Summer Update from the IWC Graduate Student Research Grant Program: Emily Martin

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Post submitted by Emily Martin, MS Environmental Science student at Iowa State University

Intensive farming and heavy nutrient application in the Midwest coupled with an extensive subsurface tile drainage network frequently leads to excessive nutrients in surface waters. As a result, heavy amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus has become a critical issue for policy and water research.

In spring 2017, I was awarded funding in the Iowa Water Center Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition for my project titled, “Enhancing phosphate removal in woodchip bioreactors.” This project is conducted under advisement of Dr. Michelle Soupir at Iowa State University. A bioreactor is a subsurface trench along the edge of the field that can be filled with a range of different carbon sources. They are identified as a practice to help mitigate nutrient loss to flowing water systems, and so they deserve further research to understand their full capacity to capture water nutrients.

The goal of the project is to evaluate the ability of woodchip bioreactors to remove phosphorous by adding biochar as a phosphate (P) amendment to bioreactors. Objectives of the study are (1) to assess the effectiveness of different amendments on P removal in bioreactors and (2) to analyze the effect of influent P on overall removal.

We broke the project down into two main parts: a P sorption study and a column study. We completed part one during the month of June using 18 different types of biochar. The biochar was made by Bernardo Del Campo at ARTichar using three different temperatures of slow pyrolysis, 400°C, 600°C, and 800°C. We used six different types of biomass provided by the BioCentury Research Farm and the City of Ames, which are: switchgrass, corn stover, ash trees, red oak, mixed pine, and loblolly pine. The goal was to test a variety of biomass to see which would perform best as a P amendment and under which pyrolysis conditions they would function best.

Biochar is made using a process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the burning of plant materials in a low to no oxygen chamber in order to “activate” the carbon structures that exists naturally within plants. The highly structured form of carbon rings in plants is desired for its stability and potential to adsorb or bind with chemicals, including phosphate and nitrate. There are two main types of pyrolysis: fast and slow, which refers to the amount of time the biomass remains in the pyrolysis chamber. Fast pyrolysis can be used to create biochar, but the yield is lower than slow pyrolysis. The temperature of pyrolysis can impact how the biochar interacts with different chemicals. In order to test these effects, we used three different temperatures when making our biochar.

Results from the P sorption study showed a few patterns. The main take away is that none of the biochars we tested adsorbed P exceptionally well; however, of the biochars we tested, the following were our top five P adsorbers:

  1. Corn stover @ 800°C
  2. Loblolly pine @ 600°C
  3. Red oak @ 600°C
  4. Switch grass @ 800°C
  5. Mixed pine @ 400°C

Because none of the biochars performed well in our P sorption test, we had to make a decision for the second part of the project. We came up with two options: (1) find new biomass and run the P sorption test again, or (2) test how well all 18 biochars remove nitrate from water. We chose option two and have begun nitrate batch tests, which will run throughout July. The batch tests are being run in one liter flasks and are tested at 4, 8, 12, and 24 hours to simulate woodchip bioreactor residence times found in the field.

After the nitrate batch test is complete, we will analyze results and decide if we will move forward with option one and see how other biomasses perform in a P sorption test.

Check back later on to learn more about the progress of this project!

 

Caring for Creation & Sister Water

Submitted by Emilia Sautter, Ecospirituality Coordinator at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center. Post originally appeared in the Prairiewoods’ Newsletter

Caring for Sister Water was one of many creation care efforts that came with the founding of Prairiewoods 20 years ago. These efforts included two infiltration ponds that hold much of the water that runs off our parking lots and roadways, as well as numerous trees and plants with extensive root systems that hold and cleanse water. After the Cedar Rapids floods of 2008, we doubled our efforts to address storm water concerns— we installed permeable pavers, hosted rain barrel classes and identified four storm water culverts that drain on our land. Varying degrees of erosion meant that all four of these culvert areas needed attention.

The first project—the North Culvert—was addressed in the fall of 2013. We built a series of rock check dams to help slow storm water, reducing the erosion that was degrading the area.

The East Culvert, the largest culvert on our property, recently was completed, thanks to generous grants from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Rockwell Collins. This culvert has a drainage area of about 73 acres, meaning that water from more than 70 acres drains onto our land through this storm water culvert. The water then flows into Dry Creek and eventually into the Indian Creek and Cedar River Watersheds. (The Cedar River Watershed includes Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids and a number of other communities. It is what flooded in 2008.) Over the years, rain events and impervious surfaces (such as roads, driveways and turf grass) have forced large amounts of fast moving water through this culvert, degrading the culvert and resulting in severe stream bank erosion.

