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Posted 2/28/2013

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A historic flood is a great motivator to get people thinking about water. In 2008, areas along the Iowa and Cedar rivers and their tributaries saw unprecedented flooding. This called together many forums of discussion for watershed improvements and changes to mitigate the risk of flooding.

One outcome was the formation of an Iowa-Cedar Interagency Coordination Team that launched a unique Pilot Study in the Indian Creek Watershed, a sub-basin of the Iowa-Cedar River Basin and Mississippi River. The study aimed to assess current and future watershed conditions and land uses while considering the uncertainties of climate change.

The Team held five workshops over a year long time frame, guiding stakeholders through a risk informed discussion making process. The stakeholders were from local, state and federal government entities, non-governmental organizations, specialty groups and local citizens of the Indian Creek Watershed. Each workshop built upon the previous.

The first three workshops unified the stakeholders by having them develop their goals, objectives and performance metrics for defining success in the basin. The existing conditions were also presented during these sessions which resulted in stakeholder interests being defined along three key areas: floodplain management, watershed assessment tools, and education and outreach.

Workshop four dug a little deeper with participants breaking up into facilitated groups to brainstorm the opportunities within the three key areas. In addition, this session provided the framework for District Hydrologists Toby Hunemuller and Greg Karlovits to present hydrology information including hydrographs, inundation maps and potential climate change impacts based on historical changes and a collection of reasonable future "what if" scenarios.

"The stakeholders were receptive to the highly technical information much to the credit of the format used by Hunemuller and Karlovits," said Jason Smith, study manager, Plan Formulation Branch.

The final workshop provided the stakeholders some examples of successful watershed projects like Duck Creek in Davenport, Iowa, and Dry Run Creek in Waterloo, Iowa. This workshop connected all of the prior workshops by using aerial imagery to identify opportunities for project actions such as wetland reconnection and communicating residential flood risk. It also connected how implementation of the project may achieve certain goals and objectives that the stakeholder group established over the first three workshops.

"This was a pilot study," said Smith. "We hope that the basis of our study and methods will be used in other communities to start the discussion about the importance of watershed planning."

This is already happening on an international level through a recent partnership with the University of Dundee in Scotland. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed by the Corps’ Institute of Water Resources to share lessons learned in multi-jurisdictional public engagement watershed planning efforts such as that in Indian Creek.

"We want to share what we are doing with local communities but also with the international community," said Smith. "We can all benefit from sharing ways to understand risk and make better watershed management decisions."

The workshops and study were a pilot component of a larger effort to develop a Comprehensive Plan for the Iowa-Cedar River Basin and the Upper Mississippi River Basin to reduce flood risk while increasing the social, economic and environmental values of the basin’s land and water resources.

The Iowa-Cedar Interagency Team is comprised of individuals from 20 different federal and state governmental agencies along with multiple non-governmental organizations. The Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are a couple entities that led and oversaw the Indian Creek pilot effort. For more information on these effort visit