Please consider a gift to the Cerro Gordo Soil and Water Conservation District. Your tax deductible donation will assist our Commissioners and staff in spreading the word about protecting our natural resources on private lands. Please send your gift to the Cerro Gordo SWCD at 1415 South Monroe Ave., Mason City, Iowa 50401.
The Cerro Gordo SWCD publishes a monthly article in The Globe Gazette newspaper that discusses a current topic in conservation. The articles are written by Dennis Carney one of our commissioners. The most recent articles are reprinted below:
Organizing Watersheds - March 2021
A few months ago, the proliferation of watershed groups in the state of Iowa was mentioned in this
column; today, a more complete explanation of watersheds is the focus today. It is a common axiom
in conservation groups that water problems do not obey geographical boundaries. Because of that,
looking at an entire watershed is the best way to address water quality and quantity issues at its
A watershed is a land area that channels rain and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and
eventually to outflow points such as larger rivers, reservoirs, bays, or the ocean. Also referred to as a
catchment or drainage, a watershed can be defined on many scales. The United States Geologic
Survey classifies watersheds by Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC), which is a number that identifies the
specific area. It takes progressively more digits to identify a smaller watershed. The Shell Rock
River watershed, which runs from the area around Albert Lee Lake to where it empties into the West
Fork of the Cedar River, is classified as a HUC 8 Watershed. It is composed of 31 smaller HUC 12
watersheds, such as Beaver Creek and Beemis Creek in Cerro Gordo County.
In 2010, following the devastating floods of 2008, the Iowa Legislature, with the primary leadership of
then-State Rep. Mark Kuhn of Charles City, passed legislation authorizing the creation of Watershed
Management Authorities (WMAs). A WMA is formed by eligible political subdivisions within a HUC 8
watershed signing a chapter 28E agreement allowing them to cooperatively engage in watershed
planning and management. Usually these entities are the counties, cities, and Soil and Water
Conservation Districts (SWCDs) that are part of the watershed.
Representatives of the governmental units then form a board of directors, adopt bylaws, and
eventually develop and adopt a watershed plan. The WMA begins with a comprehensive resource
survey, then assesses flood and water quality issues, educates residents about these issues, and
allocates funds made available to the WMA for the purposes of water quality improvement and flood
mitigation. The WMA becomes a mechanism and a forum to discuss multijurisdictional water issues.
At the end of 2020 there were twenty-eight organized WMAs in Iowa with several more in early
stages. Currently WMAs for both the Iowa River and the Shell Rock River are forming. The Cerro
Gordo SWCD recently signed a 28E agreement with the Shell Rock River WMA. Many of the WMAs
across the state have been able to attract funding that allowed them to hire full time Watershed
These staff then work to draw additional grants and funding to carry out a wide variety of practices
aimed at improving water quality and reducing flooding in the watershed. Mitigation practices
supported range from flood control structures to cost-sharing the adoption of no-till and cover crops
on farmland in the area. Holding rainfall on the fields where it falls is the most efficient way to correct
both water quality and excess quantity issues. Iowa is unique among all states regarding this type of
grassroots watershed organization.
Contrary to the name, the WMAs do not have any real authority to force change, but rather provide a
forum for discussion and a mechanism to allocate funds. Several of the newest groups have started
to call themselves Watershed Management Coalitions to better reflect this. Be aware of the WMAs in
your area. This sort of entity will continue to be supported financially and have a tremendous effect in
protecting and improving our natural resources locally. If interested in becoming involved, contact
your local Soil and Water Conservation District office.
Get Involved in Conservation - Feb. 2021
In 2019, The Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI) received a grant from the Natural Resource Conservation
Service (NRCS) to assist the 100 conservation districts in Iowa to develop unique five-year conservation plans.
These plans serve to guide the commissioners in each district to concentrate education and funding toward
their areas’ primary resource concerns. To carry out this ambitious effort, CDI hired five planners who will
over the next four years assist each district in completing their plan.
The first step in this process involves the planners completing an inventory of the agricultural resources,
practices, land uses, watersheds, erosion susceptibility, organic matter and several other parameters in the
district. Then working with the Soil and Water Commissioners, the district establishes a Local Working Group
of interested government agency people, ag interests, farmers, and citizens interested in conservation issues.
This group meets to discuss and identify the most serious resource concerns in the district. These might
include surface water quality or quantity, excessive soil loss, aquifer depletion, or recreation and wildlife
issues just to name a few.
