In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Iowa a $97 million grant through the National Disaster Resilience Competition to implement the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA). With the help of that funding, ECICOG’s work on our region’s watersheds won a 2022 Impact Award from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO).
In the ECICOG region, three watersheds were allocated a total of $21 million to reduce the risk of flooding and improve water quality through conservation practices and watershed planning. The competition was designed to fund projects that address unmet needs from past disasters while addressing the vulnerabilities that put Americans in harm’s way during future disasters.
Each watershed partnered with a county to serve as the fiscal agent, with Benton County awarded $11 million for the Middle Cedar Watershed, Iowa County awarded $5.5 million for the English River Watershed, and Johnson County awarded $4.4 million for the Clear Creek Watershed.
The ECICOG Environmental Services Department managed the CDBG grant requirements for all three counties, including environmental reviews, procurement processes, contractor clearances, compliance with federal labor laws, and preparing reimbursement requests. ECICOG Environmental Services Director Jennifer Fencl led the development of the Clear Creek Watershed Management Plan and served on the planning committee for the Middle Cedar Watershed Plan. In addition, ECICOG was able to provide office space and mentorship for the newly hired Middle Cedar watershed coordinator, Adam Rodenberg.
Fencl said the benefits of these watershed management techniques aren’t yet known to most of the public, but this project is a step in the right direction. “Addressing flood impacts and water quality outside a city border isn’t the first option on a local government’s list, but the IWA shows it can be a viable method,” Fencl said. “Watershed management practices are designed to hold back rainwater to slow runoff and increase groundwater infiltration, which stores fresh water underground instead of sending it downriver.”
In total, ECICOG played an administrative role in the construction of 538 practices such as ponds, grassed waterways, wetlands, and floodplain restorations to hold back runoff. These practices provide storage of water equivalent to about 440 Olympic-size swimming pools, which encourages resistance to flooding, as well as resilience in its aftermath.
For more information about the Iowa Watershed Approach, visit the Iowa Watershed Approach website and read Richard C. Lewis’s “Iowa Watershed Approach marks five years of success.”