Get to know your soil

Photos of the 2017-2018 Agronomy in the Field cohort for Central Iowa at the ISU Field Extension Education Lab. Photos by Hanna Bates.

An education in soil sampling

Last week I attended Agronomy in the Field, led by Angie Reick-Hinz, an ISU field agronomist.  The workshop focused on soil sampling out in a field. The cohort learned a lot of valuable insight into not only the science of soil sampling, but also practical knowledge from out-in-the-field experiences.

Taking soil samples in a field is critical in making decisions about fertilizer, manure, and limestone application rates. Both over and under application can reduce profits, so the best decision a farmer can make is based on a representative sample that accurately shows differences across his/her fields.

What do you need?

  • Sample bags
  • Field map
  • Soil probe
  • Bucket

When do you sample?

After harvest or before spring/fall fertilization times. Sampling should not occur immediately after lime, fertilizer, or manure application or when soil is excessively wet.

Where do you sample?

Samples taken from a field should represent a soil area that is under the same type of field cultivation and nutrient management. According to ISU Extension, the “choice of sample areas is determined by the soils present, past management and productivity, and goals desired for field management practices.”* See ISU Extension resources for maps and examples for where in the field to take samples.

Most importantly…

Like with everything that happens out in the field, it is important to keep records on soil testing so that you can evaluate change over time and the efficiency of fertilizer programs. As we say at the Iowa Water Center, the more data, the better! The more we learn about the soils, the better we can protect and enhance them. Healthy soils stay in place in a field and promote better crop growth by keeping nutrients where they belong during rain events. Not only can we monitor soil from the ground with farmers, but with The Daily Erosion Project. These combined resources, with others, can provide the best guidance in growing the best crop and protecting natural resources.

Interested in Agronomy in the Field? Contact Angie Rieck-Hinz at amrieck@iastate.edu or 515-231-2830 to be placed on a contact list.

* Sawyer, John, Mallarino, Antonio, and Randy Killorn. 2004. Take a Good Soil Sample to Help Make Good Decisions. Iowa State University Extension PM 287. Link: https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/files/article/PM287.pdf

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Hanna Bates is the Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center. She has a MS in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University. She is also an alumna of the University of Iowa for her undergraduate degree. 
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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!

 

View from my Windshield: Observations of soil erosion across Iowa

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

For the past couple of weeks, I have been on the road across Iowa. These trips vary in their purpose, but one thing that remains the same is the evident erosion in the fields along my travels. Regardless of where I am – whether it is in the Loess Hills visiting family or in the Des Moines Lobe for a meeting – spring rains have revealed that there are deep cuts in the bare brown soils where lush, even soils used to be.

Cruse et al. (2016) writes:

“Topsoil thinning is closely linked to loss of crop production potential. Typical statewide average erosion rates have only a minor impact on crop yields in the subsequent year. However, cumulative effects are far more significant and contribute to a loss of state revenue that becomes much more important as time progresses.”

The simple fact is that without soil there would be no life. In Iowa, we have high quality soils that, along with some good science and great farmers, enable us to be the top producers in corn, hog, and egg production. This leads to the question: What may be the ultimate cost of this productivity?

Cruse et al. (2016) conducted a study to determine the effects of erosion on commodity yields and to gauge the future impacts on the agricultural economy in Iowa. Researchers studied seven farm sites in Iowa with cropping history and available yield maps. The Daily Erosion Project was used to estimate crop yield impact on soil depth from 2007-2014. The average state loss across those years was 5.7 tons of soil per acre per year. “Assuming a 2.2 bushel per acre corn yield loss across 14 million acres in a given year and a corn price of $4.00/bu, the next year’s crop production loss would equate to approximately $4.3 million total across this land area” (Cruse et al. 2016). There are informational resources and federal programs available for soil conservation practices, but with a short-term economic market system, there is little motivation to participate.

Cruse et al. (2016) writes:

“Short-term minor yield impacts on a per acre basis create little incentive for investing in short-term soil conservation strategies available for many farmland renters. However, as the cumulative effect compounds the economic effect over time, landowners that have longer term planning horizons are much better positioned to recover their financial investments in soil conservation practices.”

