Turkey River Watershed takes regional flood mitigation approach - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Turkey River Watershed takes regional approach to flood mitigation

The Turkey River Watershed touches seven eastern Iowa counties The Turkey River Watershed touches seven eastern Iowa counties

A major flood mitigation effort is bringing together 23 eastern Iowa cities across five counties and seven soil and water conservation districts.

Last June, communities along the Turkey and Volga rivers formed the Turkey River Watershed Management Authority to try and find a solution to devastating flooding.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Big Spring Fish Hatchery in Clayton County sits right along the Turkey River. Normally a lovely location, that proximity created a major problem five years ago, when floodwaters overwhelmed the hatchery.

"2008, just like a lot of other communities downstream, we had a flood that was three feet above any previous record," Iowa Department of Natural Resources hatchery biologist Gary Siegwarth said. "A flood of that magnitude, obviously, it's reflecting something's changed in the watershed."

He said the flood destroyed the hatchery's main building, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, not to mention lost trout.

The hatchery, of course, was not alone. From Elkader and Littleport to Elkport, Garber, Volga and more, flood waters either severely damaged or destroyed parts of several Clayton County cities.

"We're at the end of the watershed, so everything down here comes down to us," Elkader city administrator Jennifer Cowsert said.

The Turkey River Watershed, which includes the Turkey and Volga rivers, lies in seven counties, with the bulk of it in Clayton, Fayette, Chickasaw, Winneshiek and Howard counties. The entire watershed covers more than one million acres. A watershed is any land that flows toward a body of water. Some call it a drainage area.

Communities and leaders from all throughout that area make up the Turkey River Watershed Management Authority, which is studying the water flow.

"That's what's important to us, is to be able to control the water where it falls, so that it doesn't run down and affect the neighbor, which then affects the neighboring town, which goes all the way downstream," Cowsert said.

West Union, a Fayette County city located within the Turkey River Watershed, is implementing several flood mitigation tactics and acting as a pilot project and model city for the rest of the area, Cowsert said.

"They're managing the water where it falls on their city street, and it's not getting any further than that," Cowsert said, citing everything from public education to pavement that allows water to soak into the ground instead of run off into a storm drain.

The Turkey River Watershed Management Authority is also asking area farmers to make slight modifications to their land that would reduce soil and water runoff, which contribute to flooding.

Eric Palas is a project manager with the Clayton Soil and Water Conservation District and is one of the people who speaks directly with producers on behalf of the watershed management authority.

"A lot of times we're asking them to accelerate what they're already doing," Palas said, "whether it's conservation tillage or terrace system or pond. Those are all sort of the things they can help us to put in place in their farm."

Leaders say effective flood mitigation has to be a regional effort.

"I think after the 2008 flood, it became apparent to everybody in the state that we needed start looking at flooding from a regional aspect," Cowsert said.

"We all need to work together if we're ever going to solve a problem of downstream flooding, because a lot of times people look at the river itself and we're just looking at the river," Siegwarth said. "We're not thinking of the million acres of watershed and all the land that's affecting all the things upstream."

Siegwarth compared looking at only one section of the river to looking at just one small segment of a tree. When people see a tree, they see the trunk, branches and leaves. Siegwarth said people should look at a river the same way, as the full watershed and not just one small stretch.

Organizers say any successful flood mitigation technique implemented by the Turkey River Watershed Management Authority could become a model for flood mitigation statewide or even nationwide.

Those involved with the watershed management authority include city and county officials, agricultural and natural resources experts and the Iowa Flood Center out of the University of Iowa.

The Turkey River Watershed Management Authority also holds regular meetings among all the involved parties and municipalities, as well as public meetings for input and education, which leaders say are well-attended.

For more information on the watershed's flood mitigation efforts, click HERE.

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