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!)


Geographic Information Systems at Iowa State University

We “dig” the data…

Written by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

Big data requires big software and big ideas. This can especially be  true when it comes to managing our water-related resources. Today, we have access to numerous data points about our soil and water that can assist in understanding current landscape conditions and to plan for the future. Information such as this is not useful unless it can be analyzed by the experts using software such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Recently, Inside Iowa State published a story regarding the geographic information systems support and research facility located on the Iowa State University campus. This facility provides a myriad of resources for teaching and tools related to using GIS for mapping and analyzing data. This facility not only trains students and provides extension services, but is also making an impact on “groundbreaking” research. Knowledge can be a powerful tool not only in enabling better policy and practices, but to inspire researchers to tackle innovative projects.

Work associated with the facility is The Daily Erosion Project. This is a research project housed within the Iowa Water Center and is driven by vast amounts of natural science information for better assessment of our soil. This research endeavor uses a multitude of data sources, including soil types, hill slopes, daily precipitation, and other data points to estimate soil movement and water runoff from the rolling hills of Iowa on a daily basis. All of this information is processed and transformed by a team of scientists and analysts to enable better decision-making on land uses in the Midwest. You can read more about it from Dr. Richard Cruse here.

What can the Daily Erosion Project be used for, you ask?

Output from the tool can provide an inventory of soil loss at the watershed level, assess the potential for water storage capacity in the soil, and be used to identify sensitive areas to target the use of conservation practices.  As the project acquires more information and interest by the public, it is expanding. Currently, the tool is growing to provide assessments in Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Illinois.

Our landscapes are ever-changing. Because of this, it is energizing to see the tools and the talent at work through research facilities and solution-centered projects to tackle the critical problems we face in managing our soil and water resources.


Eagle Grove Students Learn about Conservation Practices on the Farm

Tim Smith, an Eagle Grove, Iowa farmer, takes students out in the field on his farm.

Story submitted by Bruce Voigts, Project Coordinator for the Boone River Watershed Water Quality Initiative Project, Clarion, Iowa.

Eagle Grove, IA – On September 20th, the Earth Science class from the Eagle Grove High School took a field trip to a farm operated by Tim Smith. Smith, a White House Champion of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture, showed how he incorporates cover crops, strip tillage, and a bioreactor into his farm operation. Students also traveled 12 miles north of his farm to tour a wetland CREP site. Tim, along with Bruce Voigts and Tas Stephen from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the Clarion USDA office, discussed the benefits these practices add to soil health and water quality.

The wetland tour showed a wetland site that was under construction. Research has demonstrated that strategically sited and designed CREP wetlands, like the one they toured, can remove an average of about 40% of nitrates from cropland drainage waters, according to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.  The CREP wetland has a total of 1,025 acres that flow into it. Wetlands not only address water quality impacts from nitrogen and phosphorus, but can also promote wildlife and habitat diversity in Iowa. Even though the wetland is under construction, there were numerous water birds out on the water with countless tracks in the mud of previous “visitors” to the pool that is starting to fill with water.  Ducks and wading birds were plentiful.

Overall, students noted that the field trip was very informative and would assist in writing a report on conservation for their Earth Science class. By gaining firsthand experience on the farm, they were able to see and learn how farmers across Iowa can help reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loss from their farm fields.

Have a water-related story you want to share about your community? Submit it to us at hbates@iastate.edu.

The Elixir of Life: An Invitation

Guest blog by Jodi Enos-Berlage, Biology Professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa

Water—one of the simplest molecules on earth, is the basis for all life, and this requirement is non-negotiable. The great mystery then, is how we humans have allowed this sacred molecule to become the most polluted substance on earth, and what we should do to solve this problem.

Six years ago, an ISU Extension representative called me to ask if I would be interested in leading a water quality monitoring effort in an impaired waterhshed in Northeast Iowa. I was a scientist and an educator who grew up on a farm. I had read about the many water quality problems in Iowa. In fact, I lived in this impaired watershed, and knew my farm might be contributing to the problem. I said yes.

