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Iowa Watershed Approach

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How can innovative management practices make a difference within watersheds? Two research initiatives — the almost-complete Iowa Watersheds Project, and the new $96.9M Iowa Watershed Approach — are helping us find out.

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The Iowa Watersheds Project served as a pilot project to learn more about how constructed improvements in a watershed can improve flood conditions downstream.

In 2016, IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering will complete its five-year Iowa Watersheds Project (IWP), which was supported by an $8.8M grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At the same time, the state is embarking on a new HUD-funded project, the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) for a statewide watershed improvement program.

The IWP provided funding for five watersheds across the state (Upper Cedar River, Turkey River, Soap Creek, Middle Raccoon, and Chequest Creek) to establish a WMA, develop a hydrologic assessment and watershed plan, and construct watershed projects including farm ponds, wetlands, floodplain easements, and more. As the IWP is completing construction of watershed improvements, landowners and community members alike are noticing the benefits. These projects make a measureable, quantifiable difference in flood resiliency in the watershed.

The IWP/IWA payoff for researchers and Iowans is an enhanced understanding of what works best in each watershed, and which strategies can be scaled up for implementation throughout the state.

Iowa Watershed Approach

Farm ponds are an important part of the Iowa Watershed Approach.

Farm ponds are an important part of the Iowa Watershed Approach.

The Iowa Flood Center was part of a multidisciplinary team that brought the new $96.9M HUD grant to Iowa. The Iowa Watersheds Approach will address issues associated with the devastating and dangerous floods Iowa communities experience year after year. Through a holistic approach, the IWA will seek to reduce flood risk, improve water quality, increase resilience, engage stakeholders, improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations, and develop a program that is scalable and replicable in other areas.

Through strong partnerships and collaboration, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) (part of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa), the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department (HSEMD), and numerous other partners joined forces to create the IWA program. The goals of the IWA include the following:

  • Reduction of flood risk;
  • Improvement in water quality;
  • Increased resilience;
  • Engagement of stakeholders through collaboration, outreach, and education;
  • Improved quality of life and health for Iowans; and
  • Development of a replicable program.

Nine distinct watersheds across Iowa will serve as project sites for the IWA. These are: Bee Branch Creek in Dubuque, Upper Iowa River, Upper Wapsipinicon River, Middle Cedar River, Clear Creek, English River, North Raccoon River, West Nishnabotna River, and East Nishnabotna River. Each will have the opportunity to form a Watershed Management Authority (WMA), develop a hydrologic assessment and watershed plan, and implement projects to reduce the magnitude of downstream flooding and to improve water quality during and after flood events. Volunteer landowners may select from a suite of conservation practices, such as farm ponds, wetlands, terraces, bioreactors, and perennial crops. Landowners will be eligible to receive up to 75% cost share assistance for the construction of such practices.

The IWA program is a collaboration of numerous agencies, universities, non-profits, and municipalities. Partners include: Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management, University of Iowa/Iowa Flood Center, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, National Resources Conservation Service, County Soil & Water Conservation Districts, The Nature Conservancy, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance, local Resource Conservation & Development offices, Iowa Department of Transportation, Iowa Association of Counties, Silver Jackets Flood Risk Management Team, and many more.

Landowners and other stakeholders in the Otter Creek Watershed have formed a powerful coalition for improved water management.

Landowners and other stakeholders in the Otter Creek Watershed have formed a powerful coalition for improved water management.

The IWA represents a vision for Iowa’s future that voluntarily engages stakeholders throughout the watershed to achieve common goals, while moving toward a more resilient state. It is a replicable model for other communities where the landscape has lost its natural resilience to floods. Although the IWA targets watersheds impacted by floods from 2011–2013, the impacts will ripple downstream from Iowa to the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. This program is not only about Iowans helping Iowans, but also about demonstrating Iowans’ commitment to agricultural stewardship, to the environment, to their neighbors, and to the future.

Weber hopes that the results of the Iowa Watersheds Approach can help provide a long-term plan for improving the state’s flood resiliency. “I like to think about vision,” he explains. “In this case, a 50-year vision for watershed enhancement.”

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Last modified on November 10th, 2016
Posted on November 12th, 2013

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