OAKLAND — The effort to create watershed authorities for the West Nishnabotna and East Nishnabotna rivers continues.
About 60 people were on hand Wednesday at the Oakland Community Center to listen as organizers discussed progress on the Iowa Watershed Approach.
The five-year project is funded by a $96.6 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. Leading the effort is the University of Iowa-based Iowa Flood Center and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“We hope to keep the momentum going here on the Nish,” DNR representative Kyle Ament said as the meeting started.
The West Nishnabotna River watershed stretches from around Aspinwall in Crawford County to the north and down to Sidney in the south and touches about 27 towns and 10 counties.
The East Nish watershed stretches from Templeton in Carroll County south to Riverton in Fremont County and includes portions of 19 towns and nine counties.
The crowd included representatives from area counties and towns, along with those involved in conservation and community planning. There are a total of 84 potential partners on the project.
“We can’t do this from Iowa City, we’re academics, we can’t do this from Des Moines, we can’t do this from Washington D.C.,” Iowa Flood Center Director Larry Weber said. “This work has to be done locally.”
The stakeholders are working toward creating a Watershed Management Authority — essentially a committee, as the authority would have no taxing or land rights authority, including not being able to take land through eminent domain — for both rivers.
“This approach is way overdue to address flooding, which causes a lot of damage, along with water quality,” Pottawattamie County Supervisor Scott Belt said.
The goals of the Iowa Watershed Approach include reducing flood risks and improving water quality, according to Weber. The center will provide monitoring equipment for streams and other areas throughout the watersheds.
With Mills and Fremont county boards of supervisors in the lead, Watershed Coalition Articles of Agreement have been drafted, with three signees for the East Nishnabotna authority and four for the West Nishnabotna authority, according to Cara Morgan with Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development.
Fremont and Audubon county supervisors and the Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District have signed for both authorities, while the city of Manning has signed for the West Nishnabotna.
At the last two Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors meetings, supervisors have discussed signing the articles of agreement.
The Pottawattamie County Attorney’s Office has suggested the change of some wording in the agreement, which DNR’s Ament noted could be done as an amendment, since such a large number of governmental bodies were deciding on the agreement as currently worded.
The Pottawattamie County board tabled a vote until after Wednesday’s meeting.
“The overall program makes sense,” Supervisor Tom Hanafan said, though he voiced concerns about the status of the Housing and Urban Development Department under the Trump administration.
Hanafan and Belt will discuss the watershed meeting at the next board meeting. A vote on whether to sign the agreement is expected.
Morgan said Golden Hills is hoping to have the agreements signed by May 1. She noted bodies can sign after that day, but on May 1 the leading partners on the project will file the documents with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office to become a Watershed Management Authority.
Once formed, the authority will decide on an executive committee. Additionally, a project coordinator must be hired to guide both watershed authorities, with the salary covered by $75,000 in HUD funding annually for roughly the next four years.