While Iowa’s largest water utility is spending up to $10,000 a day to remove nutrients from drinking water, a small town in northeast Iowa is exploring a cheaper alternative.

Manchester City Manager Tim Vick says the city council is moving forward with creating a meandering wetlands area to help control flooding and to improve water quality.

“This will be the first one in the state of Iowa that is situated the way it is,” Vick says. “It’s going to be an example for the communities of what they can do, and if this works out really well, we want to do a couple more of them.” The Storm Water Wetlands Project is to be developed on Manchester’s east side and will cost around $233,000.

“We have a lot of stormwater that comes in and runs through the community,” Vick says. “We can clean up the water, do some better water quality with that because it’s coming from runoff and so if we can take care of that, that’ll help. It won’t necessarily address flooding, so if you get the 100-year flood, we can’t necessarily address that, but we can help out with the 25-year flood.”

Vick hopes construction can start on the wetlands project this fall.  “The idea here is to slow the water down so it has time to drop the nutrients out of the water, so things can settle,” Vick says, “What we’re trying to do is get some plants and some vegetation that will take up those nutrients and use those before they get into the groundwater.”

Late spring rains are washing nitrates off farmland upstream. Last week, the Des Moines Water Works fired up its nitrate removal equipment as nitrate levels spiked in the rivers that are the source of drinking water to 600,000 central Iowa customers.

A Water Works official suggests Iowa needs up to 15 million acres of cover crops and hundreds of wetlands to make real improvements.