Mark Kennett and wife in New Zealand

By: Margot Dick, IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering Communications Assistant

Over time, both New Zealand and Iowa have moved from their native ecology to a more intensively managed, agriculture-based ecosystem. In New Zealand, the water ran clear as recently as 20 years ago, whereas in Iowa, environmental challenges date back more than a generation. Mark Kennett was born in New Zealand but moved to the United States with his wife after completing school.

Mark Kennett and wife in New Zealand

Mark Kennett and wife in New Zealand

They both come from farming families — Kennett’s in New Zealand and his wife’s in Iowa. Together, they now run her family farm in Poweshiek County a few miles outside of Grinnell. After living most of his life as a farmer in these two locations, Kennett has a unique perspective on the changes he has witnessed.

Kennett does his part to make sure he is heard in the community, serving on at least six separate boards representing his county and personal interests. Kennett says it’s the neighborly thing to do because in a small, rural community, finding people to take on leadership positions can be difficult.

“People are busy, and it takes a lot of involvement to satisfy all the county government roles that need to be executed,” Kennett says.

Kennett has been an active member of the English River Watershed Management Authority board since its creation in 2013. On this board, he represents the Poweshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District. He saw the value in creating a group dedicated to connecting communities along the same body of water. Generally, the fate of water is unknown once it passes over county lines simply because counties do not discuss their shared waterway.

Kennett saw the position as a way to open up lines of discussion between the people who rely so heavily on a shared water source. He stresses the importance of keeping everyone’s interests in mind, especially when they make an effort to voice an opinion. He especially enjoys interacting with the young adults because when young people get involved in politics, they can help shape their own futures.

Aerial view of flood farm fields

An aerial view of flooded potholes as Kennett pilots a helicopter for his agribusiness Kennett Ag Services.

Kennett found that life in a relatively small watershed makes everyone more aware of the consequences of water-quality and water-quantity issues. While Poweshiek County sat dry at the top of the hill, excess water flowed away down into Kalona and Riverside, affecting the communities in a direct and visible way. Open lines of communication between the communities allows the towns to discuss the issues and work toward a common goal of reducing flood impacts.

“We’re very fortunate in the English that it’s relatively small. We see the top of it and the lower reaches of the watershed, and the performance of one helps or hinders the other,” Kennett says.

Water quality is quickly becoming an important issue in today’s political mainstream, with agriculture typically taking the brunt of the criticism. As a farmer, Kennett has a first-hand perspective on the issue. New technology designed and tested in New Zealand to measure nitrates in the soil will soon be available with the hope that it can reduce nutrient loss from the fields. Kennett is hopeful that technology such as this can help farmers while also improving water quality.

Moving forward, Kennett hopes Iowans will treat water sources with more respect. He believes a focus on the benefits of water will create a culture that protects natural resources rather than simply using them as a waste elimination tool. New Zealand puts time and energy into water recreation, something Iowa lacks. Policy, technology, and young adults are vital to change the culture around water in Iowa moving forward.


Josh Stai, English River WMA Technician conducting a prescribed burn

In March, the English River WMA added to their staff, meet Josh Stai.  Josh will serve as the watershed technician for the English River WMA, and assist Jody Bailey (English River WMA Project Coordinator), with education, outreach, and development of public and private cost-share partnerships.  The English River WMA covers, Iowa, Johnson, Keokuk, Poweshiek and Washington Counties.

Josh’s education includes an Associate of Applied Science in Parks and Natural Resources from Kirkwood Community College and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management from Columbia Southern University.  His professional experiences includes employment with Kirkwood Community College as a natural resources specialist and as an adjunct instructor; multiple seasons with the Johnson County Conservation Board; and as a seasonal  Park Ranger at Coralville Lake.

Josh is married and has two wonderful teenage daughters, and they reside in Kalona, IA.


We caught up Josh to discuss his position:


Q: Where did you work before you took this position?

A: Kirkwood Community College – Conservation Grounds Worker/Adjunct Instructor

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this position?

A: To spend as much of the grant cost share dollars as we can, by installing as many soil and water BMPs on the ground as possible!

Q: How did you hear about the opening and what was appealing about the position?

A: After interviewing for a position with a different agency, an individual on that interview panel encouraged me to apply for a new technician position that was going to be posted soon. Once I heard the job description of the new technician position, I became much more interested in the technician position because of the exciting opportunities that I could be involved with. It also made it easier to like the technician opportunity because the project’s office is located in my home town!

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell the English River WMA and IWA partners?

A: I am very excited to be apart of the ERWMA and looking forward to meeting all of you!

Q: What is a hobby of yours?

A: I really enjoy working on and restoring old muscle cars.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: A Sand County Almanac

Q: What’s your favorite food?

A: Easily- Godfather’s taco pizza!

Q: Where would you like to go that you’ve never been?

A: I think it would be an amazing adventure to do a cultural history tour of Israel or Japan



The English River near Williamsburg, Iowa.
English River running through woodlands

Mark Kennett, English River WMA board member and of Kennett Ag Services, recently invited us to traverse the meandering English River by air. The video starts at the confluence of the English River and the Iowa River and runs west toward Grinnell. Special thanks to pilot Norm Robbins with Iowa Helicopter for the ride!

English River running through woodlands

For further information and to view the full proposal, please visit:


English River running through woodlands

The City of Kalona seeks a self-motivated, experienced Watershed Project Coordinator to develop and implement the English River watershed management plan, project reporting, education and outreach. The primary objectives of the project are flood mitigation and improved water quality within the English River watershed. Applications due February 8th!