Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa

Cultivating a Community of Practice for Watershed Management

Submitted by Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center

The word is starting to get out on one of our latest Iowa Water Center initiatives: Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa (WMAs of Iowa). This is a statewide organization to unite the ever-growing numbers of Watershed Management Authorities in the state. The goal of this group is to create a network for WMAs to connect with each other, give WMAs a voice in the state, and serve as an information resource for all watershed management stakeholders. WMAs of Iowa helps cultivate a community of practice for watershed management in Iowa.

Let’s be honest here – we did not come up with this great idea. The need for this group came from the WMA stakeholders themselves, and they are the ones who will drive it. Multiple work sessions this winter with the WMA community resulted in a strategic framework that needed one thing: implementation. IWC proposed to act as a catalyst for implementation by offering administrative capacity – organizing meetings, managing a timeline, maintaining a listserv, coordinating all the work that has already gone into creating a presence for this group.

Right now, we’re in the process of inviting WMAs to join us, and we’re looking for board members from those existing and newly forming WMAs to drive the organization forward. We hope to have a board in place by this fall with a website, newsletter, and other outreach and resource activities to follow.

Why is IWC involved?

Great question.

I’ve confessed before to being the president of the WMA fan club, and waxed poetic about the effectiveness of watershed-based planning. I’ve also been using the admittedly odd metaphor that IWC can act as caulk for water groups in the state – we seek to fill gaps and build capacity that connects groups to use resources effectively and efficiently.

By building up WMAs in the state, we’re promoting a research-backed method of natural resource management that will lead to better water resource management and implementation of creative and practical solutions to water resources related problems. That is the reason we exist, you know. (Need proof? Read the Water Resources Research Act as amended in 2006!)

A Day at the Lake

Post submitted by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

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Slideshow of the Iowa Water Center Board visit to the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.

This week, the Iowa Water Center Advisory Board held their bi-annual meeting at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory at Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa. The IWC advisory board started in 2006, and is made up of representatives from around the state (list of members provided below). This was the first meeting for several of our board members, so we covered IWC history to start off the meeting and spent time discussing current and upcoming IWC activities.  Staff members and the advisory board also visited the research field sites for Elizabeth Swanner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences at Iowa State University.

Swanner’s research is funded by the Iowa Water Center’s competitive annual seed grant program. This grant program funds one faculty member at an Iowa college as well as graduate students. Swanner’s project titled, “The role of iron mobility from anoxic sediments in stimulating harmful algal blooms,” received funding in 2016 and renewed funding for 2017. During the visit, Swanner described the project and demonstrated how samples are collected during a pontoon boat ride. Her research is focused on evaluating the potential that iron is released out of lake sediments, thus stimulating the blooming of toxic cyanobacteria in Iowa’s lakes during the summers. You can read more about her research here.

Follow her research on twitter at @betsyswanner.

The Iowa Water Center Board Members

  • Larry Weber (Chair), Director of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, University of Iowa
  • Marty Adkins, Asst. State Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Daryl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Biology at University of Northern Iowa
  • Mary Skopec, Executive Director of Lakeside Laboratory
  • Jon Nania, Supervisory Hydrologist at the Iowa Water Science Center at the USGS (replacing Kevin Richards as USGS Iowa Water Science Center representative)
  • Jon Tack,  Water Quality Bureau Chief at the Iowa DNR (replacing Bill Ehm as IDNR representative)
  • Jake Hansen, Water Resources Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (replacing Jim Gillespie as IDALS representative)
  • John Lawrence, Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach
  • James Reecy, Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University (replacing Wolfgang Kliemann as ISU Vice President for Research representative)

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Mary Skopec for making the arrangements for our meeting at Lakeside Lab. We highly recommend trekking to Okoboji for a tour of the campus or to take one of Lakeside’s academic courses. Lakeside does a variety of outreach, too – so bring the entire family!

Soil – Agriculture’s Reservoir

Post submitted by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant for the Iowa Water Center

The soil is like a sponge that holds water so it is available when crops need it. Wetter soil at the surface prevents deeper infiltration and so water is lost as surface runoff. Not only this, but soil moisture is also a variable that influences the timing and amount of precipitation in a given area. This is due to the impact it has on the water cycle. This cycle circulates moisture from the ground through evaporation and plant transpiration to the atmosphere and back to the ground again through precipitation. Therefore, the amount of water stored in the soil can affect the amount of precipitation received during the growing season.

esa.PNG
Satellite imaging from the European Space Agency. The center figure depicts imaging derived from SMOS.

According to Hornbuckle (2014), “we enter each growing season ‘blind’ as to whether or not there will be enough soil moisture and precipitation to support productive crops.” If there were a way to document and record water storage in the soil besides field measurements, we would have a better ability to predict future weather patterns and therefore, make better field decisions. Satellite remote sensing tools such as the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and NASA’s Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) can be used to take such measurements. Before these tools can be used to estimate water storage and improve weather and climate predictions, researchers must compare them to what is actually measured within the soil. This process of confirming accuracy of a tool is called validation.

