April 20, 2018

Outstanding Watershed Coordinators Recognized by Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and Partners

"Our Watershed, Our Community."

AMES, IOWA — The inaugural Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) Iowa Watershed Awards were presented March 22 at the 2018 Iowa Water Conference in Ames.

The awards honor watershed coordinators for their contributions and dedication to improve water quality across the state.

“The theme of this year’s conference — Our Watershed, Our Community — applies well to these unsung heroes that work with numerous stakeholders in watersheds to improve water quality while strengthening local communities and agriculture,” says Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director. “They also play a critical role in advancing the goals of the statewide Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

IAWA developed the new Iowa Watershed Awards program with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon Water Quality Improvement (WQI) Project Watershed Coordinator, was named the 2018 Iowa Watershed Coordinator of the Year.

Six coordinators across Iowa were honored with the Circle of Excellence award. They include:

  • Amanda Brown, Central Iowa Watershed Management Authority (WMA) WQI Project
  • Colton Meyer, West Branch of the Floyd River Watershed WQI Project
  • Mindy Sieck, Poweshiek Little Bear Creek Watershed Improvement Project
  • Shane Wulf, Miller Creek WQI Project
  • Velvet Buckingham and Brian DeMoss, Protect Rathbun Lake Project

Each Iowa Watershed Award recipient was recognized for their unique efforts to work with many diverse partners in an inclusive watershed approach that best fits the landscape of each local area.

The award winners will be receiving funding for their local watershed program and for their own professional development to help maintain the great momentum they are building through the watershed approach.

Click here to learn more about Iowa's watershed by watershed progress.

Photo: Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director, far left, and Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, far right, with the 2018 IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards honorees. They include, left to right, Circle of Excellence honorees, Amanda Brown, Mindy Sieck, Colton Meyer, Shane Wulf, Velvet Buckingham, and Brian DeMoss, and 2018 Watershed Coordinator of the Year Lee Gravel. (Photo by Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association)
Photo: Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director, far left, and Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, far right, with the 2018 IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards honorees. They include, left to right, Circle of Excellence honorees, Amanda Brown, Mindy Sieck, Colton Meyer, Shane Wulf, Velvet Buckingham, and Brian DeMoss, and 2018 Watershed Coordinator of the Year Lee Gravel. (Photo by Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association)

Lee Gravel, Headwaters of the North Raccoon WQI Project –
Through strong relationships with farmers, landowners (including those living out-of-state) and other partners, Gravel has demonstrated an innovative and collaborative approach to watershed management. His approach has resulted in the Headwaters of the North Raccoon WQI experiencing above average growth for both in-field practices, such as no-till and cover crops, as well as edge-of-field practices, such as bioreactors and saturated buffers.

From 2016 to 2017, the project experienced a 400% increase in cover crops. This increase represents nearly 10% of total row crop acres in the watershed. In addition, there are 11 new bioreactors and saturated buffers in the design and installation process within the watershed — a stunning increase for these relatively new practices.

Amanda Brown, Central Iowa WMA WQI Project –
Brown lives up to the “boots-on-the-ground” image of watershed coordinators across the state. Public-private and urban-rural partnerships are important components of Brown’s work. For example, her WQI project enlists help from the City of Des Moines to fund upstream conservation practices on farmland. Brown credits her supportive and hardworking team at the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District that includes John Swanson and Jennifer Welch.

Her work over the past year also included a leadership role in a unique program with IAWA and many other conservation partners to encourage farmer participation to try a new cover crop high-clearance interseeding prototype.

Colton Meyer, West Branch of the Floyd River Watershed WQI Project –
A 2010 graduate from Iowa State University, Meyer is known for his initiative. Meyer and the WQI project focus on showcasing nutrient reduction practices with a special emphasis on accelerating adoption across a broad section of the agricultural community. Meyer was recognized for his strong collaborative conservation efforts, partnering with FCS Co-Op, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, and Iowa Corn.

Mindy Sieck, Poweshiek Little Bear Creek Watershed Improvement Project –
Sieck was recognized for her outreach efforts, initiative in executing water quality monitoring, and unwavering commitment to the adoption of conservation practices that improve water quality. She and other local watershed stakeholders have helped landowners connect with the Poweshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). Together, they have worked to plant over 1,000 acres of cover crops, establish 18 water and sediment basins and nearly 3,000 feet of terraces, as well as several urban conservation practices such as permeable pavers, rain gardens, and native landscaping.

Shane Wulf, Miller Creek WQI Project –
A recognized conservation leader in Iowa, Wulf has demonstrated outstanding project performance and involvement. Wulf’s efforts to engage local farmers have led to the Miller Creek Watershed having 6,500 acres of cover crops in 2017, an estimated 20% of all the row crop acres. He acknowledges that both public and private partnerships are key to his work, including those with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service-Iowa, IAWA, an advisory council with highly engaged farmer leaders and ag retail representatives, and Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners.

Velvet Buckingham and Brian DeMoss, Protect Rathbun Lake Project –
Buckingham and DeMoss have conducted hundreds of contacts with landowners to build personal connections and encourage more conservation efforts, ensuring the success of the watershed project.

Since 2004, this project has aided nearly 600 landowners in the watershed. Outreach efforts have ranged from recognition of landowners through the Rathbun Lake Protector Program to large signs installed on county roads and state highways and countless press releases, interviews, and podcasts to encourage farmer adoption.

The conservation practices installed by participating Rathbun Lake Watershed landowners include nearly 2 million feet of terraces and more than 700 structures such as grade stabilization structures and sediment basins. These and other conservation measures reduce sediment delivery to Rathbun Lake by more than 55,000 tons per year and by more than 240,000 pounds of phosphorus annually.