Posted May 3, 2017 by the Iowa Soybean Association

When it comes to managing water, upstream and downstream challenges are interconnected and rely on collaboration to be solved.

Building on the discussion started last month, Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) and Capital Crossroads hosted the second segment of the “Current Conversations on Water Quality” dialogue on April 28.

“The water quality issues that we all need to address can’t be done by any one organization, one industry, or one geography,” said Hannah Inman, Great Outdoors Foundation executive director and Natural Capital tri-chair for Capital Crossroads. “We kind of hope through this partnership, we can do this together and really show, not only our region and our state, but really the nation how to address concerns within our state in a pragmatic way that creates a win-win situation for everyone.”

In March, a tour of NEW Cooperative’s fertilizer and chemical warehouse in Roelyn showcased agricultural tools and practices that reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality. The conversation last week brought to light urban water challenges and the actions underway to address them.

Matt McQuillen, assistant city manager for the City of Clive, highlighted the city’s master plan for the Clive Greenbelt — a portion of Walnut Creek and its tributaries — that stretches nearly the length of the city.

“The Clive Greenbelt is really the social corridor, the main fabric that connects our entire community together and we need to remember that as we’re implementing some of these projects in the Greenbelt master plan,” said McQuillen.

The master plan provides strategic framework for six priorities:

  1. Flood management and water quality improvements
  2. Habitat/riparian corridor improvements
  3. Trails and connections
  4. Public health — mental and social well-being
  5. Physical well-being
  6. The business and economic climate

Urban conservation

According to McQuillen, it’s no surprise stormwater management is the top priority because 92 percent of the water from the Walnut Creek Watershed flows into the Clive Greenbelt. Going hand in hand with stormwater management is habitat restoration, which the city sees as an opportunity to get added benefit from stormwater management practices.

“We know we have stormwater challenges, but we see them as opportunities,” McQuillen said. “So if you go in and you’re stabilizing a stream or re-establishing an oxbow, it also can be a quality of life benefit if you do it very intentionally. If you put a trail along it or a boardwalk along it, it can be an amenity as well as serving a stormwater function.”

The masterplan breaks the Greenbelt into five districts: the Falls, the Oxbows, the Lakes, the Headwaters, and the Wilds. These areas are based on the unique characteristics of that segment of the watershed, therefore each has different conservation priorities.

The Oxbow district is unique because it incorporates oxbow restoration, which is typically seen as an upstream or rural conservation practice. Oxbows are a piece of a river or stream that has been cut off from the main flow due to the stream’s natural movement over time. Restored oxbows offer habitat benefits to fish and birds, while also providing flood water storage and reducing nutrient loss.

Regional collaboration 

To further improve stormwater management, McQuillen discussed the need to expand efforts to a regional level and work upstream in the watershed.

“Clive as a city, we could do everything we can do related to water quality and water quantity management in our own community, in our own borders, and we would probably make this much difference [holds fingers an inch apart], so for us it’s about that engagement, that regional engagement for the watershed,” McQuillen said.

“We know we don’t control our own destiny when it comes to water quality and water quantity in the Walnut Creek Watershed. Some of the things we’ve identified from an environmental improvement standpoint will be a key message in why we’re sharing this story with neighboring jurisdictions — to get this understanding of this regional challenge that we have in this watershed and how can make better over time.”

The city is connecting with neighboring communities to align work and build on existing partnerships and projects. Additionally, Clive is working with the Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District to implement some conservation practices, such as the oxbows, and to build relationships with farmers upstream.

The group also discussed opportunities for Clive and other communities to invest in practices upstream in the watershed to reduce flood risk and improve water quality, because it may be more cost-effective for the city. ACWA members were encouraged by the city’s willingness to collaborate with stakeholders upstream and were supportive of these projects.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Harry Ahrenholtz, ACWA chairman. “I heard the term collaboration, I heard partnership, I heard the need for financing both public and private from every speaker and from every comment out in the audience. We can help the urban group connect with the farmers and the urban group can help us connect with the urban interests here.”

The meeting ended with attendees agreeing to continue the conversation and work together to develop long-term solutions to the challenges facing both urban and rural stakeholders.

“When we think about water quality, these are shared problems and shared solutions,” said Roger Wolf, ACWA executive director. “This is about people taking action and actually taking the initiative to build the relationships with downstream folks and upstream folks. We have that in this room, and we’re just thrilled to be working with Capital Crossroads and the Greater Des Moines Partnership and all the folks committed to these issues.”