Municipal-Agricultural Watershed Partnerships

We all want and need clean water, so Sand County Foundation and the Environmental Policy Innovation Center are leading an effort to forge partnerships between municipalities in the Mississippi River Basin and the farmers in their watershed to improve water quality and save taxpayer dollars.

Through specially-drafted agreements, these municipal/agricultural partnerships provide an avenue for municipal water treatment plants to achieve their clean water discharge requirements by investing in conservation practices on nearby farms.

Thanks for these creative agreements, cities may be able to avoid making costly upgrades to their water treatment plants, and usually can achieve compliance at less cost. The benefits are not just economic. Relationships form between urban and rural citizens; improved water quality helps many drinking water utilities; and farm conservation practices often improve wildlife habitat, reduce flooding and improve the farm's bottom line.

With funding from the Walton Family Foundation, we secured three such partnerships in Iowa in 2020, and many more on the horizon in other states in other states in the region.

Why Engage in Watershed Partnerships?

People, Planning and Partnerships - Dubuque’s Secret to Water Quality Improvement

Water Quality W Logo

This guide breaks down the process into five clear steps, with examples to follow for each step. Focus your efforts on each step and the overwhelming concept will be more manageable: Identify the issue and project area; Develop your watershed plan; Cultivate partnerships; Engage the public; Establish your credits.

Click here to view, Watershed Approaches to Meet Permit Compliance: A Primer in Municipal Agriculture Partnerships.

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Voluntary partnerships with farmers, ranchers and other rural landowners provide some of the best possible opportunities to achieve nutrient goals collaboratively. Municipalities can incentivize landowners to implement conservation practices, and if regulators approve, the nutrient benefits from those practices can be counted toward the city or utility’s permit compliance goals.

This can be a win-win for urban and rural stakeholders within a shared watershed. Develop a partnership in your watershed with this step-by-step guide: Municipal-Agricultural Watershed Partnerships Project Guide. The guide's appendices can be found here. For the appendices table of contents, click here.

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Successful frameworks for watershed collaboration need to be tailored to the unique physical and policy landscapes in Illinois and Iowa. A key step is a formal agreement between the state regulatory agency and a city to give the municipality time for its work in the watershed and certainty that the regulatory agency will correctly value the work with farmers that the city funds. We have identified 20 ways that cites and water utilities can pay for water quality improvements on farms. (View the report's executive summary here).

The federal EPA reaffirmed its support for this strategy that allows nutrient management improvements in one part of a watershed to be traded for use in another. Doing so will restore local water quality and begin to address the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.

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WISCONSIN

Earlier this year we hosted a virtual field day that highlighted four examples of how four Wisconsin municipal-agriculture watershed partnerships are working. View the videos of each example below.

Municipal-Agriculture Watershed Partnerships at Work - Virtual Field Day

Virtual Field Day: Madison Metropolitan/Yahara Pride Farms

Virtual Field Day: Albany/Riemer Family Farms

Virtual Field Day: Brodhead/Riemer Dairy

IOWA

The Iowa League of Cities began a project to create the Nutrient Reduction Exchange (NRE) to enable municipalities and other NPDES permit holders to meet their nutrient reduction obligations through work in watersheds and with other non-point source partners.

Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy's Nutrient Tracking Tool

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner.

Working together, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences developed this proposed strategy.

The Iowa strategy outlines a pragmatic approach for reducing nutrient loads discharged from the state’s largest wastewater treatment plants, in combination with targeted practices designed to reduce loads from nonpoint sources such as farm fields. This is the first time such an integrated approach involving both point sources and nonpoint sources has been attempted.

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Iowa League of Cities' Nutrient Reduction Exchange

View the webinar with guests: Teri Goodman, Assistant City Manager; William O’Brien, Plant Manager Water & Resource Recovery Center; Eric Schmechel, Watershed Manager; Adam Schneiders, Iowa DNR; and Bartlett Durand, Sand County Foundation, to discuss the background of the regulatory environment, the new watershed approach and NRE tool, and how to implement the program for other municipalities.

City of Dubuque

In April 2020 the City of Dubuque signed the first ever agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to allow Dubuque to use Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Exchange towards permit compliance. For more, click here.

About Dubuque's Catfish Creek Watershed Management Authority.

View the Memorandum of Understanding.

Dubuque Agreement Featured on Market to Market

City of Cedar Rapids

In October 2020 the City of Cedar Rapids reached an innovative agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It allows an investment in conservation practices on farms to improve water quality and help the city’s water treatment plant meet state water quality goals. For more, click here.

Cedar Rapids Agreement Featured on Agribusiness Report

City of Storm Lake

In December 2020 the City of Storm Lake reached an innovative agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It allows an investment in conservation practices on farms to improve water quality and help the city’s water treatment plant meet state water quality goals. For more, click here.


City of Ames

In April 2021 the City of Ames reached an innovative agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. It allows an investment in conservation practices on farms to improve water quality and help the city’s water pollution control facility meet future, more stringent nutrient reduction requirements. For more, click here.


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