Citizen action for better integrated watershed management
Written by Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center
On Friday, October 29, I had the good fortune of heading northeast to Parkersburg, Iowa for the Cedar River Watershed Coalition’s Fall 2016 meeting. This group has been convening since February of 2010, and I’ve made it to a few meetings in my time at the Iowa Water Center.
The agenda included presentations by Josh Spies and Nicholas Longbucco from The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Larry Weber, Director of the University of Iowa’s IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering; and Lawrence Green, the NRCS District Conservationist for Butler and Franklin Counties. In the afternoon, we toured the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area, one of Iowa’s largest wetland complexes.
One reason I particularly enjoy going to these meetings is the watershed focus. Integrated watershed management (IWM) is recognized in the literature as an effective method for improved natural resource management. The big key in IWM is the comprehensive, holistic approach to watershed planning. It uses the watershed as the geographic boundary for planning and incorporates social and political science aspects into the natural sciences.
Integrated watershed management is easier said than done. Because our watersheds are not within the same boundaries as our political boundaries, bridging across different communities can pose a challenge. Those involved in watershed organizations know firsthand the potential struggle of participation – both the types of people who are involved and the amount of people who choose to be involved. Participation from the local community is paramount for success, yet it also seems to be a major challenge.
The Cedar River Watershed Coalition is a good Iowa example of a large watershed coming together to improve water resource management. The meetings I have attended always draw quite a few participants, and this one was no different. More chairs had to be brought out to accommodate the approximately 80 interested citizens, professionals, and elected officials who came out for the two-hour meeting. This level of involvement is an indicator of success for IWM. Diversity in participation better represents the watershed and, in turn, garners more support for making changes. It also improves efficiency and impact of the organization as a whole.
This begs the question: What is the Cedar River doing to engage so many on a continuous basis? I’ll leave you with a few ideas I have. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.
- A very real, demonstrated issue. The floods of 2008 devastated cities and towns in the watershed. Water management has remained front page news in the time since, including both water quality and water quantity. This fall’s threat of flooding in September was recognized at this meeting as creating a renewed sense of urgency for the group.
- A dedicated coordinator. Research by Bidwell & Ryan (2006) concluded that watershed organizations without a paid coordinator lacked the ability to achieve even limited administrative duties. Having a point person, especially a passionate and effective point person, creates continuity and consistency with member and public interaction. Individuals within Iowa, such as Mary Beth Stevenson of the Iowa DNR, exemplify the importance of having this position. She, along with others in the state, work to promote water-related improvements at the watershed level.
- Timely dissemination of information to interested partners. The Cedar River Watershed Coalition releases a regular e-newsletter, holds semi-annual meetings (like today’s) for information sharing and education, and members of the Coalition show up to meetings and events throughout the state to both learn and share their knowledge in water with others. They build connections – both within the watershed and beyond.
- Accessibility. The Cedar River Watershed Coalition meetings are moved throughout the watershed to reach people where they live.
- Bonding activities. (Not brotherly bonding, like taking a camping trip together.) Most Cedar River Watershed Coalition meetings include some sort of “field trip,” like a previous meeting’s bus tour of conservation practices or today’s trip to Big Marsh. This type of activity strengthens relationships between members and connects them more closely to the organization.
The Cedar River Watershed Coalition is one of many watershed level groups in the state doing good things for water resources. If you want to get involved in your watershed, visit EPA’s Surf Your Watershed website to learn more about the watershed where you live, including what citizen-based groups are doing work to protect water.
Bidwell, Ryan D. and Clare Ryan. (2006) Collaborative Partnership Design: The Implications of Organizational Affiliation for Watershed Partnerships. Society and Natural Resources, 19:827-843.