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.


Check out this podcast developed by North Carolina League of Cities featuring Larry Weber and North Carolina Mayors Don Hardy and Bill Saffo on lessons learned from their trip to Iowa on flood resiliency.

Podcast: Sick and Tired of Flooding

By: Hilary Pierce, ISU Extension Outreach Specialist, 

The fall 2019 Iowa Watershed Academy was held on October 22nd and 23rd at the ISU Field Extension Education Lab near Boone.

Attendees at Watershed AcademyGreat discussions were had during the academy and many questions were asked and answered. Experienced watershed coordinators and conservation professionals were able to share their personal experiences to guide those who were new to their projects. The academy also provided a setting where participants from all over the state could network and forge new connections with those who can provide expertise or support for their projects, as well as learn about what other projects are accomplishing.

The academy began with Jamie Benning, the Water Quality Program Manager at Iowa State University Extension, and Clare Lindahl, CEO of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, who facilitated a discussion and planning session on building and maintaining strong partnerships. The afternoon session focused on practice monitoring: Kent Heikens, National Lab for Agriculture and the Environment, showcased the techniques and instruments for monitoring saturated buffers, Natasha Hoover, ISU Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, discussed how to monitor bioreactors and Tony Seeman, Iowa Soybean Association, outlined field edge, tile drain and watershed monitoring processes used by ISA. The afternoon session also included information about new federal funding opportunities related to source water protection from Jon Hubbert, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service. The day wrapped up with Clare Lindahl sharing how failures can be stepping stones to success.

Attendees at Watershed AcademyDay two kicked off with a presentation from Jessie Brown, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, on how to use social media for effective outreach and partner connections. The following field session focused on the intersection between water quality and wildlife benefits of conservation practices. At the research farm’s bioreactor and restored oxbow attendees heard from Kay Stefanik, Assistant Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Adam Janke, ISU Extension Wildlife Specialist. Later, Jamie Benning and Chris Hiher, Pheasants Forever, talked about field borders, cover crops, and in-field management practices. Wrapping up the field tour, attendees visited a saturated buffer, which had been seeded with pollinator habitat, and heard from Tom Isenhart, Iowa State University, and Allie Rath, Pheasants Forever. After the field tour and lunch, attendees were guided through a planning session for the Regional Clean Water, Wildlife Habitat and Healthy Soil Workshop series to be held in 2020 where watershed coordinators will partner with NRCS, Pheasants Forever, and agricultural and conservation organizations to reach new farmers and landowners with conservation opportunities.

Learn more about the Iowa State University Extension Conservation Learning Group and the Iowa Watershed Academy.

Nish raingarden install