What began as project to collect water quality data evolved into something much bigger—sharing data and forming relationships with local farmers, using that data to secure funding for water quality improvement practices, developing a three-week, water-focused laboratory in my microbiology course, six years of water quality research involving over 15 undergraduate students, eight presentations and publications, and finally, an amazing collaboration with a dancer, a musician, and a cinematographer at Luther College that resulted in Body of Water. I now invite you to experience this unique work.

Body of Water is an original, unique performance that intermixes dance, music and video components. Art and science are intentionally interwoven to create an end product more powerful than the sum of its parts. The overall goal was to reveal the sacredness of this essential molecule and elixir of life. No one in our group was aware of a precedent for this type of performance, so it was a real experiment.  While the videos, many of which I narrate, tell the story of the essentialness of water for life, its geographic connectivity, its chemistry and biology, and the major pollutants that impact both surface and groundwater, the dancers and musicians produce complementary and novel movements that provide the basis for emotional and human connection.  We spent hours interviewing various stakeholders about water–this informed the performance, and some of their visual and audio clips are included.  Local and state water issues, both agricultural and urban, are highlighted.  The reverence that Native American populations have consistently and powerfully exhibited for this precious resource also inspired the work.

Notably, the purpose of the performance was not to take any particular position, e.g., a regulatory or voluntary approach, mainly because no matter where someone might stand on this spectrum, it has a divisive effect.  Our goal was to create a performance that would unite, through an informational, and perhaps more importantly, emotional and spiritual experience. Based on the audience responses at the multiple sold out shows at Luther College, and at the subsequent Grinnell Summer Arts Festival, we are humbled by the outcome.  The audience we attracted at Luther was one of the most diverse ever in terms of a performance, and included members of agricultural, urban, and conservation groups, scientists and artists, educators and students, and community members and leaders. It is our sincere hope that the performance at ISU will attract a similarly diverse audience.

We are incredibly excited to be partnering with a group of Ames High School students—the Bluestem Institute—for the pre-performance, as the creative work of our young people provides the greatest inspiration. These students will be presenting the beautiful products of their year-long research and service learning project focused on water. We have much to learn from them.

Ultimately, we acknowledge Body of Water as a prayer to return to a right relationship with the earth—recognizing that our own success is not dependent our abilities to control or dominate, but on our abilities to harmonize and see ourselves as a part. In this spirit, we are freely contributing our energies to spread this message. There is no charge for admission and we hope you will be inspired to attend.

Body of Water will be presented as a part of Art of Water 2016 on March 23 at CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa

January 2016 Webinar Recap: Talking About the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy with Dr. John Lawrence

Lots of quotable quotes from this webinar yesterday. If you missed it the first time, it’s available now.

Iowa Learning Farms

Did you miss our latest webinar?  You can view archived versions of all Iowa Learning Farms webinars here.  Iowa Learning Farms webinars are also available for download through iTunes.


Iowa Learning Farms kicked of the 2016 webinar series with a chat with Dr. John Lawrence, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University (ISU) and Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and ISU Extension and Outreach (ISUEO) Agriculture and Natural Resources program area.

Dr. Lawrence and ILF Program Director, Dr. Jacqueline Comito, spoke about the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the difficulties of defining and measuring success as Iowa works to reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and to the Gulf of Mexico.  Dr. Lawrence heads the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, which has played an integral role in assessing scientific approaches that target the scope, scale, and practices laid out…

View original post 98 more words

104(g) National Competitive Grants Program RFP Available

The 104(g) National Competitive Grants program is one of three grant programs administered annually by the Iowa Water Center in coordination with the National Institutes for Water Resources (NIWR)

Funding alert – the National Institutes for Water Resources in conjunction with the US Geological Survey has issued their call for proposals for the 2016 104(g) National Competitive Grants program.