The next step is to hold a public meeting to discuss long range conservation planning in the district. At this
meeting the public is encouraged to attend and to participate in a discussion that focuses on the solutions and
barriers to conservation concerns in the district. This discussion will focus on the resource concerns identified
by the Local Working Group. Often, those of us working in conservation who are believers in a more
sustainable way of doing things, forget some of the obstacles, both real and imagined, that keep others from
making a change.
Public input into how tax dollars for conservation are spent locally has been less than ideal for many years. As
public awareness of man-made environmental and health issues has increased lately, the desire to have more
say in this arena has grown across the country. The quality of our water, air, soils and wildlife should matter
to everyone. The idea that a landowners’ actions on their property have no environmental impact to the
greater community, is no longer accepted.
Following the public meeting, the district Commissioners and the Local Working Group with the help of our
CDI planner, will develop their five-year plan of action to address the resource concerns that were identified.
These plans are then submitted to the Iowa Department of Agriculture for approval and put into effect locally.
The Commissioners have considerable discretion on how available cost share dollars are awarded. They do
not have to abide by the standard first come/first serve system. Our voluntary, locally led, cost share system
of distributing funds to do conservation practices will now be much better targeted to solve our local issues.
The good news is that the Cerro Gordo County’s public meeting to discuss local conservation issues is coming
up. The meeting will be held virtually on February 17, 2021 at 12:00 noon. For information on the meeting
and to obtain the Zoom link or teleconference number please contact the Cerro Gordo SWCD office at
(641)424-4452 or email email@example.com This is your chance to participate in local conservation
decisions that affect us all.
Winter Thoughts -January 2021
For a grain farmer, the winter months are a time to reflect on what worked and what could have been
better during the past production season. Even though many of the factors that determine a years’ profit are
beyond a producers’ control. Chief among these are rainfall, seasonal temperatures, and grain markets. For
long term success, any practices that add resiliency to the soils and crops need to be considered.
Non-farming landowners also need to take time each year to evaluate the condition of their asset
(cropland). Regardless of the annual rental payments received, the value or health of this asset can vary from
year to year. Was the soil protected from erosion loss? Has the fertility of the soil been altered? Has the
structure or permeability of the soil profile been diminished or improved? Are there new gullies caused by
spring rains following fall tillage? Has the fertilizer applied been used by the crop or are the nutrients
travelling downstream to cause problems in drinking water or wildlife?
So much new information about soil health and the practices that enhance it has become available in
the past five years to both producers and landowners. Even farm magazines whose advertisers include some
of the largest companies in the world, and who are notoriously slow in reporting trends, are full of soil health
information now. Practices that enhance soil health including drastically reduced tillage, crop rotations, and
cover crops are also an integral part of water quality protection and the reduction in the quantity of water
leaving a field. The resulting increase in soil organic matter due to these practices reduces the amount of
commercial fertilizers needed, increases soil permeability and helps bind atmospheric carbon. There are so
many different economic and environmental reasons to become motivated to make a change in your practices
or in your tenants’ practices.
Public or consumer pressure is always what drives positive change in any business that produces and
sells a product in an open market. The demand that food, fiber, and fuel be produced with minimal impact to
our environment continues to grow. The recent proliferation of incentive programs offered by ag industry,
environmental groups, climate groups and grain processors to reduce the detrimental effects of our traditional
methods of row crop farming illustrate that change soon will be demanded.
Also, due to public concerns about water quality and its effects on so many things, more watershed
groups are formed in Iowa each year. Currently there are just under thirty Watershed Management
Authorities organized in Iowa that cover close to a third of our state. Two more watershed coalitions in our
area have formed this past fall. I have been involved in identifying board members for both the Iowa River
Watershed that runs from Cerro Gordo to Tama County and the Shell Rock River Watershed running from the
Minnesota line to where it joins the Cedar River in Black Hawk County. These coalitions illustrate that
residents in these watersheds are concerned about their water and are willing to work for conservation
practices that will reduce both soil and nutrient runoff into these rivers and streams. As these groups get
organized, they normally work to attract funding to incentivize healthy soil practices in their area.
If you have a natural resource issue on your property please contact your local Soil and Water
Conservation District – in Cerro Gordo county call 641-424-4452 or visit cerrogordoswcd.org.