CONTACT: Julia McGuire, Best Development Award Coordinator, 515-988-1828,


Celebrating Iowa’s ‘development heroes’ and recognizing smart growth principles across
the state

Dec. 31, 2020 (Des Moines, Iowa) – 1000 Friends of Iowa proudly announces ten recipients of
its Best Development Awards for 2020 in eight categories. These recipients were chosen because
they implemented the efficient use of resources to develop sustainable communities and provide
a high quality of life.

“We have development heroes across the state who deserve recognition,” according to Julia
McGuire, Program Coordinator. The 2020 Best Development Award winners are listed below
(category, recipient and project, city):

● In the specially created Best of Show category, Steeple Square in Dubuque, for the
historical restoration of a former church and school campus to serve its neighborhood
through affordable housing, childcare, greenspace, and community rental space.
● In the Renovated Civic category, the Mason City Arena in Mason City, for converting a
vacant shopping mall space into an ice skating arena to fit the recreational needs of the
community with many positive trickle-down effects.
● In the Renovated Commercial category, the Highpoint Event Center in Clarence, for its
green building practices and community involvement to restore a dilapidated building
into a needed event center.
● In the Innovative Leadership – Large Community category, the Iowa Flood Center for its
successful efforts to address flooding and water quality challenges with its Iowa
Watershed Approach across the state.
● In the Innovative Leadership – Small Community category, Main Street Jewell for its
Vendors’ Village in Jewell, which supplied new retail storefronts through creative
problem solving.
● In the Renewable Energy category, Southeastern Community College in Burlington, for
adding solar rooftop and carport canopies to reduce its carbon footprint.
● In the Renovated Residential category, Newbury Living’s The Brenton in Davenport for
sustainably repurposing a bank building into apartments.
● In the Stormwater Management – Private category, the Sippy Family for its Farm Flood
Mitigation project near Oxford, which showcases natural infrastructure as a way to
reduce floods and lessen negative impacts downstream for the good of everyone.
● In the Stormwater Management – Public category, the City of Clive for its Walnut Creek
Hills Stormwater Wetland in Clive with its flood storage, enhanced water quality and
wildlife habitat, and positive downstream effects.
● In the Urban Placemaking and Greenspace category, the Des Moines Heritage Trust for
its Des Moines Heritage Center in Des Moines which incorporated conservation, vision,
and impact into the restoration of an aging train depot.
Additional details about each winning project and their respective categories are forthcoming at
the 1000 Friends of Iowa website,
“Iowa has many great development projects, and by celebrating them and their future-minded
leaders working behind the scenes, we hope to advocate for and see an increase in the use of
sustainable practices,” stated Kari Carney, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Iowa. “All of
the nominations bring hope and encouragement to their communities.”
This year, a new Best of Show category was created to recognize the outstanding results of
Steeple Square’s comprehensive and thoughtful work in Dubuque’s oldest neighborhood. A
virtual Awards Ceremony will be held Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, at noon. State legislative leaders
have been invited to speak. The ceremony will be open to the public and followed by time for
media questions.

The Best Development Award winners are selected from a pool of nominations each year by an
independent group of jurors. This year’s jurors were Pat Boddy, retired Senior Partner and
Sustainability Director at RDG Planning & Design ; Megan Down, Project Manager for Impact
7G ; Jeff Geerts, Special Projects Manager at the Iowa Economic Development Authority; Jeff
Hanson, Community Development Operations Manager of the City of Sioux City, and Ulrike
Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture and Director for the Center for Building Energy
Research at Iowa State University.

The Best Development Award Program recognizes projects in up to 12 different categories as a
way for 1000 Friends of Iowa to express the fact that smart land use and sustainable communities
are more than constructed buildings. All of the award recipients help advance sustainability
across our state by considering site design, outdoor and indoor environmental impact,
community and public use, and long-term benefits.

Founded in 1998, 1000 Friends of Iowa is the only organization
in the state focused solely on promoting responsible land use in
community, state, and federal development decisions. Its
mission is to unite Iowans in efforts to protect farmland and
natural areas, revitalize neighborhoods, towns and cities, and
improve quality of life for future generations.

For more information about the Best Development Award Program, please contact Julia
McGuire at 515-988-1828 or email

We’re excited to be part of the first annual Iowa City Climate Festival! The Iowa Flood Center, IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering, and Iowa Watershed Approach are participating in the #IowaCityTakesAction to share our own stories on climate action topics.  Below are four videos we will be sharing on social media on Friday, September 25 for the themed day around “Adaptation”

Why climate action matters?

IIHR Director Gabriele Villarini defended his PhD at the University of Iowa in 2008 during the catastrophic floods-in his advisor’s basement! This firsthand disaster experience further validated his interests and helped shape his research focus on extreme weather and climate change. Listen in to learn on why climate action matters! View Dr. Villarini’s video here.

Witold Krajewski, co-founder and director of the Iowa Flood Center, has made it his mission to serve Iowans with science-based flood information, tools, and services. IFC researchers created the nationally recognized Iowa Flood Information System, an online tool used to communicate real-time flood alerts and forecasts, flood maps, and overall flood risks. View Dr. Krajewski’s video here.

Larry Weber is co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center and served as director of IIHR for 13 years. He now leads the $97M Iowa Watershed Approach project, which aims to reduce flooding in nine select watersheds across the state by working with local communities and volunteer landowners to strategically place flood mitigation practices that work progressively with agriculture to restore the landscape’s natural resiliency to heavy rainfall events. View Dr. Weber’s video here.

IIHR graduate fellow Jessica Ayers is conducting research on how midwestern base flow has changed throughout the region during the last century and the factors that have influenced these changes. In this video, she explains why climate action is important to her. View Jessica’s video here.

John Rathbun displays watershed award

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,  

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

Click here to listen to the Iowa Public Radio River to River Flood Resilient Vinton Interview

Tune in to the 12:52 mark to learn more about Flood Resilient Vinton with an interview with Paul Schmit, PhD Candidate at the University of Iowa English Department

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.