Here’s the scoop…

Proposal URL (<——CLICK ME!)
Due Date: February 25, 2016 at 4 PM CST
Submit to: niwr.net (hint: you have to create a log-in to get submit, so you may want to get in the system to play around sooner rather than later)
Award maximum and duration: 1-3 years, $250,000 maximum. 1:1 match
Scope: Proposals must focus on “water problems and issues of a regional or interstate nature”. Collaboration between organizations and agencies (particularly USGS) are highly encouraged and USGS partnerships receive extra weight in evaluation.

2016 Priorities:

  • Evaluation of innovative approaches to water treatment, infrastructure design, retrofitting, maintenance, management and replacement.
  • Exploration and advancement of our understanding of changes in the quantity and quality of water resources in response to a changing climate, population shifts, and land use changes; including associated economic, environmental, social, and/or infrastructure costs.
  • Development of methods for better estimation of water supply, both surface and groundwater, including estimation of the physical supply and of the economic supply of water.
  • Development and evaluation of processes and governance mechanisms for integrated surface/ground water management.
  • Evaluation and assessment of the effects of water conservation practices, as well as adoption, penetration and permanence.

Other interesting information:

Iowa has seen some success in getting proposals in this competition funded in the past few years, most recently a project in 2014 from University of Iowa PI Dr. Gabriele Villarini.

The Iowa Water Center reviews all proposals after they have been submitted and must approve them in order for them to be considered by the selection committee. While your application SHOULD be complete at the February deadline, if there are any changes needed, IWC staff will be in touch before final approval.

ISU PIs: You do NOT need a Gold Sheet to submit your proposal to niwr.net. IWC will initiate Gold Sheet routing upon review for the March submittal.

Have any questions? Just send a message to Melissa Miller and we’ll get it taken care of!

The Seventh [Business] Day of Christmas: Breakout: Water Quantity

On the seventh [business] day of Christmas, the Iowa Water Center gave to me…descriptions for the breakout session Water Quantity.

The following presentations will take place at the Iowa Water Conference in Ames on the morning of Thursday, March 24, 2016. Registration for the conference will open in January.

Hydrologic Impacts of Drainage Systems
Kristie Franz, Associate Professor & Meteorology Program Director, Iowa State University

Drainage of soils using subsurface tiles and surface drainage through constructed ditches have been trademarks of the upper Midwest landscape for more than 100 years. In 2011, the Iowa Economic Development Authority funded a 2-year study of the Hydrologic Impacts of Drainage Systems- a joint effort between scientists at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. The study included a literature review examining methods and results of relevant studies and hydrologic analyses using computer-based models of example Iowa watersheds. Results of this study and recommendations for future studies will be discussed.

Are the Great Plains Going Dry?
Daniel L. Devlin, Ph.D., Director, Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment and Kansas Water Resources Institute, Kansas State University

The Ogallala Aquifer underground aquifer underlies 450,660 square kilometers in parts of eight states, that are some of the most productive regions in the United States for growing crops and provide cattle operations with feed for 40% of the feedlot cattle output in the United States. The success of large scale agriculture in areas of inadequate precipitation and lack of perennial surface water for diversion has depended upon pumping ground water for irrigation. Water level declines began in portions of the aquifer after extensive irrigation began using ground water.  This presentation will give background on the issue and discuss possible new water use policies and irrigation technologies that will need to be implemented in the future to sustain the region.

Long-term and recent-term trend analysis results for floods, high flows, and low flows in Iowa
David Eash, Hydrologist, US Geological Survey

Results of Kendall’s Tau trend analyses are presented for floods, high flows, flow durations, and low flows for 55 streamgages in Iowa for the entire period of record and for the last 30-year period of record from 1984-2013.

New Data/Old Date – A Behind the Scenes Look at the Creation of a FEMA Floodplain Map
Kyle Riley, Water Resources Engineer, Snyder & Associates, Inc.

We count on FEMA Floodplain Maps help us design infrastructure, keep citizens out of harm’s way, and plan for the future. The story of how these maps are created is more interesting than the information on the maps themselves.