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About the Iowa Watershed Approach

The Iowa Watershed Approach is a collaborative program that brings together local, state, federal, and private organizations to work together to address factors that contribute to floods and nutrient flows. Iowans will enjoy improvements in quality of life and health resulting from upstream watershed investments tied to community resilience activities. This adaptive model, supported by U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dollars, will leverage the principles of Iowa’s innovative Nutrient Reduction Strategy to make our communities more resilient to flooding and help improve water quality.


The IWA will accomplish six specific goals: 1) reduce flood risk; 2) improve water quality; 3) increase resilience; 4) engage stakeholders through collaboration and outreach/education; 5) improve quality of life and health, especially for vulnerable populations; and 6) develop a program that is scalable and replicable throughout the Midwest and the United States.


The IWA represents a vision for Iowa’s 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 to improve the landscape’s natural resilience to floods and retaining vital nutrients important to feeding and fueling the world. Although the IWA targets watersheds impacted by floods from 2011–2013, the impacts will ripple downstream from Iowa to the Mississippi River 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.




Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa

Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs) are voluntary, intergovernmental agreements between counties, cities, and soil and water conservation districts that conduct local watershed-based planning. The first WMA formed in 2012, and today, there are more than 20 recognized by the state of Iowa. In 2017, a formal network, the Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa, was formed. The Iowa Water Center serves as a facilitator and fulfills administrative tasks for WMAs of Iowa to help foster a self-driven, purposeful community of practice for better water management.

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Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project

Dubuque's 6.5 square mile Bee Branch Watershed drains to the Bee Branch Creek and is located entirely within the city limits. The watershed includes the city’s most developed areas where more than 50 percent of residents either live or work, encompassing historic neighborhoods with some of the community’s most affordable housing. This area is also hit hardest by flash flooding during significant rain events with much more than “just a little water in the basement.” This project will mitigate flooding, improve water quality, stimulate investment, and enhance quality of life.

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Improving Social Resources for Flood Resilience

The Flood Resilience Team partners with Iowa Community Action Association-affiliated organizations to improve flood resilience services. Iowans with low flood resilience often utilize the services of community action programs which builds familiarity and trust. We work with case managers to improve resources for impacted populations. With the Center for Sustainable Communities at Luther College, we will develop modern-day communication protocols that consider the social networks that all people, especially susceptible populations, can build and maintain.

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Through the Iowa Watershed Approach, Iowans will work together to address factors that contribute to floods and nutrient flows.

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Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Iowa HSEMD is engaged in hazard mitigation and disaster recovery planning that supports and integrates with the watershed projects.

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Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa

The Iowa Flood Center is identifying resilience needs and providing planning assistance, technical services, and program evaluations in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Economic Development Authority

As the grant fiscal agent, IEDA works directly with HUD to ensure all watershed activities comply with National Disaster Resilience program requirements.

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The Iowa Water Center at Iowa State University

The Iowa Water Center provides research support, disseminates water science, and communicates water-related information to the public so that they may improve water management policies and everyday practices.

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University of Northern Iowa

UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center provides assistance in the watersheds on the establishment and management of native vegetation across a range of agricultural practices.

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Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

IDALS provides overall coordination between the National Disaster Resilience projects and all other IDALS/USDA/NRCS projects in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Department of Natural Resources

The Iowa DNR serves in an advisory capacity to assist with the formation and the development of new Watershed Management Authorities in the watersheds.

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City of Dubuque

The City is implementing home rehabilitation and infrastructure improvement activities in the Bee Branch watershed.

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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Through ISU Extension, the Iowa Water Center, and Iowa Nutrient Research Center units, Iowa State develops, communicates and evaluates information regarding practices to reduce soil and nutrient loss.

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City of Coralville

The City is implementing infrastructure improvement activities for two existing stormwater pump stations.

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City of Storm Lake

The City is implementing infrastructure improvement activities that include rain gardens, wetland pond, and pervious pavers.

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Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance

The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance is leveraging financial resources associated with multiple Water Quality Initiative projects in the target watersheds.

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Conservation Districts of Iowa

Conservation Districts of Iowa promote conservation of natural resources in the target watersheds.

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The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is leveraging financial resources to assist IDALS with building a “CREP” treatment wetland and to provide analysis of agricultural conservation practices by modeling flood risk in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

The INHF is leveraging financial resources to assist with the protection of natural and restored lands and to provide outreach to landowners in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Soybean Association

The Iowa Soybean Association is leveraging financial resources associated with multiple Water Quality Initiative projects, implementation of watershed plans, and through Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects in the target watersheds.

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Silver Jackets Flood Risk Management Team

The Iowa Silver Jackets team is addressing flood risk reduction in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Corn Growers Association

The Iowa Corn Growers Association is using a variety of communication methods to provide information and education to farmers in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Farm Bureau

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is using a variety of communication methods to provide information, education and outreach to farmers and partners in the target watersheds.

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Iowa Association of Water Agencies

Iowa Association of Water Agencies provides the target watersheds with the perspective of protecting drinking water sources and infrastructure.

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Iowa Association of Counties

ISAC coordinates resiliency efforts within the target watersheds with their various affiliate groups, such as county supervisors, engineers, and local emergency managers.

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Iowa Department of Transportation

The Iowa DOT collaborates with county engineers to add resiliency to the transportation systems located within the target watersheds.

Photo of homes flooded by the Missouri River in 2011. Courtesy Iowa National Guard.


From 2011–2013, Iowa suffered eight Presidential Disaster Declarations, encompassing 73 counties and more than 70 percent of the state. In July 2011, more than 200 homes in Dubuque’s Bee Branch neighborhood sustained severe flood damage. In 2013, hundreds of Storm Lake homes flooded, causing dangerous untreated sewage to back up into homes and the nearby lake. In June 2013, two heavy rain events washed out roads across Benton County, reducing residents’ access to emergency services and causing $5 million in infrastructure damage.

Devastating as these events were, 2011–2013 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 resilience.

This approach is consistent with other statewide programs in Iowa. For example, the Iowa Watershed Approach will complement the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, as the hundreds of built projects will help to improve Iowa’s water quality. These projects will also complement the Iowa Flood Mitigation Program by reducing downstream flooding. All projects will be voluntary, with landowners receiving 75 percent costshare assistance on constructed practices.

Iowa Watershed Approach Program Vision for Urban and Rural Resilience

Iowa Watershed Approach efforts enhance flood resilience through technical assistance and planning. Comprehensive watershed management planning ensures that landowners, emergency services, local authorities, and other organizations communicate their efforts effectively toward hazard mitigation and disaster recovery for a more resilient Iowa. The IWA program delivers several publications and technical products including:


  • Flood resilience action plans that communicate potential flood risk to infrastructure, housing, and critical facilities. Through the IWA partnership, additional information addressing issues related to vulnerable populations will be provided.
  • Eight watershed-based loss avoidance studies that examine the benefits of structural and non-structural practices as they are implemented in the project’s most impacted and distressed areas.
  • A resilient strategies report with recommendations for the sustainability of the program's approach. As a state we are committed to supporting a model for urban and rural flood resilience.