The Citizen Effect on Watershed Management and Restoration of Natural Habitats

Lois Wright Morton, Faculty, Sociology


The co-production of agricultural products and ecosystem management is a challenge for farmers, residents and leaders of rural and urban communities, and the staff of agencies and voluntary organizations whose missions include the protection of water quality and conservation of the natural resource base. Wetland restoration in critical locations provides a natural water filter for capturing excessive phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment loss from nearby agricultural lands in watersheds. Wetlands are also important habitats for endangered species and ecosystem resilience. Humans and their relationships to the environment are a key variable in achieving better water quality and ecosystem resilience. Citizens and their communities must recognize the value of their water bodies and ecosystem and be willing to act together to protect these valuable resources.


Develop citizen leadership and community capacities to recognize and actively engage in solving the problems of water quality in local watersheds through individual and collective actions.


My Extension citizen-led watershed management program consists of a leader’s manual for developing local citizen watershed groups, a series of Extension publications, websites and a couple USDA grants that focus on building local leadership and getting local communities involved in watershed management. In 2000 I wrote a proposal and received funding from the US EPA Region IV CWA 104b3 to develop the manual, Renewing Local Watersheds: Leaders’ Guide to Building Watershed Communities. This manual, a team effort, codified much of the extension work Ag & Natural Resource and Community Development specialists were practicing ( This manual was updated in 2006. The manual is not a stand alone product, but part of Extension’s leadership and community development programming in Agricultural & Natural Resources and Community Economic Development to build local capacities in watershed decision-making. Subsequent publications that support work with community leaders and training programs include the 2001 extension bulletin, “Resident-led Watershed Management” (PM1869) followed in 2006 by the bulletin (PM2013) “Performance-based Environmental Management: The Hewitt Creek Model.”

The Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition was formed in 2001 as a pilot test with my organizational support using the group development strategies in the manual, Renewing Local Watersheds: Community Leaders’ Guide. This group in 2009 continues to meet and actively engage residents in learning about and acting on behalf of their local waters.

Outcome Statement:   

Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition. Since 2006 there have been numerous sightings of trumpeter swans at the ISU Kelley/Swine Nutrition Farm wetland created in 2004. In Spring 2009, a pair produced 6 cygnets from the nest on the muskrat house in the wetland. The last native trumpeter swan nested in Iowa in 1883; a DNR restoration program was initiated in 1995. The Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition was a key catalyst in the creation of this wetland which is in the Squaw Creek Watershed. Shortly after their formation in 2001 the group began to talk with and encourage ISU farm managers to re-examine agricultural practices on university farmlands and evaluate options that shift vulnerable and less productive land into areas that can act as natural filters to slow down water run off in rain/snow events and absorb nutrients that could be harmful in large quantities. ISU Farm Manager Kent Berns discusses the decision to place a portion of the Kelly/Swine Nutrition Farm into a wetland, “The CRP farmable wetland program gave us an alternative that didn’t sacrifice profitability. We rarely produced a crop on 20 percent of the area enrolled in the program and another 20 percent only produced a partial crop. We were incurring production costs with little or no return.” This group meets regularly to learn about the ecology of their stream, monitor water and land uses, research solutions related to development and flood issues, testify at public hearings, partner with other groups on river trash clean up days and provide educational outreach. They were a lead organization in mobilizing their community to pass the city bond for the purchase of Ada Hayden Park to ensure backup reserves for the City of Ames public water supply.


160 Natural Resources &Stewardship

Page last updated: August 5, 2009
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