Why do we care? Erosion means soil loss, soil loss leads to sedimentation in the water, and sedimentation (the number one cause of water pollution in Iowa) leads to reduced water quality (1). Soil is the foundation of our entire food system, and without it we humans could not live. The health of Sister Water is a direct reflection of our own health, as our bodies are about 60% water.

During the East Culvert Project, we reshaped the eroded banks to allow water to spread out. We also re-seeded the banks with vegetation that better holds the soil. We removed some trees to allow more light in to help the vegetation thrive.

One way to help Sister Water is to move away from systems that force water into our waterways, since this leads to flooding and water pollution. Sister Water wants to move more slowly, at her own pace, nourishing flora and fauna as she infiltrates back into Earth. At Prairiewoods, we want to help her as best we can.

Thanks to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Rockwell Collins, we are offering free educational classes as part of our East Culvert Project. Join us for EarthFriendly Lawn Care on Sept. 29 (see p. 9 for details) or for upcoming Rain Barrel Classes (see our website for details). Visit  www.IowaStormWater.org to learn what you can do with your own lawn.  And if you are a Cedar Rapids resident, visit  www.Cedar-Rapids.org to learn how you can get reimbursed for up to 50% of storm water retention projects on your property

(1) Statistic is regarding the source of surface water pollution by volume in Iowa. Source: https://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/conservation/education/nature-in-iowa/water-quality/.

Development of a Watershed Project Extension

Post submitted by Jordan Kolarik, Wright Soil and Water Conservation District Project Coordinator

boone logoThe Boone River Watershed Nutrient Management Initiative project has been granted additional funding from Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). This is in order to extend the project for another three years to increase the use of conservation and water quality practices in Prairie and Eagle Creek Watersheds. In these projects, we will continue working towards meeting Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. The extension process involved writing a new grant application based on the lessons learned from our first three years.

The project, led by the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, started in 2014 with funding that was split between two sub watersheds within the Boone River Watershed. For the last three years the project employed two half time watershed coordinators, one that worked on the Eagle Creek Watershed and one who worked on the Prairie Creek Watershed. Project coordinators, among many things, are responsible for holding and attending outreach events, are responsible for project cost share applications and the conservation planning that goes with them, and grant administration for the project.

I started as a half time project coordinator in the Prairie Creek Watershed in the fall of 2015. At the end of last year, I became the full-time coordinator for both sub watersheds in this project. For the project extension application, I had creative control over adjustments to the projects focus, goals, and cost share options. I could utilize the lessons learned from the first three years of the project, my experiences and observations in the first year working with the project, and specific requests that I received from grant funders, partners and producers.

In the extension, we sought to increase collaboration and coordination with partners to implement innovative ways to reach new audiences and to improve technical assistance. We seek to transition to an increased focus on implementation of conservation practices that provide long term benefits (i.e. long term adoption of cover crops and edge-of-field practices).

As a result, I decided to change the cost share options in a way that I believe will encourage long term adoption of cover crops. This is by offering cost share at a higher rate for producers that sign up for three years compared to a one year sign up. Another request includes giving a higher cost share rate to those who are (1) first time users of cover crops, (2) going into a new crop, or (3) users of winter hardy species. We will also offer a higher rate to those who commit to doing both cover crops and strip-till/no-till.

IDALS requested a watershed plan to be completed by the end of the first year of our extension to identify the best locations not only for in-field practices, but also for edge-of-field practices. These include bioreactors, saturated buffers, filter strips, and wetlands. This will allow for a more focused approach to increase edge-of-field practices and help use resources in areas that will provide the greatest conservation benefits. The project will continue to provide cost share assistance for these practices, but will also work to leverage additional funding sources so that we may offer up to 100% cost share.

Education and outreach strategies will emphasize past successful efforts, such as hosting field days and meetings, social media presence, informational mailings, and recognition of local “Farmers Champions.” We are also adopting new ways to reach individuals not informed through these traditional approaches. To increase local partnership and locally led efforts, I came up with the idea to form two community-based groups as a way for local landowners and businesses to stay informed and get involved. The Friends of the Boone River group will help educate and keep the community updated on what is happening in the watershed. This group will also be an informational resource for those who would like to get involved through our mailing list. In addition, local businesses can become a Friend and, if interested, they will be added to a contact list for the project. The formation of The Boone River Watershed Conservation Farmer Advisory Group, led by local “Farmer Champions,” will provide insight to the project as well as education and outreach opportunities beyond the time and scope of the project.