A project led by Dr. Brian Hornbuckle, and funded by the Iowa Water Center in 2014, sought to improve and validate SMOS and SMAP in near-surface soil moisture observations of Iowa. Hornbuckle used a network of soil moisture measurements located in the South Fork Watershed as a standard to validate the accuracy of SMOS and SMAP. At each site, soil moisture and precipitation was measured.

Some of the results of this research project are presented in a 2015 article published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology.  Rondinelli et al. found that SMOS and the network of soil moisture measurements detect different layers of the soil. SMOS takes measurements of the soil surface while the network observes a deeper level of soil. These results will allow scientists to better evaluate the accuracy of measurements from SMOS and SMAP and ultimately enhance our understanding of the water content of the soil surface.  As noted earlier, it is this layer of the soil that determines how much precipitation is lost to surface runoff.

In a subsequent study published in 2016, Hornbuckle et al. published further results that indicate new ways of using SMOS. Researchers found that SMOS can be used to look at water in vegetation, as opposed to water in the soil.  Hence SMOS might be used in the future to observe the growth and development of crops, and perhaps estimate yield and the time of harvest as opposed to conducting field surveys from the ground. It also has the potential to measure estimates of the biomass produced during the growing season, which could be useful to reach bioenergy production goals.

Research like this demonstrates that a single tool can be used in multiple ways to better understand our landscape. Not only this, but preliminary studies of SMOS also show that it is important to verify the accuracy of tools before relying on them. Like all research, the work is not done to identify all the potential uses for SMOS and SMAP.  A new NASA grant, in partnership with the Iowa Flood Center, will help get researchers even closer to making satellite measurements a useful, scientific tool to understand water near the soil surface.

References

Hornbuckle, Brian K. “New Satellites for Soil Moisture: Good for Iowans!.” A Letter from the Soil & Water Conservation Club President (2014): 20.

Hornbuckle, Brian K. Jason C. Patton, Andy VanLoocke, Andrew E. Suyker, Matthew C. Roby, Victoria A. Walker, Eswar R Iyer, Daryl E. Herzmann, and Erik A. Endacott. 2016. SMOS optical thickness changes in response to the growth and development of crops, crop management, and weather. Remote Sensing Environment (180) 320-333.

Rondinelli, Wesley J., Brian K. Hornbuckle, Jason C. Patton, Michael H. Cosh, Victoria A. Walker, Benjamin D. Carr, Sally D. Logsdon. 2015. Different Rates of Soil Drying after Rainfall Are Observed by the SMOS Satellite and the South Fork in situ Soil Moisture Network. Journal of Hydrometeorology. April 2015.

 

Home by the Water (essay)

In honor of publishing the 2017 Spirit of the Water Essay Contest, the Iowa Water Center staff have decided to join in and answer the chosen essay prompt for the contest.

This year, the prompt was: Think of a body of water that you are familiar with and the different kinds of benefits that it provides to the surrounding area. Why are places like that worth protecting?

Left Clockwise: Mississippi River in Davenport, IA; Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, IA; and West Lake Park in Davenport, IA. Photos by Amy Zank.

Home by the Water

Story submitted by Melissa Miller, Associate Director for the Iowa Water Center

The night before I left my hometown for my freshman year of college, I told my parents I was going for one last drive around town. I toured the familiar streets of my neighborhood, cruised past the busy big box store corridor where I’d held a couple of part-time jobs, then made my way down to the riverfront to say goodbye to the Mighty Mississippi. Growing up in a river town, it’s no surprise that water shaped my childhood.

For the first ten years of my life, I lived on a dead-end street that backed up to a stream. We weren’t supposed to play in the creek, but with my parents at work, an older brother and sister, and a neighborhood full of kids our ages, I spent a lot of summer days in and around that water. It was shallow enough for a six year old to splash around without fear, but deep enough to examine peculiar aquatic creatures and concoct creative means for catching small fish. The rest of the year, Candlelight Creek guided me home from school each day.

My fond childhood memories of water don’t stop at the end of the creek. Even as a city kid, I knew how to bait a hook by the time I was in kindergarten. My grandpa would take us to West Lake Park out at the edge of town and we’d catch bluegill and crawdads all day long. We feared the day we would be old enough to need a fishing license and worried Grandpa wouldn’t want to take us anymore if it cost money.

I never fished in the Mississippi, but I’ve always been drawn to it for reasons I didn’t try to understand. We watched minor league baseball at John O’Donnell Stadium (now called Modern Woodman Park, but old habits die heard); listened to concerts at the bandshell in LeClaire Park; took prom pictures with the Centennial Bridge in the background; worshiped at sunrise service near the banks on Easter morning; cycled along its shores on the bike path; admired (okay, envied) the historic mansions on River Drive. Those are all things you can do just about anywhere – but the river just makes everything better.

There are lots of reasons to protect the Mississippi River, West Lake, and Candlelight Creek – commerce, transportation, recreation, habitat and ecosystem preservation, to name a few – but my reason for protecting the water is simple. Water is home.

