Building Regional Capacity for Local Citizen Involvement in Local Watershed Management Decision Making

Lois Wright Morton, Faculty, Sociology Department


The Mississippi River basin, the center of U.S. agricultural crop production, drains 40 percent of the continental U.S. into the Gulf of Mexico (Libra 1998). This 140 cubic miles of water delivers an average of 1.65 million tons annually of nitrogen along with excessive phosphorous, sediment and bacteria (Libra 1998). Four states (Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas) located in the Heartland EPA Region 7 rank as top 10 producers of cattle, swine, poultry, soybean, corn, wheat, milo, cotton and rice and are major contributors to non point source pollution. Expert technical assistance to landowners has been insufficient to assure adoption of and sustained land use practices that reduce pollution levels. Human and social factors are important influencers of landowner decisions. However technical agency staff and educators often do not understand these factors and as a result are less effective than they could be. This Extension capacity building program targets agricultural educators, institutions and agencies working with landowners with the goal of helping agencies and their staff to increase the integration of the human and social dimension into their intervention programs. Capacity building means increasing institutional capacities to link education and technical intervention in effective ways.


The objective of this project is to increase the capacity of local watershed groups in the four-state Heartland region so they act to improve their water quality by helping local leaders, extension and agency resource personnel learn to trust each other and work together to understand the human/social aspects of their watershed and the implications for changing and sustaining land use practices that result in positive environmental impacts. 


Planning and coordination meetings with the Heartland Regional Water Coordination Initiative Citizen Involvement in Watershed Management team, 4-state [Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa] extension educators and researchers to plan regional programs on conflict management and building partnerships.

Research on two Iowa small watersheds documenting relationships, networks, attitudes and beliefs about land practices and water quality. Preparation of manuscripts linking theory to empirical evidence of social relations within watershed groups. Presentation of research at Rural Sociological Society conference, August 2006, The Role of Civic Structure in Achieving Performance Based Environmental Management. Presentation of theory and applications at regional conferences including October 2005 (see below).

October 26-28, 2005 Heartland Regional Water Quality Conference, 138 participants; 77 from 4-state Land Grant Universities. One-third with county/district responsibilities, one-third with state level responsibilities and the balance representing regional and national roles.


Focus group evaluations of the Heartland project related to capacity building confirm the following outcomes:

Extension educators, agency technicians, and university researchers believe they are building trust, personal networks and increased interactions and connections with and among other state specialists, scientists, and EPA in the four state region that are resulting in

a.     Increased exchanges and information flows at multiple levels of government both vertically to Federal and State levels all the way to individual producers as well as horizontally across scientists, technical, and agency staff among states

b.     More opportunities to talk about ideas and to develop grant proposals

c.     Increased climate of knowledge building and exchange that is dominated by science not special interest groups

d.     Greater opportunities and connections have resulted in collaborations within and among state agencies, scientists, and water specialists

Example 1: As result of a breakout session in October 2005 conference, Iowa extension educators set priorities for the ISU Extension to Agriculture Natural Resources and Environmental Stewardship Plan of Work relating to water issues. Subsequently these priorities were written into the new Federal POW 2007-2011 and are now being used to guide future programming and have reporting categories to track progress.

Example 2:  Increased collaboration, information flows and trust amongst University Extensions resulted in the joint writing and submission of a proposal to EPA between University of Missouri Extension and Iowa State University in response to RFP on capacity building.

September 2006

150 - Environmental Stewardship

Page last updated: September 29, 2006
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