One of the major objectives of this project is to increase the amount of long-term conservation practices on the land, and so permanent changes will be tracked through documenting the number of practices and the number of acres that they treat. It is our goal to have 50 farmers implement long term conservation practices and see a total of 6,000 acres of conservation practices. Lastly, we hope to see measureable improvement in the water quality of Eagle and Prairie Creek, which will be measured through voluntary tile water monitoring, edge of field practice water monitoring, and in-stream watershed scale monitoring. This will allow the project to assess the impacts agriculture management and water quality improvement practices are having on water quality.

The key changes to this watershed project extension have the theme of long-term adoption and increase participation. Everyone has a role to play if we are going to meet the nutrient reduction goals, regardless of where you live or where you work.

If you would like to learn more about the project, contact Jordan Kolarik at jordan.kolarik@ia.nacdnet.net.

Iowa State University Research Farms Utilize Conservation Practices for Science, Stewardship

Story originally appeared on the Iowa State University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences website

Iowa State University’s 13 Research and Demonstration Farms around the state have served for decades as models of agricultural and scientific progress for Iowa’s farmers and landowners.

The same holds true for the goals of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

For years the university’s agricultural researchers have used the farms to study and demonstrate the effects of conservation practices to preserve water quality, keep soils productive and improve the environment. The work has been conducted on acres devoted to research and those not currently in research plots but devoted to producing crops or sustaining livestock.

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Angie Rieck-Hinz talks with farmers about the benefits of different types of cover crops at a field day at the Northern Research and Demonstration Farm.

The ISU research farms strive to serve as models of stewardship by implementing practices on fields, field edges and streamside borders. By practicing what they preach, these farms inspire visitors to do the same.

Matt Schnabel, the superintendent at ISU’s Northern Research Farm near Kanawha, said the farm serves as a model for neighboring farmers.

Cover crops

“The majority of our fields without trials are planted with cover crops. We also have planted milkweed for monarch butterfly conservation and for pollinator habitat,” said Schnabel, a 2010 graduate of ISU in agricultural systems technology. “All these practices add benefits to the land, environment and cropping system. Installing and utilizing these practices on our research farm allows farmers to see things first-hand before implementing on their own farms. We act as a guinea pig and show them what they can do on their land.”

Schnabel said he’d like to put more acres into habitat, reduced tillage, and add saturated buffers. Saturated buffers reduce the movement of nutrients by diverting a portion of tile flow into shallow groundwater. This raises the water table of the buffer and allows organic matter to remove nitrate before the water enters an adjacent stream.

Cover crops are one practice outlined in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nitrate leaching from fields. Additionally, cover crops are beneficial to agricultural systems by increasing soil organic matter. Ames-area ISU farms have been using oats, radishes or winter rye as cover crops.

Tim Goode, manager for ISU Research and Demonstration Farms and the Committee for Agricultural Development, a nonprofit affiliated university organization, said that in the last year 800 acres of cover crops were planted on research farms and other acres of cropland. Besides cover crops, the research farms use an array of 18 other nutrient management practices from the strategy, including wetlands, extended rotations and runoff retention.

“The research farms use a broad range of nutrient management practices,” Goode said. “In the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the Iowa State-led science assessment team lists many research-proven practices to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous losses. Each of these practices have been studied and then implemented multiple times on ISU-managed farmland, either in the Ames area or on farms around the state.”

Long-term projects at the Northeast research farm

The ISU research farm near Nashua celebrated its 40th anniversary last year and has been a long-term example of water quality and conservation success, thanks to a university, local group and agribusiness partnership. The Nashua research farm has been the site of dozens water quality research projects and many field days to show off the results.

The Nashua farm has implemented and maintained many conservation practices, including cover crops, buffers and bioreactors. Its water quality plots — each drained by a separate tile drainage line in a long-term monitoring project — was initiated in 1988, with funding from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The farm also installed an early version of a bioreactor, an edge-of-field conservation practice that removes tile flow nitrates by way of denitrification through a woodchip basin underground. The next generation of bioreactor research is closer to campus near Boone at the Agricultural Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm. At this site, scientists monitor nine experimental bioreactors which are being tested for various tile drainage volumes and fill materials with funding provided by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

In the coming year, the next installation of water quality projects will be completed by ISU partnering with Committee for Agricultural Development, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Big Creek Watershed Protection Project and the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District on a university-managed farm near Madrid. At this location, a series of three conservation practices will be installed to reduce the nutrient load entering Big Creek:  saturated buffers, an oxbow wetland and a double-barreled bioreactor. Each of these conservation practices has been outlined in the strategy as effective edge-of-field nutrient management tools.