Not too far from the farm where I live now runs the South Fork of the Iowa River. I hope my daughters know the joy of wading to a sand bar hoping to discover wildlife and the comfort of setting up camp on the banks to sit in the peace of their surroundings. I hope on the night before they leave their childhood home to set off on a new adventure, they tell me, “Mom, I’m going to the river.” In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to protect the water, our home.

Iowa Water Conference 2017

Submitted by Solomon Worlds, Iowa Water Center Science Communication Intern

Dear Readership:

The discussion of water research and policy at the Iowa Water Conference was far from dry. As a student who is very interested in the happenings of Iowa’s waterways, I found many aspects of the conference very informative.

The first presentation, “From the Bottom Up,” was a terrific way to get everyone engaged right from the start. Chad’s story of cleaning the Mississippi river, among others, was inspiring and exhilarating. The sessions after this were all quite informative, but I remember thinking, “I know nothing.” As I expressed in the past, my water knowledge is shabby at best and that was never more salient than it was when I was at the Iowa Water Conference (It also did not help that I was ill and made frequent trips to the restroom to wash my hands to prevent the spread of germs).

The second day, which featured a version of me that did not have a fever or a runny nose, was much more enjoyable. I was also the moderator for the “Engaging the community as a partner” sessions. Hearing about a project that has happened in a community near me in the second session was fascinating. I had no idea that so much was happening right in my city. Hearing about new scientific educational methods to engage our young students early on in their education was also very interesting, as I have been a student for the bulk of my young life. The last discussion in that track was on communicating the risk of what is happening and, as a science communicator, I found that immensely useful.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the Iowa Water Conference. I wish I had been healthier, but that is not the Water Conference’s problem. I did feel a bit isolated, however, being that my research is in psychology and policy. I would recommend brushing up on H2O before you decide to go.

 

Flow freely my friends,

P.S.: Rick Cruse is a man of many talents. When he is not leading the Iowa Water Center, he writes lyrics to famous songs. Check it out! https://youtu.be/SPeHRhxhBI4

Solomon Furious Worlds

Iowa Watershed Management Authorities: Notes from the Statewide WMA Meeting

Post submitted by Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center

At a recent Iowa Watershed Approach meeting, I introduced myself (half-jokingly) as the president of the Watershed Management Authority Fan Club. As evidenced by my post last fall after a trip to the Cedar River Watershed Coalition meeting, I am a strong supporter of a watershed approach to natural resource management. Naturally, Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs) are a recipient of my affection.

A brief overview for those not familiar with WMAs: Watershed Management Authorities are a state of Iowa-recognized mechanism for encouraging the collaboration of the different communities within a watershed and enacting watershed based planning, including adoption of conservation practices that mitigate flooding and improve water quality. WMAs were first introduced in Iowa in 2010 when Iowa code 466B was enacted. Major initiatives of this chapter include the formation of the Watershed Resources Coordinating Council (WRCC), Watershed Planning Action Committee (WPAC), the Water Quality Initiative (WQI), and WMAs. There are currently 17 WMAs in the state, with at least five more on deck for formation.

At a statewide WMA meeting on February 7, 2017, representatives from those WMAs gathered in Dubuque, Iowa to give updates and to talk strategy, successes, and collaboration. Mary Beth Stevenson with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) kicked off the afternoon with some fun facts about WMAs, including:

  • 17 WMAs have received funding for planning or implementation through IDNR, Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship, or the Iowa Watersheds Project or the Iowa Watershed Approach (two rounds of grant funding from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development)
  • 15 WMAs currently have funding at some level
  • 10 WMAs are funded at a level with enough money for full-time staff and implementation
  • 12 WMAs have or will have some level of paid staff, even if just part-time, funded locally and/or through grant funds

This is a promising start for WMAs as a successful vehicle for watershed management. Even more promising were the updates from the WMAs. Everyone had something to report from across the state. Indian Creek, one of the original six WMAs in 2012, is looking to hire a coordinator and completed an annual review that is turning into a strategic plan. Turkey River WMA, one of the “original HUD” projects  succeeded in influencing policy in all participating political subdivisions (and achieved a 5% flood reduction in Otter Creek with the construction of 29 well-placed structures). In the Walnut Creek WMA a soil and water conservation district staff member found a lamprey (nearly extinct) in a CREP wetland. The Maquoketa River is also in the process of forming a WMA, not because they have outside funding, but simply because they have a group of interested citizens that recognize the benefits of working together.

These are just a few updates of many. My pen could hardly keep up and I couldn’t keep from asking questions. It is extremely energizing to be in a room full of people sharing ideas, concerns and solutions, and I wanted to learn all that I could. After the updates, Polk County WMA Coordinator John Swanson presented the unique activities happening in his part of the state (we will feature that presentation in its own post in the near future). We finished by breaking out into small groups to talk about how to keep WMA momentum going, establishing a WMA coordinator/staff position, watershed plan development and assessment, and how to structure a WMA collaborative group that communicates regularly to move all WMAs forward.

Citizen engagement is critical to the success of watershed management. I will leave you today with a challenge: find the WMA nearest you, even if you don’t live in that watershed, and attend a quarterly meeting. After you attend, you may just want to join my Watershed Management Authority Fan Club.