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Coca-Cola, World Wildlife Fund pay for wetland restoration at Brownville Wildlife Area

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:08 PM

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OSAGE, Iowa —Representatives from the Coca-Cola Company, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund visited a Mitchell County wetland restoration project this fall they funded as a part of efforts to improve water quality and watershed health.

The Nature Conservancy directed Coca-Cola in North America to the Cedar River Watershed where the local NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation Districts have been cooperating with farmers to implement best management practices through the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, said Jon Radtke, manager of water resources for Coca-Cola Refreshments.

The Cedar River Watershed Coalition brings together farmers, government, universities, soil and water conservation districts and the private sector to create comprehensive planning, share funding and integrate best science to work together to meet watershed conservation goals, Radtke said.

"With USDA cost-share programs, farmers must pay a portion of the cost to implement practices such as edge-of-field wetlands and bioreactors that filter nutrients from the runoff water entering nearby streams," Radtke said. "Private funding can help early adopting farmers afford these practices and make long-term commitments toward continued performance improvement."

Coca-Cola is working to reduce its environmental footprint, said Rena Ann Stricker, contract ecologist for Coca-Cola. Several ingredients in its beverages are derived from corn, so Coke is working to decrease environmental impacts while maintaining corn production.

"We have a goal to replenish clean water back to nature – the same amount we use in producing our beverages by 2020," Stricker said. "Water used in agriculture is a significant component of our overall water footprint, so sustainable agriculture is a fertile field for restoring water back to nature."

"WWF's mission is the conservation of nature and the protection of natural resources for people and wildlife, and freshwater ecosystems are a top priority in our work," said Franklin Holley, WWF program officer for agriculture.

As part of a global partnership to conserve freshwater resources, Coca-Cola and WWF also funded the Nature Conservancy to collaborate with its field partners to install corn field runoff filtration wetlands on private lands in the Root River Watershed in southeast Minnesota and the Mackinaw River Watershed in Illinois.

These wetlands like the one northeast of Osage in Mitchell County will filter agricultural runoff from fields to reduce pollution into freshwater streams. The three projects are expected to be models that can be replicated in other watersheds.

"The scale of the Mitchell project was incredible," Stricker said. "There were so many partners, and this wetland is open to the public to enjoy. While we were there, we saw fox, deer and pheasants. The biodiversity is neat."