“Many research and educational needs, demands, uses and decisions impact how ISU-managed land is used annually. But overall, ISU is strongly committed to managing farmland and implementing practices in a manner that supports land stewardship over the long term,” Goode said.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner.

Conservation/Nutrient Management Practices by farm

Agricultural Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm near Boone

  • Wetlands
  • Buffers
  • Runoff retention
  • Oat and winter rye cover crops
  • Perennial energy crops
  • Strip tillage
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • N fertilizer inhibitor

Allee Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Newell

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Perennial energy crops
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • N fertilizer inhibitor

Armstrong Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Lewis

  • Wetlands
  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Central Iowa Research and Demonstration Farms near Ames

  • Wetlands
  • Bioreactor
  • Oat and radish cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Perennial energy crops
  • Strip tillage
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Horticulture Research Station near Ames

  • Winter rye cover crop
  • Terraces
  • Runoff retention
  • Perennial crops
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation

McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Chariton

  • Oat and winter rye cover crops
  • Extended rotation of alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Extended rotations with grass and alfalfa
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Muscatine Island Research and Demonstration Farm near Fruitland

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • Strip tillage

Neely-Kinyon Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Greenfield

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Nashua

  • Bioreactors
  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • Strip tillage

Northern Research and Demonstration Farm near Kanawha

  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Oat and winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Strip Tillage
  • Controlled drainage
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Northwest Research and Demonstration Farm near Sutherland

  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Buffers
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer

Southeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Crawfordsville

  • Buffers
  • Extended rotation of alfalfa
  • Strip Tillage
  • Wetlands
  • Controlled drainage
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
  • Perennial energy crops

Western Research and Demonstration Farm near Castana

  • Buffers
  • Terraces
  • Runoff retention
  • Winter rye cover crops
  • Extended rotations with alfalfa
  • Fertilizer rates based on soil testing
  • Phosphorus fertilizer and manure incorporation
  • Managed timing and rates of N fertilizer
Contacts:

Tim Goode, Iowa State Research Farms, 641-751-0280, trgoode@iastate.edu
Matt Schnabel, ISU Northern Research Farm, 507-923-5368, mschn@iastate.edu
Dana Woolley, Iowa Nutrient Research Center, 515-294-5905, dwoolley@iastate.edu

Introducing the Iowa Watershed Approach

Post originally appeared on the Iowa Learning Farms website

Today’s guest post was provided by Adam Wilke ISU Extension and Outreach Water Specialist.

The Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) is a new five-year project focused on addressing factors associated with flood disasters in the state of Iowa. The IWA project will also provide benefits of improved water quality by implementing conservation practices outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

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Assessing Cedar River flood waters, September 2016. Photo courtesy Brian Powers/DSM Register

The “HUD Project,” as it is commonly referred, was awarded $96.9 million by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The National Disaster Resilience Competition provided $1 billion to communities that have experienced recent significant natural disasters, including Iowa’s three flood-related Presidential Disaster Declarations in 2013. Iowans remember the devastating floods of 2008 and 1993, and some are still working to repair damage from September 2016 flooding.

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Map of the Iowa Watershed Approach. Courtesy of Iowa Flood Center.

The IWA focuses on nine watersheds throughout the state, representing varying soil types, topographic regions, and land uses. These watersheds were prioritized as regions that have been most impacted and distressed from previous flood events and have unmet recovery needs. The IWA is a vision for both rural and urban resilience, and three cities (Storm Lake, Coralville, and Dubuque) are priority areas for the project.

Previous efforts to address flooding impacts were piloted through the Iowa Watersheds Project in five watersheds throughout the state in 2010. By 2016, over 65 constructed practices—such as ponds, wetlands, and terraces—have been completed.

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Road damage from Cedar River flood, June 2008. Courtesy Iowa Dept. of Transportation

The theme of year one is “The Iowa Watershed Approach: A Visions for Iowa’s Future Under Changing Hydrologic Conditions.” Climate science indicates that annual average precipitation in Iowa has trended upward over the last 100 years and extreme precipitation events (more than 1.25 inches per day) have increased throughout the state. University of Iowa research of 774 U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges found an upward trend in frequency of flooding throughout the Central U.S. over the past 50 years. This has contributed to crop loss and destruction of infrastructure, such as homes, roads, and bridges.

