An 83-acre Ducks Unlimited project nearing completion in Woodford County, Illinois, will demonstrate how water quality in the Illinois River, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico, can be improved by restoring wetlands on private lands.Designed by DU biologists and engineers, the project area lies adjacent to the Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area andwill provide habitat for migrating waterfowl and improve water quality in the Illinois River by trapping excess sediment and nutrients.

As part of the project, a portion of the water in Richland Creek will be diverted through the newly restored wetland site.An excavated area will capture and store sediment, while aquatic plants growing in the wetland will help remove excess nitrogen from the creek water before it flows into the Illinois River.

Funding for the Woodford County project was provided by the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) as part of the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The purpose of thisinitiative is to help address concerns about excess nutrients in the Gulf of Mexico by reducing nitrogen runoff from croplands in the Mississippi River Basin. The NRCS purchased a conservation easement on the Woodford County project site, which means it will be protected in perpetuity.

"The land where the wetland is restored is frequently flooded and was formerly farmed,"said Eric Schenck, DU manager of conservation programs. "Fortunately, the family that owns the property is very conservation-minded. They decided to enroll a portion of their land in WRP to reduce nitrogen coming from their farm and from other farms upstream. This project would not be possible without the family's commitment to conservation."

This is the second DU wetland restoration project constructed along the Illinois River with the express purpose of improving water quality. DU is actively raising funds as part of its Big Rivers Initiative for a third Illinois River project and hopes to use this same technique to restore wetlands on other sites surrounding Peoria Lake.

"We know we can restore wetlands that will be beneficial to both wildlife and people," Schenck said. "We just need to find more landowners who are willing to work with us, and supporters or programs willing to fund these kinds of innovative, multipurpose wetlands."

The NRCS offers many voluntary programs and financial incentives that help landowners protect natural resources, restore wetlands, and improve water quality. According to local NRCS District Conservationist Jeremy Beck, "If you want to do something on your land to make a difference, NRCS and helpful partners like Ducks Unlimited can make it happen. Just ask."

With the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, WRP was replaced by the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. This new program will provide the same benefits and incentives as WRP, using easements for wetlands, grazing lands, and agricultural production.