Story submitted by Kathleen Chester, Rathbun Land and Water Alliance Outreach
The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance
The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance was established in 1997 to promote cooperation between public and private sectors in an effort to protect land and water resources in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. The Rathbun Lake Watershed is located in the six southern Iowa Counties of Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne and covers 354,000 acres. Rathbun Lake is the primary water source for Rathbun Regional Water Association, which provides drinking water to 80,000 people in southern Iowa and northern Missouri.
The Alliance’s integrated approach resulted in the development of a water quality monitoring program and the completion of the Rathbun Lake Watershed Assessment and Management Plan in 2001. In 2003, the Alliance was one of only 20 watersheds in the nation to receive the EPA’s Targeted Watershed Initiative Grant. More than a dozen organizations and agencies at the local, state, and federal levels partnered with the Alliance to begin implementing best management practices in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. This generated a project which has come to be known as the Protect Rathbun Lake Project.
Knowing where to install best management practices has been significant to the success of reducing contaminants delivered to Rathbun Lake. GIS technology was used to create a model that identifies priority land, which is land determined to have the greatest potential to deliver sediment and phosphorous to Rathbun Lake. Due to the size of the Rathbun Lake Watershed, it was divided into 61 more manageable sections called subwatersheds. The primary objective is to apply best management practices on priority land in targeted sub-watersheds.
The Protect Rathbun Lake Project was one of the first in Iowa to use the targeted approach. Protect Rathbun Lake Project staff work with landowners to install conservation practices in areas where priority land exists.
The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance has grown to be recognized as one of the more effective, locally-led watershed organizations in Iowa. In 2012, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad selected the Rathbun Lake Watershed as the location for the field level event as part of Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week. The governor, lieutenant governor, and numerous state agency department heads traveled to the Rathbun Lake Watershed to hear firsthand from the landowners who participate in the Protect Rathbun Lake Project about what actions they take to protect Rathbun Lake.
Organization and Leadership
Alliance members have created a strong organization with leadership committed to the organization’s mission, which is to foster a voluntary approach driven by landowners, water users, and public and private organizations to protect and enhance land, water, and economic resources in the Rathbun region.
This partnership includes the following individuals, organizations, and agencies: Participating landowners in the Rathbun Lake Watershed; CoBank; Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Division of Soil Conservation; Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Iowa State University; Iowa Watershed Improvement Review Board; Southern Iowa Development and Conservation Authority; US Army Corps of Engineers; US Environmental Protection Agency; USDA Farm Service Agency; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne Counties; Iowa Farm Bureau at the state and county levels; and Rathbun Regional Water Association.
The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance’s primary goal is to reduce sediment and phosphorus delivery to Rathbun Lake and water bodies in the lake’s watershed. The goal is to treat 30,000 acres of priority land, which will reduce annual sediment and phosphorus delivery to Rathbun Lake by an estimated 90,000 tons of sediment and 360,000 pounds of phosphorus. Monitoring water quality is essential to evaluating the effectiveness of the installed conservation practices.
Technical and financial assistance provided by project partners has allowed landowners with identified priority land to take advantage of cost share opportunities. The state’s low interest loan program is also available to landowners to construct best management practices such as terraces, planting grass waterways, grade stabilization structures, and sediment control basins.
Close to 600 landowners have worked with the Alliance to install practices in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. To date, these practices have prevented 49,484 tons of sediment and 213,204 pounds of phosphorous from being carried in runoff each year to Rathbun Lake.
More than 1.5 million feet of terraces and more than 500 sediment basins and grade stabilization structures have been installed since 2004.
Since the Protect Rathbun Lake Project began in 2004, Alliance members and partners have provided significant financial and technical support for the organization’s efforts. Close to $31 million in financial support has been contributed for project activities in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. Specific mention should be made of the nearly $5 million invested in best management practices by landowners in the watershed to protect Rathbun Lake.
The support has enabled the Alliance to share the cost of installing best management practices with landowners in the watershed as well as carry out other important project activities. This support also allows two full time staff to coordinate the installation of best management practices by working with watershed landowners at the field level and one technician is stationed in the Chariton field office.
In addition to the installation of conservation practices, the support enabled the creation of a landowner recognition program and helped fund water quality monitoring and Rathbun Lake shoreline and wetland restoration.
Landowner Recognition and Outreach
Without the cooperation of the Rathbun Lake Watershed landowners, the installation of soil saving practices that protect Rathbun Lake would not be possible. To recognize those who have shown exemplary stewardship in protecting Rathbun Lake, the Rathbun Lake Protector Program was developed. Each year, the Alliance invites the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in each of the watershed counties to nominate those who they believe have contributed to the protection of Rathbun Lake. Nominations were based on past efforts as well as present and planned actions to protect water quality.
These landowners are recognized at the Protect Rathbun Lake Annual Meeting held each fall. To date, more than 50 landowners have received this recognition. Each of these Rathbun Lake Protectors has had a sign installed on their farm recognizing them for their actions. Additionally, plaques engraved with the names of these landowners are displayed in each Soil and Water Conservation District office.
Conservation activities carried out by the Alliance’s Protect Rathbun Lake Project protect Rathbun Lake which is a water source for not only drinking water but is also a valuable recreation resource. It is visited by more than one million visitors each year, is home to Honey Creek Resort State Park, and provides valuable habitat to fish and wildlife.
In partnership with the Protect Rathbun Lake Project, the Iowa DNR and US Army Corps of Engineers have invested resources in the restoration and protection of the shoreline at Rathbun Lake. To date, this shoreline work has been completed at more than a dozen critical sites around Rathbun Lake. This work significantly reduces shoreline erosion at these sites, improves water quality, preserves important fish habitat, and protects recreational infrastructure.
Each fall at the Protect Rathbun Lake Annual Meeting, project staff provide an update of activities carried out during the past year. This event is regularly attended by 200 Rathbun Lake Watershed landowners. In the fall of 2016, the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance initiated the first Farm to Faucet Landowner Appreciation Event, which included a tour of the new Rathbun Regional Water Association’s water treatment facility.
To follow along with the Rathbun Lake Project, place presentation requests to the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance, and attend upcoming events, check out their website!