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Cliffside overlooking the Wisconsin River.

Striking a deal for clean water

Fresh water is a precious resource that sustains life. We get it from lakes and rivers for everyday purposes like drinking, bathing and housework. Not to mention the plants and animals that rely on it to live. Have you ever wondered how these waterways stay safe, clean and ready for use? 

“Soil and plant roots are nature’s filters. They help absorb nutrients and other substances that don't belong in our waterways,” said Becca Dymzarov, executive director of Rock River Coalition, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving Wisconsin’s Rock River basin’s environmental, recreational, cultural and economic resources.  

“When water absorbs into the ground where it first lands, it is filtered naturally by plant roots. Native plant root structures, which can grow up to 10 feet underground, are particularly good at filtering water,” Dymzarov said. “Water filtered in this way may end up as surface water in lakes and rivers with fewer pollutants than if it entered directly from the streets.” Native plants also can reduce flooding potential and soil erosion by absorbing more water than plants with shorter root structures. 

According to Dymzarov, a couple effective ways community members can help protect public water ways are to attach rain barrels to their home's downspout and to plant micro prairies

Organizations and businesses can help protect natural bodies of water too. Water quality trading (WQT) offers businesses, local governments and water or sewer treatment plants the opportunity to enter into agreements with farmers and landowners. The organizations pay farmers to incorporate natural conservation elements such as native plants, cover crops, managed grazing and more.  

The goal is to reduce substances like phosphorous, nitrogen and suspended soil particles in the runoff that enters public waterways. With WQT, everyone wins.  

  1. Landowners and farmers benefit from increased revenue that allows them to install environmentally sound measures. 
  2. Businesses and municipalities save money on equipment and processes to clean water. In addition, WQT is a less expensive way to comply with states’ Clean Water Act laws than purchasing new equipment. 
  3. The entire community enjoys improved water quality that meets or exceeds their state’s clean water laws. 

In addition to WQT, growing native plants within a solar array offers hope for an equitable way to help protect water and land through conservation. Funded research is currently underway at Iowa State University, in partnership with Alliant Energy, to examine how this new approach might benefit communities and help reduce land use conflicts. Learn more about the project here

Grant Barton is a Communications Partner with a passion for sustainability and eco-friendly city planning. He has a diverse background in engineering, politics and international communications and hopes to apply this experience when writing and breaking down complex topics related to Alliant Energy's Clean Energy Future plans.

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