Advancing Iowa's Watershed EFFORTS

A Holistic Approach to Improving Water Quality

The watershed approach is working in Iowa when the right key ingredients, or Critical Success Factors (CSFs), are combined. They include:

  • A watershed plan
  • Boots on the ground (Technical Assistance)
  • Extra Financial Assistance
  • Engaged farmers, agribusinesses, and community leaders
  • Trust

While watershed planning capacity is increasing through the leadership of groups such as the Iowa Flood Center and the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), efforts are not being adequately equipped to address the scale of the challenge. 

"While there are roughly 1,700 HUC-12 watersheds in Iowa," says Sean McMahon, Executive Director of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA), "approximately 50 of these have completed watershed plans."

Next Steps for the Additional 1,650 Watersheds Across Iowa

The Conservation Infrastructure (CI) Strategy Working Group is leading efforts to scale up watershed planning in Iowa. "We need to innovate to make watershed planning cheaper, faster, and more effective," says Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, and Co-Chair of the CI initiative and Co-Lead of the Strategy Working Group. 

Many projects are underway to advance the watershed approach throughout Iowa and scale up watershed planning. A few examples include:

  • The Context Network has initiated work on an extensive dashboard and mapping program to help visualize the progress of watershed planning. This complements work of the Conservation Infrastructure Strategy Group to inventory and assess watershed planning.
  • The Iowa Water Quality Improvement (WQI) projects integrate watershed planning as they move toward implementation.
  • The watershed approach has been instrumental in securing additional funding from the national Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) for projects in priority watersheds. The $48 million Midwest Agriculture Water Quality Partnership RCPP project is an example. The program is delivered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and co-lead by IDALS and IAWA.
  • IAWA and Houston Engineering, Inc., have integrated the PTMApp (an acronym for Prioritize, Target, Measure Application) and the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) GIS-based tools for application in the Middle Cedar. This allows stakeholders in the watershed to combine targeting practices to where they have the greatest conservation impact with cost-benefit analyses showing where conservation practices will provide the biggest bang for the buck. 
  • Since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy launched five years ago, ISA has completed 30 watershed plans for those at the HUC-12 scale level and five more plans are underway as of November 2018.
  • The Iowa Watershed Approach is implementing a $97 Million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to scale up watershed planning and pay for practices that improve flood resilience and water quality.

Additional organizations and efforts are actively conducting and implementing watershed plans and the watershed approach in Iowa.