From 2011–13, Iowa suffered eight Presidential Disaster Declarations, encompassing 73 counties and more than 70% of the state. Devastating as these events were, these years do not represent Iowa’s worst flood years. Long-term data show that heavy precipitation and flooding events are increasing in frequency across the Midwest. Under these circumstances, a new paradigm for flood resilience is needed—one that decreases flood risk, improves water quality, and increases community flood resilience.

The Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) is a dual program that focuses on the following: 1) activities in the upper watersheds and 2) community flood resilience programming. The IWA will improve flood resilience during major storm events by strategically placing projects in the upper watershed to increase storage and water retention. Community flood resilience engagement activities will help communities prepare for, respond to, recover from, and adapt to floods.

This holistic watershed approach represents a vision for Iowa’s future—a future that voluntarily engages stakeholders throughout the watershed to achieve common goals, while moving toward a more resilient state. It is a replicable model for other communities where the landscape has lost its natural resilience to floods. Although the IWA targets watersheds impacted by floods from 2011–13, the impacts will ripple downstream from Iowa to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico. This program is not only about Iowans helping Iowans, but also about demonstrating Iowans’ commitment to agricultural stewardship, to the environment, to their neighbors, and to the future. In five years, Iowa will have a well-refined, replicable program, and all participating watersheds will have a long-term vision. Communities, infrastructure, and housing will be less vulnerable and more resilient to future storm events.