Series of Upper Iowa River Watershed meetings garners excellent feedback

by Lissa Blake

A series of recent open house forums focused on  area water quality were a success,  according to Megan Buckingham, watershed outreach coordinator for Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D).

Around 100 residents and landowners attended one of three forums held in November to discuss plans to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Upper Iowa River Watershed. The watershed open houses, hosted by Northeast Iowa RC& D, were held in Dorchester, Decorah and Cresco.

Buckingham said in planning the meetings her organization decided to try something different with the open houses, rather than the standard  presentation with a question-and-answer session afterward. “We really felt like this format was useful. We had the opportunity to talk directly with people who had concerns, whether they had to do with problems around the river, post-flooding, or concerns about water quality in general,” said Buckingham.

“Visiting with people one-on-one really gave us the opportunity to have better conversations and deeper dialogue,” she said.

HAVING AN IMPACT
“People are increasingly familiar with the concept of a watershed - we all understand what it means to live upstream or downstream... What many of us don’t yet realize is the power we have as individuals and in our communities to prevent flooding, reduce its impact and keep our water clean when we work at the watershed level. Targeted conservation practices and good stormwater management are incredibly effective tools for holding water where it falls, and slowing it down. That means a lot less water flowing destructively downstream,” said Buckingham.

MANY PARTNERS
The Upper Iowa River Watershed Management Authority (WMA) is working with Northeast Iowa RC&D to develop a long-term plan for the watershed. In response to extensive statewide flooding in 2008, the state Legislature established the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa to serve as a technical resource for Iowans.

In 2010, the Legislature created Watershed Management Authorities, a mechanism for cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts and other interested parties to cooperatively engage in watershed planning and management. Entities collaborate to request federal Housing and Urban Development funds and to oversee usage of those funds to manage water flow and quality within the watershed.

The Upper Iowa River WMA is one of nine watersheds across the state that will receive a portion of a $96.6 million federal grant over the next five years.

Locally, the WMA consists of nine partner entities, including the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors, the Allamakee Soil and Water Conservation District, the Upper Iowa River Drainage District, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, the Winneshiek Soil and Water Conservation District, the City of Decorah, the City of Lime Springs, the Howard County Board of Supervisors and the Howard County Soil and Water Conservation District.

In July, the WMA hired Matt Frana, a South Winneshiek High School graduate from Conover, as watershed coordinator.

BEST PRACTICES
Buckingham said experience has shown  there are a number of practices which can hold water where it falls and slow it down. “In northeast Iowa, restored coldwater trout streams coexist with profitable agriculture,” she said.

She added that flooding is a concern for both rural and urban residents, and it is valuable to keep the dialogue going about what can be done to mitigate it.

“We talk about practices on farm land, but we know there is a lot of interest inside the towns about what can be done at the city level… We are just thrilled when communities like Decorah are so excited, and we would welcome interest from other communities as well,” she said.

Buckingham said communities are starting to think about stormwater run-off management in different ways. “These can be great community beautification projects, they can go along with recreation projects and local economic development projects. It's really exciting when communities see what can be done at these public meetings,” she said.

ONE EXAMPLE
Buckingham said at the local level, the City of Postville recently approved funding for the construction of a stormwater demonstration site. “This will be a great environmental education piece and we will get to work with K-12 schools to develop cross-curricular education related to stormwater management,” she said. “We also will be working with schools to award sub-grants for projects at their own schools… we also are getting support from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation.”

“The stormwater demonstration site will be a really nice resource for lots of communities,” Buckingham added.

WHAT'S NEXT?
Buckingham said her organization will continue to gather information in order to formulate a set of goals to take to the WMA Board. “We will continue to compile and research and will work with the WMA Board once the plan is finished. We will then set priorities for projects and seek funding to keep moving forward with the Iowa Watershed approach.

For more information, contact Buckingham at Northeast Iowa RC&D at megan@northeastiowarcd.org or 563-862- 7112.
 

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