A comparative analysis of Iowa watershed organizations: Structure, function, and social infrastructure

Wagner, Andrea
Major Professor
Monica Haddad
Committee Member
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Community and Regional Planning

In 2013, Iowa released the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) as a response to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, acknowledging the role that agriculturally dominant states play in water quality issues downstream. Prior to the release of the INRS, in 2010 the state of Iowa legislated the formation of Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs), which are voluntary, intergovernmental agreements that conduct local watershed planning within the HUC-8 scale. Both the INRS and WMAs are reliant on voluntary implementation of conservation practices to mitigate field runoff to reduce water quality and quantity issues. Such implementation can be difficult to achieve at the watershed scale. The study presented here uses the concept of social infrastructure to better understand the organizational structure and function relationship between five Iowa watershed organizations and the communities of which they are a part, with an aim to improve conservation implementation. Qualitative data was collected from five Iowa watershed organizations—three WMAs and two farmer-led groups—through stakeholder interviews and content analysis of organizational documents. This data formed the basis for the creation of two concept maps of social infrastructure as it exists in the WMAs and farmer-led groups. Analysis of the data reveals important differences between the social infrastructure of WMAs and farmer-led groups, particularly in regard to how the watershed’s scale can impact communication and funding needs. Analysis also opens up questions regarding the current structure of WMAs, as well as how watershed plans in general can be more fully integrated with community and economic development in order to advance their goals. Though the INRS and the legislation of WMAs are foundational to improving water quality and quantity issues in Iowa, the research here demonstrates that the watershed organizations’ social infrastructure can be more effectively used and developed.