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Upper Cedar River Watershed receives $1.5 million for flood mitigation projects

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 04/04/2013 7:32 PM

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CHARLES CITY —The Upper Cedar Watershed Management Improvement Authority has been selected to receive $1.5 million for flood mitigation as Phase II of the Iowa Watersheds Project.

Larry Weber, director of the University of Iowa's Hydroscience and Engineering, parent organization of the Iowa Flood Center, met with the Upper Cedar group recently in Charles City to describe the project.

The funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be available to plan and construct watershed improvement projects in a HUC 12 subwatershed in the Upper Cedar River.

The Iowa Watersheds Project goal is to plan, implement and evaluate projects to reduce the severity and frequency of flooding, Weber said. In May 2012 the project identified four watersheds where it is conducting hydrologic assessments, developing hydrologic models and identifying areas in subwatersheds for project construction.

Phase II funding will move forward in Soap and Chequest Creek in southern Iowa, the Turkey River in northeast Iowa and the Upper Cedar River in north central Iowa.

The project will engage landowners to construct projects that will reduce flooding, Weber said. These may include active and passive distributed flood storage, floodplain restoration and easements, buffer strips, advanced tile drainage and wetlands. The project will monitor the impact of these projects and evaluate the feasibility of implementing them on a larger scale.

"Engagement of the watershed management authority and alliances with public entities and private landowners will be vital to the project success," Weber said.

Work on the hydrologic assessment of the Cedar River Watershed is going well, Weber said.

The Iowa Flood Center will assist the Upper Cedar River Management Improvement Authority in selecting a subwatershed, but it will be up to the local group to make the final selection.

"We want watersheds with intrinsic public value and awareness," Weber said. "We want to work in watersheds that people care about."

He said the watershed should have headwater characteristics but does not have to be "way up in the watershed."

"We're looking at watersheds where the water is flowing down to the Cedar," he said. "We prefer not to work on the main stem of the Cedar because those projects would be too costly."

The prospective area should be a watershed where high runoff and localized flooding have been observed during rainstorms with damage to commercial and residential property, repeated crop damage and washed out roadways.

Weber said they want to work in watersheds where there is a team of diverse stakeholders with technical expertise and local leadership.

"We want local, state and federal partners," he said.

Having past and present watershed projects underway is positive because there may be opportunities to work together.

Most importantly, the watershed must have landowner/producer willingness to participate, Weber said.

A similar project is already under way in the Turkey River Watershed. After an initial meeting, Soil and Water Conservation Districts presented watershed activities and then developed one HUC 12 proposal from each of the six counties in the watershed. These were scored based upon the criteria Weber presented, and final project selection will be at the group's March 28 meeting.

Weber would like the Upper Cedar River to select a watershed project by the end of May. Construction would be in summer 2014 and 2015, with monitoring underway through 2017.

The Upper Cedar River Management Improvement Authority will meet at 6 p.m. April 3 at the Charles City Library to identify a selection process and hear about potential watershed projects.