Ducks Unlimited representatives were welcomed to the wetland site by Lake Panorama Association (LPA) officials and members of the Lake Panorama Rural Improvement Zone board.
John Rutledge, LPA general manager, provided statistics about Lake Panorama, which is surrounded by 1,100 homes.
“Whenever we survey our membership, we hear taking care of the lake is a top priority,” he said. “That’s how we got to this wetlands project, and others that followed.”
The CREP wetland visited by Perdue and others helps protect Helen’s Cove. There is a six-acre wetland pool area, with a 20-acre buffer. The drainage area above the wetland covers 840 acres.
Rutledge said one unique aspect of the Helen’s Cove wetland is the sediment forebay. Water slows down as it flows into the wetland, allowing sand and silt to drop into this special structure. Sediment can be cleaned out periodically using a long-stick excavator. This isn’t something done in all CREP wetlands, but because of the desire to keep as much sediment as possible from reaching Lake Panorama, special approval was granted to include the feature.
“This will greatly extend this wetland’s life,” Rutledge said. “The water pool needs to be about three feet deep to make sure the aquatic vegetation removes nitrogen. The sediment trap helps protect that depth.”
The Helen’s Cove CREP wetland was completed in fall 2016. Another CREP wetland that helps protect Hughes Cove was completed the following year. Rutledge told the crowd a third one is in the planning stage, with construction planned for 2019.
“Beginning next year, we’ll be partnering with Iowa State University to do some cooperative monitoring on all three of our wetlands,” he said. “We know these wetlands reduce nitrogen. We’ll take samples as water flows into the wetlands, and as it flows out, so we can document how much nitrogen is being removed.”
Besides reducing nitrate and sediment loads to surface waters, other wetland benefits are increases in wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Rutledge noted the CREP wetland visited by Perdue will be open for public hunting this fall, a statement that brought approving comments from Ducks Unlimited representatives in attendance.
Also at the wetlands tour were representatives from the Nestle Purina PetCare Company.
That group recently committed $1 million to Ducks Unlimited to help protect and improve 1,600 acres of wetland and grassland across north-central Iowa over the next three years.
The funds will be used to restore at least two wetlands per year through the CREP program, improve at least three natural shallow lakes, and restore at least 100 acres of native grasslands interspersed with shallow prairie pothole wetlands.
Speaking to Perdue and Congressman Young, Rutledge said the Lake Panorama wetland projects have met with full cooperation from landowners and farmers involved.
“We’re committed to the principle of both pro-agriculture and pro-water quality,” he said. “Anything you can do to help advocate for additional targeted nutrient reduction wetlands will be appreciated.”
At a luncheon at the LPN conference center following the wetland tour, Perdue said he enjoyed the opportunity to “see on the ground how the policies and processes we put in place in D.C. are implemented.” He praised Lake Panorama officials for “understanding that what happens upstream matters” and for finding ways to partner with local farmers.
“We believe in multiple uses for our nation’s land,” Perdue said. “We need to feed the world, but we also need agriculture to co-exist with others, with homeowners, with wildlife, with those who enjoy outdoor recreation. You have demonstrated that is possible.”