Nutrient grant bioreactor to benefit more than water

Project could help standardize implementation of water-quality practices.

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Kane County’s first bioreactor will treat nitrogen in tile water drained from farmland, and signage at the site will educate farmers, public officials, students and others on the benefits of the practice. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)

By Kay Shipman

Supported by an Illinois Farm Bureau Nutrient Stewardship Grant, a first-in-the-county agricultural practice offers a promising option for Kane County farmers to treat tile drainage water instead of potentially having to remove farmland from production.   

“This is a great example of the county, the Farm Bureau, the Forest Preserve and other partners to engage in new technology to protect water quality,” said Jodie Wollnik, assistant director of the county’s Division of Environmental and Water Resources. “Our hope is this is just the start.”

That start will be the county’s first woodchip bioreactor to treat nitrogen in tile water drained from farmland owned by the county Forest Preserve District. Plans include making the bioreactor site a location where farmers, public officials, students and others can see and learn about an edge-of-field nutrient stewardship practice.

Wollnik and Kane County Farm Bureau Manager Steve Arnold explained the county is updating its stormwater ordinances. The county’s 2040 plans emphasize preservation of agricultural areas; however, discussions have raised a potential stormwater retention requirement for ag areas with roofs and pavement that exceed a certain limit.

“This demonstration project can show how practices on land can improve water quality more than stormwater retention,” Arnold said.

Related: 18 ways Illinois farmers taking ownership of the NLRS: read more here

The county’s Forest Preserve District, which owns slightly less than 22,000 acres, including 5,000 farmland acres, is always interested in reducing nitrogen and sediment loads in water, said Jerry Culp, the district’s director of planning and development. “We’re happy to do this on our property.”

Tom Huddleston, a drainage contractor involved with the project, added, “The goal is to provide education and typical standards for contractors and landowners to create and maintain water quality techniques to reduce nitrate discharge from agricultural drain tile systems.”

The intent “will be to standardize the implementation of water-quality practices to improve agricultural water quality in Kane County,” Huddleston said.

Both Arnold and Wollnik emphasized the multiple benefits to be gained from the bioreactor project. Educational opportunities abound for everyone from schoolkids to regulatory and municipal officials, Arnold noted. Not only will the local watershed benefit from improved water quality, but so will larger watersheds downstream all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, Wollnik added. 

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