February 26, 2024

River Days of Action tour visits wetland

DWIGHT, Ill. — A new constructed wetland and restored wetland site in Livingston County was among the stops as part of the Mississippi River Network’s River Days of Action on June 12.

The event is part of a 10-day series of events taking place through the Mississippi River basin across 10 states that border the river. Participants learn how agriculture directly impacts river health and what practices farmers are using to protect the river.

The group visited Wes and Andie Lehman’s Feather Prairie Farm where construction of 1.13 acres of constructed wetland and about six-tenths of an acre restored wetland for treating tile drainage from adjacent cropland was completed last August.

Native plant species were planted on 5 acres surrounding the wetlands to attract pollinators and wildlife to the site.

“River Days of Action unites us in support of the health and resilience of our Mississippi River and raises awareness about the issues that impact the river from the headwaters to the Gulf,” said Kelly McGinnis, Mississippi River Network executive director.

“This tour shows just how what we do in one part of the Mississippi River can have an impact on the whole watershed.”

The tour was organized by Mississippi River Legislative Caucus staff in partnership with the Mississippi River Network and The Wetlands Initiative.

“This tour shows just how what we do in one part of the Mississippi River can have an impact on the whole watershed.”

—  Kelly McGinnis, executive director, Mississippi River Network

The MRLC was established to better coordinate state legislators in the states bordering the Mississippi River around river health and sustainable infrastructure development.

State legislators at the Dwight site tour were Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, Rep. Jason Bunting, R-Emington, Sen. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City, and Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago. Harper chairs the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

Background

The constructed wetlands project reached fruition through the unique and diverse collaboration of The Wetlands Initiative, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Land Improvements Contractors Association and Pheasants Forever Quail Forever Illinois on land not suitable for crop production.

The two wetlands filter about 150 acres of adjacent corn and soybean fields.

The roots of this collaboration that focused both on water quality and a ramped up wildlife habitat began when Wes and Andie Lehman started Feather Prairie Farm over two years ago where they raise game birds and provide a dog training facility.

Wes also works at Springfield Plastics, a drainage tile manufacturing company that has partnered in numerous conservation projects.

“What we’re doing here is essentially taking the water that’s coming off this farm, taking the drain tile and diverting it into my wetland and/or pond. It allows us not only to have habitat for pleasure, whether it’s dog training or fishing or bird watching, but also capturing it and cleaning it before it leaves the farm,” Lehman told the visitors.

Update

Jill Kostel, The Wetlands Initiative senior environmental engineer, said since construction was complete, the site has been seeded and wetland plants were added.

“We connected the last tile, so now we have three tile inlets going into the wetland as planned, and now we’re just waiting for some water in the growing season for the vegetation to come in,” Kostel said.

The tiles drain water from the cropland into the wetland where the microbes take over to improve water quality. The water eventually goes to an adjacent creek once the process is complete.

“About 50% to 60% of the nitrogen coming in will be removed. It’s seasonal. We may get a little less in the wintertime and a lot more during the summer time when the weather is warm, the microbes are happy, they’re doing the transformation of nitrate to nitrogen gas,” Kostel explained.

Kostel noted a tile contractor such as Lehman who wants to treat tile water “is a great combination.”

“We can put both together,” Kostel said. “We’re not saying don’t put tile in. We understand why tile is going in to lower risk mitigation on the farm. Our weather has changed.

“We want to make sure farmers can get in there and do their seeding and planting. So, tile is going in and we were just working with them to treat the water before it leaves the field.”

Making Plans

The Wetlands Initiative designs, creates and restores wetlands.

“Our job is to employ sound science to improve water quality, habitat for plants and wildlife, and our climate, and we love collaborations,” Kostel said.

“We design a wetland to capture tile water, slow the water down, let the natural processes happen which is basically the bacteria doing all the work, the plants provide the carbon that we need for the bacteria to eat, and when it leaves the field the water has a lot less nitrogen and phosphorous.

“One thing wetlands do really well naturally is clean water. The pool of different processes and cycles that go on in the wetland naturally removes nutrients, organic chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals.

“We want the worst land. We don’t want the farmer’s most productive land. We want that area that’s kind of wet, you’re spending a lot of money on it and not getting a whole lot of revenue off of it. So, give us that chunk and let’s put it into a practice that is helping you achieve your environmental goal of reducing your nutrient loss.

“The wetland is 1% of the tile drainage area. So, if you have 100 acres of tile drainage, the wetland is going to be one acre and then you have the buffer around it.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor