John Rathbun displays watershed award

Rathbun Recognized with Circle of Excellence IAWA Iowa Watershed Award

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ANKENY, IOWA – John Rathbun, watershed coordinator for the Clear Creek Watershed, is honored with a Circle of Excellence award from the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) as part of the third annual Iowa Watershed Awards program.

Rathbun is honored with five other watershed coordinators who are also receiving IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards for their multitude of contributions and steadfast dedication to improving water quality across the state.

“With Earth Day on April 22nd, it’s a great time to recognize watershed coordinators — the unsung local heroes who work hard every day to implement conservation practices to improve water quality,” says Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director. “John is helping farmers and landowners meet local community goals while also simultaneously advancing the objectives of the statewide Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Improving Water Quality with Flood Control

John Rathbun displays watershed awardBefore joining the staff of the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District and becoming a watershed coordinator, Rathbun spent 18 years as an urban landscape designer.

“That’s when I was first introduced to green infrastructure in terms of rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable patios and paving,” he says. “That really spurred my interest in water quality and quantity as well.”

Today, his work in the Clear Creek Watershed focuses on rural areas. About 35,000 of the watershed’s 66,000 acres are in row crops. Clear Creek starts in the farming areas north of the Williamsburg outlet mall and empties into the Iowa River in Coralville.

The main goal of the project, funded with a Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, is flood control in Coralville and other communities. “It helps the rural folks too if we save some intersection at a road crossing from washing out,” Rathbun says.

Preliminary plans are done for about half of more than 70 planned flood mitigation practices that include ponds, wetlands, oxbows, water and sediment control basins, and terraces. About $3 million will be spent on project construction over the next year and a half. The goal is to complete the project in 2021.

“The most rewarding part has been working with the landowners and walking over their land with them and hearing how they look forward to passing it on to future generations,” Rathbun says. Some have told him that they’ve dreamed since childhood of having a pond on their land.

“Most of the flood control projects have water quality aspects as well,” he says. Ponds and wetlands denitrify water and sediment settles out in them.

“They think ponds are close to having the same denitrifying effects as wetlands,” he adds.

At two locations in the watershed, the University of Iowa measures nitrate concentration and several other indicators of quality as well as discharge rates.

Rathbun’s many partners in the Clear Creek Watershed include The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Johnson County, the East Central Iowa Council of Governments, the Iowa Flood Center, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Iowa Department of Homeland Security.

“Local leaders I work with include those with Johnson County Conservation who sit on our technical committee,” he says. “Our Water Management Association board is very involved. The Mayor of Coralville, John Lundell, and Iowa County Supervisor John Gahring, have given me great support and helped trouble shoot when they can.”

The project is part of the Iowa Watershed Approach, www.iowawatershedapproach.org.  

To help maintain momentum for this work, Rathbun will receive funding through the Iowa Watershed Award to apply to the Clear Creek Water Quality Project as well as funding for his own professional development.

IAWA developed the Iowa Watershed Awards program with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, IDALS, and Iowa DNR.

The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) is increasing the pace and scale of farmer-led efforts to improve water quality in Iowa. Founded in 2014 by Iowa Corn, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, IAWA is building public-private partnerships focused on implementing water quality solutions. Learn more at www.iowaagwateralliance.com.

MaasFamilyAward2018

Maas Farms Wins Environmental Award

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As Iowans work to meet the goals set out in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the actions of individual landowners can make a big difference. One Iowa County farm family that has gone above and beyond for Iowa’s environment has recently been recognized for their efforts. Maas Farms near South Amana, operated by Stewart and Jared Maas, received the 2018 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award, presented at the Iowa State Fair. The award recognizes exemplary voluntary action to protect Iowa’s natural resources.

Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explains.

Stewart and Jared Maas have worked extensively with the Iowa Flood Center and the Iowa Watershed Approach. Their home farm is the site of one of the IFC hydrologic stations, and data collected by the IFC hydro station can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.

“It helps a lot,” Stewart says. One example is the application of fertilizer in the fall. Farmers are encouraged to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or colder to limit nitrogen loss. Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”

Stewart has been working with University of Iowa researchers for years. “The university has been really good to us here,” Stewart says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the hydrology department.”

“Farming doesn’t pay very well,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “It makes farming fun, getting involved in some of these things.”

