Coralville event focuses on management practices within Clear Creek Watershed

IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber presents at the Iowa Watershed Apparoach Kickoff meeting at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber presented at the Iowa Watershed Apparoach Kickoff meeting at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | June 16, 2016

Officials with the University of Iowa’s IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering hosted an event Wednesday in Coralville focused on reducing flood damage and improving water quality within the Clear Creek Watershed.

IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering Director Larry Weber was the event’s main presenter as he discussed efforts in the Clear Creek Watershed which will in part be funded by a $96.9 million grant awarded to the state of Iowa in January by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 60 were in attendance for Wednesday’s event at the Coralville Public Library including representatives from city, county, and state governments, Iowa’s three regent universities, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), landowners, farmers, and various engineering firms. Weber said he thinks cooperation between public and private entities will be key in many of the upcoming projects.

“It is a great partnership between the public and private sectors. With the federal and state agencies they have a jurisdiction and they have an authority. So they all work within in their authority to contribute to the program,” said Weber. “Then we have the private sector involved through design consultants, engineering services, technical assistance, and what I was really impressed with in today’s meeting were the number of landowners that were here. So there’s interest. We know there is interest in landowners wanting to make their waters better and to have that number of landowners here interested in the program, already thinking about practices they might want to enroll on their property, that’s exciting.”

Jeff Geerts, Special Project Manager for the Iowa Department of Economic Development, answered questions during the Clear Creek Watershed event at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

The $96.9 million grant was awarded to Iowa through the National Disaster Resilience Competition. The landlocked Hawkeye State received the fourth largest amount of funding behind disaster-prone coastal areas. Weber said this large sum of funding shows the need for pursuing these projects in Iowa.

“It is really interesting especially since this competition was born out of Superstorm Sandy. The largest recipient was the state of New York followed by Virginia and then New Orleans which has been impacted by every landfall and gulf coast hurricane over the last decade,” said Weber. “Iowa was fourth behind those disaster-prone areas so it really spoke to how well the partnership was, how sound the approach is, and how great the ideas are.”

Weber also said that IIHR’s prior involvement in HUD-funded projects made the process easier when pursuing the most recent grant.

“The Iowa Flood Center and IIHR was fortunate to be part of the team that helped to create this proposal and having the experience from running the previous HUD project we knew what the needs were. We needed money for conservation, we needed technical design assistance, we needed project coordinators, we needed the monitoring and modelling and other outreach services that we provide. So when we saw how all of those elements could fit together we wrote a compelling story for HUD and then ended up with a successful proposal.”

Another reason Iowa was successful in receiving the HUD funding was because of programs and other efforts already in place that will contribute to the HUD project. The Iowa Flood Center, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, the Iowa Geologic Survey, the Iowa DNR, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and other agencies already have programs in place which HUD felt could be further developed with the funding it granted to Iowa.

Coralville Mayor John Lundell. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Coralville mayor John Lundell also spoke at the Clear Creek Watershed event at the Coralville Public Library on June 15, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)

In addition, Weber said Iowa was unique among its adversaries in the National Disaster Resilience Competition because of the amount of local financial support for the practices outlined in the state’s plan.

“We have 25 percent local support of these practices. So think about going to a coastal area where they’re going to build a seawall. They don’t ask the residents behind that seawall to commit 25 percent of the funding yet here we’re building practices on private land for public benefit and we’re getting that landowner to cover 25 percent of that cost.”

Weber credited the Iowa legislature and other state leaders for their support with establishing the Iowa Flood Center and funding other water-related activities in the state which helped Iowa’s case when applying for the recent HUD funding.

“Without that commitment we wouldn’t have had the leverage that we did and we wouldn’t have been successful like we were,” he said.

Wednesday’s meeting was part of an eight watershed tour that concludes today in Vinton.

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