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Deep-rooted poplars may expand saturated buffer opportunities

Article cover photo

By Michelle Jones, environmental communications specialist

Saturated buffers offer many water quality benefits; however, current requirements limit options for installation — a new project may offer expanded opportunities.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) is partnering with Ecolotree®, Agri Drain and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance to investigate the possibility of expanding site suitability for saturated buffers. ISA is looking for two sites within the Middle Cedar Watershed to install the modified saturated buffer system.

The project will plant a row of deep-rooted poplars — in a trench 3 to 6 feet deep — within the buffer between the distribution line and the stream.

A conventional saturated buffer system requires:

  • Enough slope from the field to the buffer to prevent crop damage from raising the water table in the buffer
  • Minimum 1.2 percent organic matter in the soil to a depth of 2.5 feet
  • Minimum 30 feet of buffer width
  • Avoid areas of high conductivity soils (sands and gravels)
Schematic diagram of a conventional saturated buffer. (Image courtesy of

Unlike a conventional saturated buffer, the water table would not need to be raised as high within the buffer in the modified system — allowing for installation in flatter fields. Additionally, the poplars provide an added carbon source, reducing or eliminating the need for soil carbon criteria. The buffer would still need to meet the minimum 30-foot width and avoid areas of high conductivity soils.

The project will cover the cost of installation for two sites. Additionally, ISA will handle all monitoring of the project for the 3-year time-period.

For more information or to sign-up, please contact Keegan Kult, ISA environmental scientist, at or 515-334-1036.

ISA modified saturated buffer Middle Cedar River project area.

For media inquiries, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at Iowa Soybean Association | 1255 SW Prairie Trail Pkwy | Ankeny | IA | 50023 | US

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