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UNESCO-HELP World Conference: Iowa Reflections

On November 21st-25th members of the Iowa-Cedar UNESCO-HELP basin joined those from all over the world to share their experiences, success and lessons learned at the UNESCO-HELP world conference in Panama. The conference was well attended, by numerous Latin American basins as well as basins in Europe, China, Philippines, Malaysia and others.

Iowa-Cedar UNESCO-HELP Basin Coordinator, Marian Muste and Iowa-Cedar Watershed Interagency Coordination Team Study Manager, Jason Smith jointly conducted a presentation during day two of the conference that was very well received by those in attendance. A couple of the attendees, namely representatives from the Tweed Basin (Scotland) and Brasilia Basin (Brazil) expressed interest in the potential for “twinning” to learn from each other and share ideas. In addition, a USDA Forest Service partner who manages a basin in Puerto Rico thought there was a great opportunity between Federal Agencies to Collaborate on public engagement processes and how to effectively communicate technical information (data and models).

This conference was filled with numerous short conversations where representatives learned about agriculturally based work being done by a research group CATIE in numerous Latin American basins as well as the hydroinformatics work being done in Asian countries such as China and Malaysia. One of the great examples of how powerful a grassroots effort can be in building credibility and a unified vision was in the Philippines where there is a general lack of resources but a great need and so people have started to align in grassroots type working relationships to communicate their needs and strategize their actions in concert with the UNESCO-HELP Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) framework.

After listening to many of the conference participants it was apparent that an IWRM approach is difficult to stomach. Either because of lack of funding OR lack of political will to take action OR apathy of people to look to their future resource needs. After many presentations and discussions around a host of issues representatives believe that the work that is underway in the IA-Cedar basin is the most aggressive effort of all of the basins. Many of the basins included Public Engagement OR Policy Evaluation OR Technical Modeling and Climate Change but none of the basins sought to look at them all together in an integrative approach such as is being done in the Iowa-Cedar basin.

This brings pride in knowing that the difficulties we have faced internally in the IA-Cedar basin are justified and may also present some fear that we have taken too big of a bite of the apple, but it is with a strong focus that representatives returned from Panama, understanding that the work done here is the practical culmination of the hypothetical IWRM processes that many seek to understand.

This is said, not to toot our horns, but to stress the importance of active participation in international partnerships like UNESCO-HELP. Although the US is having to restructure how it funds efforts there is little question that basins in the US have one of the greatest capabilities to combine social engagement tools with technical tools in order to help people understand the trade-offs that occur with various future scenarios and to have a mechanism to convey their desires to the decision makers that determine laws and policies.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog

By JON ERICSON, | Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2011 4:00 pm

CEDAR FALLS — The University of Northern Iowa is the most conspicuous and largest landowner in Cedar Falls. The college is also the leader in attempts to reduce effects on the Dry Run Creek watershed.

UNI has completed a dozen projects designed to improve water quality. Two of the largest were under construction last week.

The latest effort includes installing asphalt and paving bricks in two large parking lots to allow water to soak into the soil rather than rush into the creek and wetlands.

The massive lot north of the UNI-Dome and Wellness and Recreation Center represented a perfect place to try permeable asphalt. For one, the sheer size of the area — eight acres — means copious amounts of water run off when it rains.

Secondly, the area drains directly to a new wetlands project and ponds to the north. The area is intended as a prime spot for learning and recreation, in addition to holding floodwaters along the University Branch of Dry Run Creek.

The other project is in the parking lot of the towers dorms downstream along the same creek. In that case, the permeable surface is paver bricks.

UNI first worked with the permeable pavement in a parking lot outside the McLeod Center back in 2007. In that case, the material was concrete, and the results have not been what officials hoped.

Paul Meyermann, head of facilities planning at UNI, explained the situation.

“It performed well in terms of infiltration, but we’re not real happy with it because the surface deteriorated,” Meyermann said. “We’re a victim somewhat of being one of the first to try it.”

Monica Smith, manager of transportation engineering at Robinson Engineering, is dealing with the asphalt project. She said the asphalt is much easier for construction crews to work with and does not require special techniques to apply, unlike pervious concrete.

