Toward a collaborative model of surface water management: Lessons from the Boone River watershed nutrient management initiative
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Though productive, Iowa agriculture contributes substantially to nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution in local surface waters and the Gulf of Mexico. In response to local and national concern over surface water quality, in 2013 the State of Iowa approved the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and is working to engage Iowa farmers to protect water resources. The Boone River watershed (BRW) initiative in central Iowa was recently designated a demonstration site for the reduction strategy, as diverse public, private, and non-profit partners have been involved in the BRW for over a decade. To inform management decisions in the BRW and other Iowa watersheds, BRW partners commissioned a three-part biophysical and social science evaluation in 2012. As part of this team, I explored social dynamics at multiple programmatic levels to provide feedback on socioeconomic indicators of progress, remaining barriers, and actionable solutions. I conducted and analyzed interviews with 33 program leaders, farmers, and local agronomists and triangulated this primary data against program documents. I then provided program leaders with evaluative reports containing lessons learned and recommendations.
The chapters in this thesis highlight findings of potential interest to other agricultural watershed programs. In Chapter 2 I discuss findings and recommendations related to multi-stakeholder collaboration, including the importance of multi-scale monitoring and evaluation, communication between diverse stakeholder groups, and backbone structures to guide strategic coordination of watershed management outputs. In Chapter 3, I discuss my findings in the context of resilience theory and adaptive co-management. I identified "scale challenges" that act as barriers to long-term, adaptive watershed management, but found that multi-stakeholder collaboration has enabled BRW partners to remain flexible within a context of rigidity and uncertainty.