Extension Watershed Specialist Participates in White House Roundtable

DUBUQUE, Iowa--Farmers in northeast Iowa are giving leadership to improving the quality of water flowing from their watersheds. Scientific measurements help them better understand water impairments; research is helping them determine actions that will improve quality of water moving through the watershed.

Chad Ingels, a watershed specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, helps the farmers organize and secure funding for watershed groups. He also provides technical expertise and education on agronomic practices and environmental performance measures the farmers want to implement. What he doesn’t do is tell them what to do.

A decade of grassroots activity is having a positive impact on Iowa environment, and getting noticed in Washington, D.C. In mid-March, Ingels was invited to participate in the White House Rural Council’s Working Lands and Healthy Watersheds roundtable. The March 14 roundtable brought together folks from across the country to share their experience in effectively and efficiently investing resources to improve water quality in rural areas.

Ingels’ invitation came in part because of leadership and performance-based watershed management, the unique and effective way he is working with Iowa farmers. “Farmers set their own association goals and adjust incentives based on scientific guidance, results feedback and grower responses,” he said. “They are measuring the impacts, on the land and water, and have field indexes and water monitoring results to demonstrate the effectiveness of the practices they are using. That generates more farmer interest and participation – and the people gathered at the White House wanted to know more about it.”

The Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, in northwest Dubuque County, was organized in 2005 and developed their incentive program using the performance-based approach. Prior to that time, ISU Extension specialists had tested performance-based principles when the Maquoketa Headwaters and Mineral Creek watershed councils were organized. Today, Hewitt Creek has 80 percent of the operators in the watershed as members and the results on the land and water are measurable. Ingels gives credit for the association’s good participation rate to extension's inclusion of local data in education and scientific-based practices.

The White House roundtable
was an opportunity to celebrate and share some of the good work already happening in places like northeast Iowa. Successful water quality improvement projects appear to be united by four primary themes, Ingels said after the roundtable.

  • Positive relationships develop between landowners or land operators and the agency specialists that facilitate projects.
  • Access to and understanding water monitoring and practice performance data leads to setting goals, targeting implementation and measuring outcomes at the watershed level.
  • Coordination and information sharing between partners expedite the process of implementing watershed improvement plans.
  • Versatility in how funding can be used from public and private sources can lead to unexpected opportunities and benefits.

“Iowa watershed associations’ successes reflect these themes,” Ingels said. “As extension focuses more on applicable education and performance measures, association participation continues to increase. Members are sharing what they know and what they are doing to protect our land and water – not only with other land owners but the broader community.”

To learn more about the performance-based management projects and other watershed work Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is involved with, see http://www.soc.iastate.edu/extension/watershed/performance.html.

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