Municipal-Agricultural Watershed Partnerships

Furthering upstream-downstream partnerships in the Mississippi River Basin is the goal of a project spearheaded by Sand County Foundation.

Sand County Foundation is leading an effort to build partnerships between municipalities and farmers within their common watershed. We believe there are creative ways to achieve federal and state governments' clean water goals by forging partnerships between municipalities, utilities, and farmers who volunteer to work with them. We are working to adapt a successful model in Wisconsin for Illinois and Iowa to improve water quality.


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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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.

In April 2020 the City of Dubuque signed the first ever agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to allow Dubuque to use the NRE towards permit compliance.

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.

Iowa League of Cities' Nutrient Reduction Exchange