N. Raccoon Watershed organizes, set to hire director

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Shown: the watershed regions statewide. The local project area is marked in dark blue

The North Raccoon River Watershed Coalition is getting organized, in hopes of improving water quality and reducing flooding in the region surrounding the upper stretches of the river that springs from northern Buena Vista County.

The bylaws for the new organization were approved in July, several committees have been created, and finalists for the director’s position were interviewed Monday.

“I think we have three really good candidates,” said Storm Lake City Manager Keri Navratil, who has been chosen as vice-chairperson of the executive committee. Dale Arends, Buena Vista County Supervisor, is treasurer for the coalition, and in charge of the hiring process. Using conference calls, it is hoped that a recommendation on the director can be made in about 10 days. The North Raccoon will be the last of the state’s eight groups to hire a director. The position has been grant-funded for four years.

The program will be housed in Storm Lake, with office space for the director provided by the county government.

Projects under the program could include construction of farm ponds, wetlands, and storm water detention basins; restoration of floodplains and oxbows; and implementation of perennial cover and buffer strips. All projects will be voluntary, with landowners receiving 75 percent cost share assistance on constructed practices.

Once a director is hired, attention will turn to looking for proposals from potential consultants, and a watershed plan will be drawn.Rounding out the executive committee will be chairperson Mark Hanson, a county supervisor from Dallas County, and secretary Katie Rock, a Soil and Water Commissioner from Polk County. The North Iowa Council of Governments and University of Iowa Flood Center will assist, and the Iowa DNR is serving as technical advisor. The watershed project leaders will next meet in December.

“We have good optimism going in,” Navratil said of the effort. “The footprint for our watershed area is one of the larger ones in the state. Our most important goals are looking at water quality and flood mitigation. The project is going to be beneficial to Storm Lake as well as the entire watershed. The watershed approach gives us an opportunity to take a more overall, global view on water issues and how what happens in one river’s watershed can effect people over a very broad area. There are ramifications all the way to the Gulf.”

Projects can take place anywhere in the watershed, she said. Infrastructure projects in the city of Storm Lake to protect commercial and residential property from flooding will be included with about $6 million in funding, according to the project’s website. Funds will help the city make the community more flood resilient, including upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, reconstruction of streets with pervious pavement, and the construction of wetlands, the website indicates.

The North Raccoon River is a tributary of the Des Moines River, flowing mainly through the Des Moines Lobe landform, which retains imprints of glacial occupation, such as abundant moraines and shallow wetland basins. Flat land and poor surface drainage dominate this “prairie pothole” landscape. The North Raccoon River Watershed is heavily tiled with approximately 85% of the land in row crop production. The NRRW landscape is considered the most important and threatened waterfowl habitat in North America, supporting more than 300 migratory bird species. In 2013, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy named the NRRW a priority watershed.

Many environmental organizations and projects are already active in the watershed and existing projects will complement the activities of the Iowa Watershed Approach, leaders say.

The grant award for the project was nearly $3.8 million (out of total statewide funding of $97 million), and the North Raccoon region includes more than 80 governmental entities.

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