RIO: Iowa-Cedar Rivers Basin Study Takes Holistic Approach


Federal, State and Non-Profit Agencies Assisting in Study That Will Be Used to Create Rivers Basin Management Plan

RIO Press Release

(DES MOINES) – A new study just getting underway incorporates many Iowans’ concerns about water quality and quantity, outdoor recreation, farming, development and the destructive 2008 flooding of the river basin made up of the Iowa and Cedar Rivers.

The project, called the Iowa-Cedar Rivers Basin Interagency Watershed Study, will look at the many different aspects of the river basin over the next 2½ years. Areas of inquiry will include how land use affects the way water flows through the watersheds within the basin, the vision of residents for future use of water resources in the watershed, and even scenarios of what would happen if certain types of flood-prevention measures are implemented, explained Bill Ehm, water policy coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Undertaking this study is no easy task, considering that the Iowa-Cedar rivers basin covers nearly 25 percent of Iowa. The basin encompasses 12,620 square miles and includes within its area crop and livestock production; manufacturing and high-tech industries; the cities of Mason City, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown and Iowa City; and one million people. See more information about the basin makeup at the Rivers Basin Web site,

Involvement of multiple agencies at the federal and state level, as well as private, non-profit partners will make the project more manageable, meaningful and useful, according to Ehm. The participants with the DNR range from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to The Nature Conservancy and the Iowa Flood Center.

Also involving residents of the basin in the planning process to contribute ideas, concerns and time, is extremely important for a workable rivers basin plan to come out of the study, Ehm said. Involvement of all the agencies and groups provides more potential for buy-in to the final plan.

The study is a multi-objective approach to issues within the basin, one that will provide a more holistic approach, he said. Participants are looking at flood risk management, water quality improvement, recreation in the river corridor and on the water, appropriate uses for floodplains and improved aquatic habitat, just to name a few areas of concern. “I believe if we deal with these issues comprehensively we can really improve things in all these areas,” Ehm said.

Additionally, researchers at the Iowa Flood Center (created at the University of Iowa in the aftermath of the 2008 flooding) are modeling scenarios of how water flow would be affected within the basin if various wetlands are restored or flood stabilization structures, such as flood walls, levees or storm water storage areas are built.

“We have to remember as we sit in Cedar Falls or Cedar Rapids, as we just did for a meeting, we are at about the midpoint of the river system,” Ehm said. “What happens above us will impact us, and what happens downriver will be a result of what we do here. It is all connected. We have to look at everything, and it is complex.”

While the lynchpin for the basin study is the risk of flooding in communities and on farms, the study and any resulting plan will also focus on longer-term visioning and trying to do what residents of the rivers basin would like to see done, Ehm said.

Visioning sessions are being held in areas within the Basin to allow anyone interested to be involved in the process. At a recent visioning meeting in Cedar Falls, there were people representing such varied interests as agriculture, state government, environmental groups, city planners and just regular folks who live in and enjoy the river corridors, Ehm said. They were all sharing their ideas about the landscape and the activities they would like to enjoy in the future.

Anyone interested in learning more about the study can visit the rivers basin web site as given above, or watch local media for an announcement of a visioning session connected to the watershed study. So far, visioning sessions have been held in Toddville and Cedar Falls.

Participating agencies and groups involved in the study alongside the DNR include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Rock Island District; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the National Weather Service; Natural Resources Conservation Service; the Iowa Flood Center, under IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering; the Iowa Department of Transportation; Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division; the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; the Rebuild Iowa Office; and the non-profit organizations American Rivers and The Nature Conservancy.


(Click here to view the original release)