The IWA will work to achieve six specific outcomes:

  1. Reduce flood risk
  2. Improve water quality
  3. Increase flood resilience
  4. Engage stakeholders through collaboration and outreach/education
  5. Improve quality of life and health, especially for susceptible populations
  6. Develop a program that is scalable and replicable throughout the Midwest and the United States

The IWA focuses on innovative in-field and edge-of-field practices to reduce flood potential and decrease nutrient concentration in surface water. The practices include:

• Wetland Construction                              • Farm Ponds
• Storm Water Detention Basins              • Terraces
• Sediment Detention Basins                    • Floodplain Restoration
• Channel Bank Stabilization                    • Buffer Strips
• Saturated Buffers                                       • Perennial Cover
• Oxbow Restoration                                     • Bioreactors
• Prairie STRIPS

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Courtesy ISU Extension and Outreach. 

The IWA project creates Watershed Management Authorities (WMA) and these organizations allow for a broad range of stakeholders—including scientists, state agencies, counties, municipalities, farmers, and citizens—to organize and work towards the common goals of flood reduction and water quality improvement. Some watersheds, such as the Middle Cedar, have established WMAs, while others are beginning the formation process.

Stream gauges will provide data for the Iowa Flood Center to conduct hydrological assessments in each watershed and allow researchers to assess risks associated with flooding and water quality, including developing and evaluating future scenarios to maximize results from project resources.

WMA will use these findings to best select eligible subwatersheds at the HUC 12 (Hydrologic Unit Code) scale and prioritize implementation of constructed projects. Stakeholder inputs, watershed plans, and hydrological assessments will guide the WMAs in selecting the most beneficial practices and appropriate locations.

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Courtesy ISU Extension and Outreach.

This project combines the strengths and efforts of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and the Daily Erosion Project by the Iowa Water Center to achieve these goals. The IWA is a new way to think about the movement of water across the Iowa landscape. One of the most important pieces of completing such a large and complicated project is to ensure stakeholder engagement throughout the project. We look forward to hearing your questions, thoughts, and concerns as we all seek the common goal of reducing flood disaster and ensuring water quality for generations to come.

–Adam Wilke

Monona Demonstrates its Commitment to Water Quality

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Monona Fire Department’s demonstration of the infiltration characteristics of the permeable parking lot. Photo contributed by Eric Palas.

Story submitted by Eric Palas, Project Coordinator for Clayton County SWCD

The City of Monona is in the rolling hills of Clayton County in Northeast Iowa.  The picturesque town of 1,500 is known as the “Garden City of Iowa.”  It is a local hub for outdoor enthusiasts just a few miles from the Mississippi River.  Monona serves as an example of a community that recognizes its connection to its water resources, and is taking steps to protect and improve them.  In 2014, the city created a permeable parking lot near their family aquatic center.  The permeable lot soaks up surface water that once carried sediment and other pollutants downstream to Silver Creek.  This summer, the city continued its efforts by installing a permeable roadway adjacent to the parking lot.

In 2012, Monona joined with twenty-two cities, five counties, and seven soil and water conservation districts to form the Turkey River Watershed Management Authority (WMA).  WMA members agreed to work together to assess and reduce flood risks, improve water quality, and develop a plan to address these problems.  The process allowed the city council and staff to better understand the importance and benefits of controlling storm water runoff.  Monona’s leadership realized that downstream flooding could be reduced and water quality could be improved by including storm water control practices when city infrastructure was designed or replaced.

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Permeable roadway completed this fall. Photo contributed by Eric Palas.

The permeable parking lot carried a price tag of about $260,000.  The project would not have been possible without the Water Resource Restoration (Sponsored Projects) Program.  The Sponsored Project program allowed Monona to defer a portion of the interest on its sewer project loan, and use those funds for watershed protection practices.  The program is a joint effort of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Finance Authority, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.  The permeable roadway project was also supported by the Sponsored Projects program.

While Monona was able to obtain funding to make these projects possible, the city understands the need to protect Iowa’s water resources.  The Monona City Council recently adopted a new Storm Water Management ordinance.  The ordinance requires property owners and developers to implement storm water management plans for all new commercial and residential development.  In 2012, the city completed $2.6M of Phase I improvements to its wastewater treatment facility and is currently working on $1.8M of Phase II improvements to the sanitary sewer drainage collection system.  Both construction phases will improve and protect water quality by more effectively processing wastewater.  All of these efforts demonstrate Monona’s commitment to protect the watersheds that it is a part of.

Get to know the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance

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.

Project Highlights

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.

State Recognition

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.

Project Goals

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.

Results

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.

Financial Support

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.

Valuable Resources

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.

Annual Meeting

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!