Indian Creek, Cedar River get state's first watershed management grants

Local governments to decide authority of new watershed management agencies

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CEDAR RAPIDS - For the first time in Iowa, local governments may manage the watersheds along six Iowa waterways to prevent a repeat of the June 2008 flood.

“No one’s ever done this before, at least in Iowa,” said Allen Bonini, supervisor of the Department of Natural Resources’ watershed improvement section. “It’s solving their problems on a regional watershed basis, which is a new thing.”

The six new agencies receiving organizational funding include Indian Creek in Linn County, the Cedar River above Waterloo and the Turkey River in northeast Iowa, the Iowa Economic Development Authority announced Wednesday. The agencies will address water quality and flood-plain issues.

Administered by Floyd County, the Upper Cedar River Watershed Management Improvement Authority will cover the Cedar, the Little Cedar, and their tributaries from Janesville north to the Minnesota state line.

“We think it’s a very good opportunity for rural and urban to work together,” said Mark Kuhn, a county supervisor who farms near Charles City. “You just can’t hold up your hands and say we can’t do anything to stop the next flood. We’ve learned — this was a terribly expensive event.”

The Indian Creek watershed includes Dry and Squaw creeks flowing through Alburnett, Marion, Robins, Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids, and unincorporated Linn County. Those governments will be invited to participate in the new agency, to be administered by the East Central Iowa Council of Governments.

Jennifer Fencl, director of environmental services for the regional agency, said she hopes to organize a “stakeholder workshop” with local governments and community and agricultural groups in the area during the organizational phase.

The program is funded through a federal Community Development Block Grant, said Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

After the 2008 floods the federal government appropriated flood-recovery money to Iowa. State lawmakers set aside a share last year for watershed management and gave local governments authority to form the agencies.

The new agencies could set policies for land use in their watersheds, but state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a sponsor of the enabling legislation, said that’s up to each governing board.

“They’ll have the governmental authority the local governments decide they should have,” said Hogg. He said the state law prohibits the watershed agencies from exercising eminent domain.

The state legislation also appropriated $8.8 million to the University of Iowa’s IIHR for watershed efforts, and IIHR Director Larry Weber expects the hydrological research institute to assist the new agencies.

“There isn’t a bad watershed in Iowa to work in, because there’s so much to be done,” said Weber. “None of this is going to change the land or waterscape in the next year or month, but it’s really going to take a long-term vision to make improvements and still balance what’s a very ag-dominated state. We don’t want to disrupt what’s been a very strong part of our economy.”

Indian Creek receives $27,600 in startup funding in the first round of grants, totaling $158,010. A second round of grants next spring will fund development of a watershed management plan to address water quality and flood control.

The second grants will total $540,000 to $600,000, according to Hoffman.

Other new watershed agencies receiving funding, along with the governing body that made the application:

  • City of Dubuque for Catfish Creek, $24,500
  • City of Marion for Indian Creek, $27,600
  • Clayton County for Turkey River, $30,000
  • Floyd County for Upper Cedar River, $21,500
  • Story County for Squaw Creek, $25,060
  • Dallas County for Middle-South Raccoon, $29,350

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