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Many hands working to address flooding in Turkey River Watershed

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 05/13/2013 2:33 PM

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POSTVILLE — Northeast Iowa cities, counties and Soil and Water Conservation Districts are working together as the Turkey River Watershed Management Authority to prevent devastating floods.

Lora Friest, executive director of Northeast Iowa RC&D in Postville, said the WMA builds on work by the Turkey River Watershed Alliance, an informal collaborative of private and public organizations including four SWCDs, four counties, Iowa DNR and NRCS that has worked together in the watershed for nearly three years.

Initiated by Northeast Iowa RC&D with a grant from the McKnight Foundation, the goal is to conduct research and gather information that will allow the SWCDs to secure funding to implement sub-watershed projects that will improve water quality and reduce flooding.

The alliance has collected water quality samples at 50 locations within the watershed for three years. The effort is modeled after the Upper Iowa River Watershed Project, which brought together dozens of partners and millions of dollars for private lands conservation.

"It's much more difficult to get state and federal funding for private conservation if you don't have water monitoring data, and so this group came together long before the authority to work together to make it happen," Friest said.

The Turkey River Watershed consists of 1,080,000 acres in eight counties. The watershed covers more than 70 percent of Clayton County, nearly 70 percent of Fayette County and is also in Winneshiek, Howard, Chickasaw and small portions of Allamakee, Delaware and Dubuque counties. More than 32,000 people live in the watershed.

The Turkey River WMA was started by the Clayton County Board of Supervisors and leaders from 23 cities, seven SWCDs and Fayette, Clayton, Howard, Chickasaw and Winneshiek counties formed the WMA in June 2012.

"This group will only do things that are voluntary based," Friest said. "They don't want to force anyone to do anything. They would like to provide the opportunity and have the funding come in to SWCDs and communities so that communities and landowners across the watershed can implement voluntary conservation practices."

Friest said that participants feel that what they're doing can be a model for the nation.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority in November selected the Turkey River Watershed as one of three to develop a flood reduction plan that could be used as a model for other watersheds.

TRWMA representatives from participating governmental bodies are exploring opportunities and partnerships and discussing how to engage watershed residents in the development of a watershed flood reduction plan that local residents will embrace, Friest said. They are working closely with local SWCDs and the Turkey River Watershed Alliance, as well as local producers, producer groups, landowners and community members.

Four public meetings held across the watershed this spring were well attended, and more are planned, Friest said. RC&D staff and TRWMA executive committee members also met with county Farm Bureau boards and producer group representatives including the Iowa Corn Growers.

"Attendees have many questions but have been very receptive," Friest said. "They seem to recognize that if everyone does something, together we can make a difference reducing flooding and improving water quality."

After a meeting in Cresco, four farmers stopped at the Howard County SWCD office to find out how they could help, Friest said. In Clayton County so many producers signed up for terracing cost share that a 10-year waiting list exists.

A TRWMA goal is to secure more funding to put conservation on the ground.