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University of Illinois receives $2.25 million for drainage water cleaning

November 20, 2020  By Bree Rody

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has awarded $1.12 million to a research initiative at the University of Illinois to clean agricultural drainage water through the use of saturated buffers and denitrifying bioreactors. The grant was matched by stakeholder partners in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, totalling nearly $2.25 million.

Dissolved nitrate in the area’s drainage water is a contributor to downstream water pollution. The buffers and denitrifying bioreactors are passive solutions that are described as low-cost, but it’s unclear how widely the technologies have been adopted.

The goal of the project, said Laura Christianson, project director and assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at University of Illinois, is to both improve these solutions while increasing adoption throughout the midwest. The project will also involve populating a database of design and performance details of bioreactors and saturated buffers across Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. Additionally, the team will install high-tech equipment at some locations that will allow for remote water quality detection. Small discs will also be installed into bioreactors and buffers to absorb nitrate, giving farmers a clearer idea of levels in their water.

Reid Christianson, research assistant professor in crop sciences, and Richard Cooke of the department of agricultural and biological engineering, are assisting Christianson with the project.


The NRCS grant is part of a broader $14.6 million grant program, which will support the development of systems, tools and technology for production and conservation on agricultural lands.

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