Senator Ernst and Maas Family

Senator Ernst Visits Iowa County Farm to Learn About IWA

Iowans love to talk about the weather, and there was plenty of weather to talk about when U.S. Senator Joni Ernst visited the Maas Family farm near Williamsburg recently. Despite strong winds and a chance of rain, Ernst came to learn more about the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA). This was Senator Ernst’s Iowa County stop —#44 on her 99 County Tour for 2021. IWA is a five-year, $96.9M project designed to make Iowa more flood-resilient by working with volunteer landowners within watershed communities, building conservation practices to help restore the landscape’s natural resilience to floods.

Ernst and about 30 others — representing local government, watershed management authorities, landowners, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC), and more — gathered in the Maas shop before heading out to see the IWA hydrostation installed on the property.

IWA Clear Creek Watershed Project Coordinator John Rathbun welcomed the crowd to the Maas farm. By the end of the IWA project next year, Rathbun expects to see 70 completed conservation practices (such as farm ponds, wetlands, and more) in the Clear Creek watershed. Once installed, the practices will slow down the flow of stormwater through the basin, temporarily holding back 61-acre feet of runoff and reducing downstream flooding. This is equivalent to about 61 football fields at the depth of one foot of water.

Iowa County Supervisor John Gahring chairs the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition. “It’s been a phenomenal project,” he said, one that brought $2M to Iowa County. He spoke warmly of the IFC staff who have shared their expertise and data with local groups. “I can’t tell you the impact on our community,” he said.

IWA Project Lead Larry Weber, co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center, spoke about his vision for a rural/urban watershed project that would bring people together within a watershed to build community and improve flood resiliency.

Larry Weber and Senator Joni Ernst

Left to right: Clear Watershed Coalition Board Chair John Gahring, Iowa Flood Center Co-founder Larry Weber, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, and Clear Creek Watershed Project Coordinator John Rathbun.

“This is what good looks like,” Weber said, as he gestured to the diverse group around him. IWA has defined such efforts for the nation, he said, attracting groups from other states to Iowa to learn about the project and to study how they might emulate it in their own states.

But the work here in Iowa isn’t done, Weber noted – Iowa would benefit from another similar project. Weber said that landowner interest in the program far outstrips the resources available through IWA. “There’s an opportunity there to work with those landowners,” Weber said. “We need to figure out how to carry this thing forward.”

Farmer and landowner Jared Maas shared his desire to preserve and maintain his farm for future generations. “We want to keep our ground here,” he said. “Not send it down the river.”

Ernst praised the IWA and the “big benefits” it has brought to Iowa, including flood mitigation, nutrient management, improved soil health, enhanced ecosystems, habitat for wildlife, and more. And, she added, it’s not just Iowa that can benefit from such efforts — it could also help meet a nationwide need.

This is important work, Ernst concluded. How do we collaborate and make sure that these efforts are continually moving forward, not just in Iowa, but across the country?

With the remarks concluded, everyone jumped into their vehicles to drive out to the IWA hydrostation on the Maas property. The hydrostation is one of 20 deployed statewide to provide real-time information that farmers can use. The stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture and temperature. A shallow groundwater well also provides information about the water table. And the IFC makes all the data publicly available on the internet through its Iowa Flood Information System.

Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explained, and data collected by the IFC hydrostation can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for spring fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.

Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”



Iowa Mitigation Program Leads to $1.4 Billion in Flood Prevention Projects Trusts,Published on: November 19th, 2019
Iowa and North Carolina politicians pose

Just a week before Hurricane Dorian brought flooding to parts of North Carolina, IIHR and the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) hosted a group of North Carolina farmers, scientists, conservation professionals, and elected officials who had come to learn about Iowa’s efforts to become more flood-resilient.

Flooding has hammered North Carolina in recent years, and residents are “tired of bouncing back,” according to Will McDow, a representative of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which co-sponsored the event with IFC. Far better, McDow said, to “bounce forward” toward a more flood-resilient future.


With that in mind, the August 28–29 exchange featured presentations from IFC co-founders Witold Krajewski and Larry Weber, a tour of Cedar Rapids flood protection infrastructure, and presentations from Cedar Rapids city officials about the community’s response to the destructive flood of 2008.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz told the group, “We are in many ways better and stronger” after the flood. Cedar Rapids approached flood recovery with a “people first” philosophy that helped residents stay in the community while rebuilding in a way that is smarter, safer, and more sustainable.

The tour group visited sites around Cedar Rapids including this flood control structure/amphitheatre.

The visit included a tour of Cedar Rapids’ flood control structures, including the McGrath Amphitheatre. Removable flood wall sections can be fitted into the arches.

The visitors from North Carolina also learned about the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), a $97 million, five-year project designed to mitigate flooding using a holistic, watershed-wide process. A bus tour included a stop in Vinton, where a future 5.5-acre IWA wetlands will help protect the community from future flooding. “It takes time,” said Vinton Mayor Bud Maynard. “It’s all about investing back in your own communities.” After a brief rainstorm, the bus tour moved on to Rodgers Park, where recently completed wetland and stream bank stabilization projects are enhancing water quality.

The group also visited a farm in the Cedar River Watershed to hear from landowners and producers about how they’re implementing conservation practices to help improve water quality and reduce flood risk. Farmer and host Nick Meier is part of the Miller Creek Water-Quality Improvement Project, which brings together farmers to learn from each other about how conservation practices can enhance soil health and water quality. Miller Creek project coordinator Clark Porter moderated a panel discussion focusing on practical steps farmers can implement in difficult economic times.  Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Jeri Thornsberry told the audience, “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Group photo of North Carolina and Iowa representatives in front of cornfield.

Nick Meier’s cornfield provided the backdrop for this group photo of the Iowa and North Carolina groups that participated in the learning exchange.

The tour wound up at Wickiup Hill Learning Center near Cedar Rapids for presentations on financing, funding mechanisms, planning, and partnerships.

The exchange went both ways, and the Iowans learned a lot from their North Carolina counterparts. As IWA PI Larry Weber said, “We’ve got a long way to go, too.”

Iowa Recovers from Devastating Floods, Prepares for More News Service,Published on: April 19th, 2019

Area watershed project gets financial boost Daily Nonpareil ,Published on: June 30th, 2017

EnvIowa Podcast: Dr. Larry Weber on flood mitigation and water quality improvement projects,Published on: June 29th, 2017

Work continues on Nishnabotna watershed authorities Nonpareil,Published on: March 30th, 2017


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