Maquoketa River Watershed Management Plan Phase II


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During the 2020-21 academic year, a team of five urban & regional planning students helped create the Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority’s first ever plan. The team studied best practices, reviewed existing plans from across the state, and conducted a series of public engagement activities in order to develop broad goals and objectives for the entire watershed. This year’s planning team will continue the work started last year, further developing the plan and continuing engagement with the public and local stakeholders.


An effective path toward cleaner water and flood management in Iowa includes a strong emphasis on a watershed approach, which considers the entire area of land that drains into a body of water, such as river or lake. A watershed approach incorporates both technical data and robust stakeholder participation, so that policies and actions are realistic and data-driven.

Watersheds are not confined to traditional jurisdictional boundaries, and to accomplish local watershed-based planning, many cities, counties, and soil & water conservation districts have formed Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs) through voluntary, intergovernmental agreements. The first WMA in Iowa formed in 2012, and today, there are more than 20 WMAs recognized by the state of Iowa (Iowa Water Center).

The Maquoketa River in Eastern Iowa has a watershed that spans seven counties, including large portions of Delaware, Dubuque, Jones, and Jackson Counties, and smaller portions of Fayette, Clayton, and Buchanan Counties. While efforts to improve water quality and promote best management practices in this watershed have been happening for quite some time, the Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority (MRWMA) is a relatively new regional and intergovernmental organization. With 35 jurisdictions having joined the agreement, the Maquoketa River WMA exists to reduce flood risks and improve water quality. One way that they’ve had success in educating the public about the importance of the watershed is through recreational water uses, such as the new whitewater park in Manchester.

The WMA contracted the services of Limestone Bluffs Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), a non-profit organization, to carry out the functions of the coalition.

Limestone Bluffs and representatives of the MRWMA seek assistance to complete the plan. The WMA has a strong foundation in place, including an active technical committee, support from state organizations (such as the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship), broad stakeholder support, outreach to residents and local governments, and an active volunteer base for completing monitoring water quality and other activities.

Planning – Phase 2

Following the development of other WMAs over the past ten years, the next phase of activity after forming a board and completing the first plan is filled with marketing, outreach, events, training, certification, technical analyses for decision support, site-specific scoping and pilot project implementation. The planning team will assist MRWMA as they operationalize the plan, particularly through watershed-wide site-specific cost-benefit analyses to scope out the locations and acres of green infrastructure needed to reach the intermediate and long-term outcomes of interest for water quality and flooding in each sub-watershed.

In conjunction with the technical analyses, the planning team will continue to engage stakeholders, with a focus on understanding how needs and opportunities differ among the three subwatersheds as well as separate jurisdictions. The first planning team conducted a survey to understand perceptions and interest in watershed activities. More in-depth analysis of the data can help inform actions and strategies moving forward.

As part of the continued and ongoing education and outreach efforts, MRWMA seeks assistance with creating an accessible online resource for stakeholders.

The planning team will consider opportunities to expand and promote best management practices, particularly for agricultural land uses.

The full scope of work for the second phase of the MRWMA plan will be developed in conjunction with the MRWMA board members and committees.

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