Sustainable, Cost-Effective, Performance-Based Environmental Management

John Rodecap, Coordinator, ISUE Performance-Based Watershed Project, Northeast

Problem Statement:

Three watersheds, Coldwater/Palmer, Lime, and Hewitt-Hickory Creeks are on the IDNR impaired waters list. The watershed residents have considerable agricultural production capacity and are industrious, skilled human resources. The water quality issues have been attributed to agricultural land use, production practices and related activities. The farmers have never been asked to collectively address the water quality issues of their watersheds.

Programmatic Response:

Watershed councils have been organized, using ISU Extension facilitation assistance, and reflect community pride and the desire to keep the finger of regulators from pointing at their farm or pointed at their neighbors. Other motivations include farm commodity trade talks and the increasing demand by the public for a near pristine environment in which to live and play.


The new watershed councils, with ISUE staff assistance, have discovered that improved environmental performance and farm profitability can be linked using recent science-based research and computer modeling to provide measurable, reportable results for themselves and the public. Examples are the P-index (measuring the risk of phosphorus loss), Soil Conditioning Index and the fall cornstalk nitrate nitrogen test to measure sufficiency/excess in nitrogen management.

Non-point source, TMDL, and especially nutrient management solutions will require a critical mass of conservation application on more than 50% of respective watershed farm acres. Awareness, education, information and involvement of those who will make the needed management alterations are keys to the process of sustainable change in the Butler-Floyd, Buchanan-Benton, and Dubuque-Delaware county watersheds. These successful watershed councils benefit from ISU facilitation assistance that encourages local decision making that integrates their local knowledge and experiences with the science and knowledge contributed by specialists and technicians.

The watershed council issue-tailored performance-based management programs reward improving environmental performance on a whole farm basis. The rewards are granted using science-based computer modeling indexes with proven links to improving farm income. Watershed residents want to and will protect their community and places they cherish when given the tools and support they need to do so. These untapped human resources need to be utilized to protect and improve our natural resources. See Hewitt Creek Highlights.

September 2006

150 - Environmental Stewardship

Page last updated: October 2, 2006
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