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:
DISTRICT PLANNING - June 2021
The Cerro Gordo Soil and Water District Commissioners completed development of
their five-year district conservation plan last month. With the guidance of a planner
employed by the Conservation Districts of Iowa, and with input from several members of
the community over a series of six meetings, the commissioners identified five priority
goals. These goals will help us direct our efforts and our funding going forward.
It should come as no surprise that increased natural resource and water quality
education will be our top priority. Unsustainable soil losses from tillage and excessive
nutrients in our surface waters due to bad timing, overapplication, and too much tillage
are certainly our primary concern. We plan to get involved with natural resource
education programs for youth, hold more field days, and work to reach landowners
through a variety of print and electronic media.
Traditional (at least for the past 100 years) farming methods in our area need to be
reevaluated as we as a society become increasingly aware of the true costs of these
extractive farming methods. Our soils must be protected and returned to health through
the use of practices that keep the soil covered and provide a living root in the soil profile
for more than just 5 months of the year. The use of no-till methods and the addition of
cover crops has to become the new “traditional” if we plan to keep using the soil to
produce food and fiber.
The second priority goal stated in our plan is to increase the use of grassed waterways
as a way to allow excess surface water to exit a field without causing severe erosion
and gullies. Too often these scars on the landscape are just filled in every year with
tillage that hides the true cumulative soil loss. We have been fortunate this spring to
have not had heavy rainfall events so far. But we will, and the damage in areas that
should be covered by vegetation is often hidden by growing crops during the season.
We want to educate landowners about the devastating cost of this resource (asset) loss
and about the many cost share programs available that will help to defray the
construction costs of a properly designed grassed waterway. Most areas where a
waterway should be may be enrolled in a continuous CRP contract where there is cost
share, incentive payments, and a yearly rental payment to defray the cost of lost
production or rent. Waterways do need to be maintained. Our office can also help you
improve an existing waterway that is no longer doing its job.
It is our hope that these first two goals, if aggressively pursued, will help the district
begin to move from extractive agriculture to a type of regenerative agriculture. If you
are interested in being informed about what is going on in the district and in programs
that may help you begin to make this change, send your email address to
Marcia.Mork@ianacdnet.net to be added to our mailing list or check out our website at
Soil Health - April 2021
Spring is upon us! Agriculture producers and landowners are finalizing decisions and actions for this
year’s planting season. Most of the decisions involving expensive inputs, such as seed, fertilizers,
and herbicides, are usually made using economic considerations. However, some application
methods, timing of operations, and other land preparation decisions tend to be done based on farm
traditions, resistance to change, and bad advice.
As stated repeatedly in this column, I realize change is hard. Many producers are more than willing
to change the variety of corn hybrid they plant from year to year but are unwilling to change how they
plant it. Herbicides that are widely used change completely every few years as a new and improved
system is released, yet many producers have been doing the same tillage operations and timing for
nearly their whole farming career. Unnecessary tillage continues to degrade water quality and soil
The science of soil health, which is defined as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital
living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans, has become the primary focus of those
working in conservation. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) led the way in the
adoption of this terminology and promotes it through educational programs. Soil health practices
support the goals that conservationists have always strived for – less soil erosion, better water
quality, improved wildlife habitat, and reduced water quantity leaving the landscape. It also gives the
soil greater resiliency to overcome increased weather volatility. Stated simply, soil health practices
include reduction or elimination of tillage, the use of cover crops, and the resulting reduced need for
In the past few weeks, commissioners contacted Iowa legislators in support of HF 801, Soil Health
and Soil and Water Conservation Policy. This policy incorporates soil health language into the Iowa
Code section that governs conservation districts. There has been a drive by federal agencies to
better align national program goals and funding with modern language. Surprisingly, there has been
some resistance from the major producer and commodity groups, based mostly on a lack of
understanding of the science. Encourage commodity groups with whom you are associated to do
some research and get on board with soil health.
Commissioners have also visited with Iowa’s congressional delegation to encourage continued
support for longstanding conservation programs, such as CRP and CSP, that will be important with
the new administration’s emphasis on carbon reduction and mitigating climate change. The locally
led, voluntary, incentive based model administered through your local SWCD/NRCS offices needs to
be supported as a source of the technical assistance that landowners and producers will need to take
advantage of new incentives.
In an effort to provide current information about existing and new conservation programs to
landowners and producers, the Cerro Gordo Soil and Water Conservation District is developing an
email list of individuals interested in receiving this information. To be included on this email, contact
Marcia at the Cerro Gordo Soil and Water District office at Marcia.Mork@ia.nacdnet.net.
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.