To put is succinctly, a loss of soil leads to a loss of productivity, which leads to a financial loss for the state. The impacts of the above findings on decision-making out in the field may be significant given the short-term mindset of our commodity market. Making present-day investments to maintain soils may pay off in the end when compared to short-term commodity gains from year-to-year. Other research has revealed that there is hardly a piece of land in Iowa that is exempt from the problem of erosion. According to Cruse et. al. (2006), soil erosion affects everyone although it is spatially and temporally variable. With 55% of Iowa farmland leased rather than owner controlled (Duffy et al. 2013), an investment in soil saving practices will require candid conversations and real partnerships between a tenant and landowner.

Overall, the first step in making a change is being knowledgeable about your surroundings. Next time you are on the road, look out in the field and really see where you are travelling. Then, compare that to what the data shows on the Daily Erosion Project. You may be surprised about what you learn.

References

Cruse, R., D. Flanagan, J. Frankenberger, B. Gelder, D. Herzmann, D. James, W. Krajewski, Kraszewski, J. Laflen, J. Opsomer, and D. Todey. 2006. Daily estimates of rainfall, water runoff, and soil erosion in Iowa. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 61(4): 191-199.

Cruse, Richard M., Mack Shelley, C. Lee Burras, John Tyndall, and Melissa Miller. 2016. Economic impacts of soil erosion in Iowa. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Competitive Grant Report E2014-17.

Duffy, Michael, William Edwards, and Ann Johanns. 2013. Survey of Iowa Leasing Practices, 2012. Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. File C2-15.

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

Podcast spotlights a pioneer of precision conservation

Post originally appeared on the Iowa Learning Farms website by Ann Staudt

Precision agriculture is a unique, emerging field, and it is certainly one that is rapidly evolving before our very eyes. The complex world of remote sensing, big data, ag informatics, statistics, and on-the-ground farm management means there’s a whole lot of data out there … how do we make sense of it all?

Meet Dr. Amy Kaleita. High energy, eternal optimist. Agricultural engineer. Lover of learning. Passionate teacher and researcher. Soil Whisperer (or some might say Soil Listener).

conservationchat-kaleitaangle

Kaleita’s work at Iowa State University is truly at the intersection of conservation, information technology, and the world of precision agriculture. While precision ag technology is commonly used by farmers and crop consultants across the state of Iowa today in such applications as nutrient management (variable rate technology) and precision seed placement, Kaleita is on the forefront of the next generation of precision ag – precision conservation. Kaleita’s research efforts range from studying different sensor technologies, including both embedded [contact] sensors, such as in-the-ground soil moisture sensors, as well as non-contact sensors [data collected from drones], to optimizing the layering of those different technologies to obtain the best data sets possible.

However, collecting the data is just the start —  the real challenge emerges in sorting through huge amounts of data and trying to make sense of it all!  Which is just where Kaleita comes into play, evaluating and analyzing the vast amounts of data collected in the field. She strives to identify patterns and linkages that can help us better understand the relationships between such factors as crop yield variability, precipitation, soil moisture, hydrology, transport of dissolved contaminants (such as nitrate-nitrogen), and on-the-ground conservation practices. As Kaleita puts it, a big part of her job is trying to “understand uncertainty.”

She goes on to explain, “In an agricultural context, there are so many sources of unexplained variability … things that you do on the landscape that cause results, but they cause different responses under different conditions, and so how do those conditions change over time and space?

“The soil is very different, and it changes over time, and it certainly changes over space. The rain, and the air temperature, and the wind speed, and all of that stuff cause responses in the crop and they cause the interaction between the crop and the soil to change. And so [we’re] trying to understand all of the things that cause those differences, and then trying to design systems that can be responsive to that variability.”

Tune in to Episode 27 of the Conservation Chat for more of this fascinating conversation with Dr. Amy Kaleita!  You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and on iTunes.

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.

iwa-map
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.

iowa-dot-june-2008-cedar-river
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