Clear Creek Watershed Coalition seeks Stream Corridor and Floodplain Restoration Consultant Services

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On behalf of the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) the East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG) has posted a request for qualifications that could lead to a consulting services contract for the Clear Creek Stream Corridor an Floodplain Restoration: Assessment and Conceptual Plan.  The assessment and conceptual plan will be incorporated into the Clear Creek Watershed Management Plan being prepared by ECICOG in coordination with the CCWC and funded, in part, through the Iowa Watershed Approach.

To review the Request for Qualifications, please click here. For further information, please contact Jennifer Fencl via email at jennifer.fencl@ecicog.org 

IFC Hydro Stations Provide Weather Data Farmers Need

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For farmers, timely information is vital. The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa is deploying new hydrologic stations that provide real-time weather information that farmers can use. The stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture and temperature. A shallow groundwater well also provides information about the water table. And the IFC makes all the data publicly available on the internet.

Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. Their home farm is the site of one of the new IFC hydrologic stations. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explains, and data collected by the IFC hydro station can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for spring fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.

“It helps a lot,” Stewart says. One example is the application of fertilizer in the fall. Farmers are encouraged to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or colder to limit nitrogen loss. Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”

Stewart has been working with University of Iowa researchers for years. “The university has been really good to us here,” Stewart says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the hydrology department.”

IIHR Research Engineer, Jim Niemeier, explains the data the hydro station collects

Besides providing vital information for agriculture, sensor data also support IFC activities for the $97M Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) statewide program focused on reducing flood risk in nine watersheds across Iowa. The Maas farm is in the Clear Creek Watershed, which is part of the IWA. John Rathbun, project coordinator for the Clear Creek Watershed, says that interest in the IWA is growing among landowners in the basin. “It’s really all about building relationships,” he explains. Participation in the IWA is entirely voluntary for landowners, and farmers get a 75% cost share if they choose to build a conservation practice such as a farm pond on their property.

With funding from the IWA, the IFC will deploy a network of 20 hydrologic stations this year. The new sensors represent an expansion of the IFC’s current network of nearly 50 similar rain gauge stations statewide. This growing network of hydrologic stations is helping the IFC reach its goal of 100 stations deployed in Iowa—one in each county. This network will help researchers and stakeholders better predict floods, assess droughts, and manage water resources. In addition, Iowa’s farmers can use the information to support their crop management systems and potentially boost yields.

The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) online tool provides real-time information on watersheds, precipitation, and stream levels for more than 1,000 Iowa communities. Data collected from the hydrologic stations can be accessed at ifis.iowafloodcenter.org/ifis/app.

“Farming doesn’t pay very well,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “It makes farming fun, getting involved in some of these things.”

Clear Creek running through woodlands in the Fall

Clear Creek Watershed Coalition Meeting

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Iowa Watershed Approach partners will join the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition for their quarterly meeting on Wednesday, Ju 19 at 5 PM at the Coralville City Hall. The meeting will allow partners to share updates on recent news and activities of the Iowa Watershed Approach.

The WMA is an opportunity to stay involved in the activities of the IWA and ask questions about the program. Meetings are open to the public and anyone is welcome to attend!

For more information about the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition meeting, contact Breanna Shea (breanna-shea@uiowa.edu, 319-384-1729).

Clear Creek running through woodlands in the Fall

Request for Clear Creek Watershed-Based Community Assessment Services

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Submit proposals in electronic form at the email address below by 4:00 pm on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Questions about this RFP or the project must be submitted in writing at the email address below by noon March 24th and all questions and responses will be sent to this distribution list.
Jennifer Fencl, jennifer.fencl@ecicog.org

For a full RFP description, view: CCWC Social Assessment RFP

Q&A regarding the RFP process: Social Assessment QA

Clear Creek Usage Survey: Clear Creek Watershed Usage Survey

Clear Creek running through woodlands in the Fall

Job Opening: Clear Creek Watershed Coalition Project Coordinator

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Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District (JCSWCD), in partnership with the Iowa County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC), seek a self-motivated, experienced Watershed Project Coordinator to oversee development and execute implementation of the Clear Creek watershed management plan. The project coordinator will serve as the primary contact for the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) administered by Johnson County. Applications due March 1st!

Clear Creek running through woodlands in the Fall

Clear Creek Watershed Coalition Quarterly Meeting