The asphalt relies on a different mix, one without sand that binds small rocks that make up asphalt. As a result, the pavement has small crevices water can infiltrate and sink through to layers of gravel and rock under ground.

“It kind of has a Rice Krispie treat texture,” said Phil Schuppert, watershed conservationist with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water District.

For decades, the goal of engineers was to get storm water off properties as soon as possible. For nearby waterways, like Dry Run Creek, such philosophies led to erosion, elevated temperatures in the water and a hostile environment for wildlife because of lower water quality. Projects like these at UNI are designed to gradually make Dry Run Creek healthier.

The asphalt strips in the parking lot are designed to capture all the water from a 1 1/4-inch rain event in a 24-hour period. Total cost for the two parking lot projects amounts to about $350,000, with 75 percent paid through a Department of Natural Resources grant.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog

Mary Beth Stevenson is the newest member of the DNR Watershed Improvement team. Mary Beth was appointed to underpin the Iowa-Cedar Rivers Basin Interagency Watershed Coordination Team.

As the Iowa and Cedar basin coordinator, Mary Beth will facilitate and coordinate flood mitigation, watershed and water quality improvement planning and implementation efforts on a local scale. Mary Beth will also help link technical and financial resources to local and regional needs to address these issues, initially working with groups like the Cedar River Watershed Coalition, the Iowa-Cedar River Basin Interagency Watershed Coordination Team, nonprofit organizations, commodity groups, government agencies and other groups.

Mary Beth comes to us from the East Central Iowa Council of Governments, where she served as a planner and resource specialist. She has also worked as the Water Quality Monitoring Director for the Mystic River Watershed Association in Massachusetts and as the Community Programs Facilitator for the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in conservation biology from the University of Michigan.

Starting Dec. 28, you can reach Mary Beth on her cell phone at (319) 325-8593, by e-mail at or by stopping by her office in Iowa City. Her office is part of the Iowa Geological and Water Survey offices in Trowbridge Hall on the University of Iowa campus. Please feel free to give Mary Beth a call or e-mail to introduce yourselves. We are excited to welcome Mary Beth to our watershed improvement team, and we expect you’ll enjoy working with her as well.

Announcement communicated by Allen Bonini, Supervisor, Watershed Improvement Section, Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Category : Uncategorized | Blog

By JON ERICSON For The Globe Gazette | Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 6:15 pm
CEDAR FALLS — The Cedar River Watershed Coalition started out with big dreams of minimizing damage from future floods.
Ten months after it was first created, the group is trying to make those dreams come true. The group is calling for $60 million in annual state funding to reduce future disasters across Iowa.
The coalition, lead by state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, is comprised of city and county officials, farmers, environmentalists and others from up and down the Cedar River drainage through Iowa. It aims to use comprehensive watershed management and pre-disaster hazard mitigation to reduce flood damage and improve water quality.
So far, the group has identified 40 projects and hired a watershed coordinator, funded by a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“After the floods of 2008 and 2010, it is clear that Iowa needs to lead the way in pre-disaster hazard mitigation and comprehensive watershed management so we can say never again to the type of flood damage we have experienced over the last few years,” Hogg said.
The 40 projects identified so far focus on restoring wetlands in the Cedar River drainage, planting prairies and protecting forested floodplains. Those projects total an estimated $18.4 million and Hogg said they would retain 4,800 acre-feet of water.
“It’s a start,” Hogg said. “I feel we need to hold over 100,000 acre feet of water.”
The group isn’t throwing all of its eggs in one basket. They are looking at initiatives as small as encouraging homeowners to add rain barrels or rain gardens on their properties to large scale land acquisitions to let the river reclaim its flood plain.
While ideas have been plentiful coming from this group, Matt Fisher of The Nature Conservancy been impressed with their willingness to work.
“There are a lot of these types of groups that get together. But I’ve seen a lot of action out of this group,” Fisher said.
The coalition expects to work with local governments to get them to go beyond minimum standards for containing storm water runoff and slow the movement of water into rivers and streams. They would also like to look at incentives for businesses and individuals to keep water on their properties.
Fisher said people may balk at the monetary figures the group mentioned, but he views it as an investment that will save money in the long run.
“It looks pretty reasonable when you compare it to the $10 billion in damages from the flood of 2008,” Fisher said.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog