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Pond-wetland complex to reduce Raccoon flood pressure, filter water

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A group of environmentalists from around the state gathered in Storm Lake on June 7 for an Iowa Watershed Approach Project bus tour of local conservation projects.

Stops on the tour included the Storm Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant wetland complex on the city’s west side, the White Family Trust site near Newell being created with the Buena Vista County Conservation Board, the Smith Family site east of Storm Lake along Hwy. 7, and landowner Ted Smith’s project site on Hwy. 3. Each stop featured the work of the North Raccoon Watershed Management Authority, roughly five years in the making.

The North Raccoon River Watershed Project includes activities in the upper watershed to reduce flooding and improve water quality, as well as infrastructure projects in the City of Storm Lake to protect commercial and residential property from flooding. The watershed coalition formed in 2016 and worked with landowners to implement conservation practices and prevent nutrient loss, in the Raccoon River watershed, which is considered one of Iowa’s most vulnerable.

The legacy of the Iowa Watershed Approach effort is one of awareness, according to Kate Giannini of the Iowa Flood Center program at the University of Iowa. 

“We’ve learned that nature-based programs work when we can put conservation ideas on the ground,” Giannini said.

Over the lifespan of the watershed project, nearly 800 new practices were installed around the state to protect water quality and reduce flooding, she said.

The effort had its roots in the National Disaster Resilience Competition that provided $1 billion in funding for communities across the U.S. The state won $97 million.

“Iowa took a unique approach. Rather than focusing on cleanup, it started working upstream to slow the flow of stormwater,” Giannini said.

The timing was right, she believes.

“I think water literacy has improved in the past five-plus years, and people have a better understanding of what needs to be done, especially in light of an era of changing climate when we may see more intense rainfall incidents,” Giannini said.

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