The Upper Iowa River Watershed Management Authority (UIRMA) is moving forward with plans to hire a new coordinator.
At its quarterly meeting last week, the UIRWMA Board approved a job description for the coordinator, which it hopes to hire within the next two months.
The UIRWMA recently was formed after the region was awarded $5.5 million as part of a National Disaster Resiliency Competition grant, which allocated a total of $96.9 million to nine watershed authorities across the state over the next five years.
The UIRWMA encompasses approximately 641,000 acres along the Upper Iowa River in Howard, Winneshiek and Allamakee counties and stretches from Leroy, Minn. to the Mississippi River in New Albin.
In March, Decorah’s John Beard was elected chairman of the organization, Rick Weymiller of New Albin was elected vice chairman and Mark Jensen,  Winneshiek County Soil and Conservation District Board member, was elected secretary.
Larry Weber of the Iowa Flood Center is assisting the group, which meets on a quarterly basis.

In response to extreme statewide flooding in 2008, the state Legislature established the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa to serve as a technical resource for Iowans.
In 2010, the Legislature created watershed management authorities, a mechanism for cities, counties, soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) and other interested parties to cooperatively engage in watershed planning and management.
Entities collaborate to request federal Housing and Urban Development funds and to oversee usage of those funds to manage water flow and quality within the watershed.
Locally, Beard helped spearhead the organization of the UIRWMA, which consists of nine partner entities: the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, The Winneshiek Soil and Water Conservation District, the city of Decorah, the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors, the Allamakee Soil and Water Conservation District, the Howard County Board of Supervisors, the Howard Soil and Conservation District, the city of Lime Springs and the Upper Iowa River Drainage District, located out of New Albin.
“The program represents a vision for Iowa’s future that voluntarily engages stakeholders throughout the watershed to achieve common goals, while moving toward a more resilient state. It is a replicable model for other communities where the landscape has lost its natural resilience to flooding. The program is not only about Iowans helping Iowans, but also about demonstrating Iowans’ commitment to agricultural stewardship, to the environment, to their neighbors and to the future,” said Richard Lewis, senior research editor for the University of Iowa, during a previous meeting.

Pooling resources
At last week’s meeting, Todd Duncan, district conservationist with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Winneshiek County, visited with the Board about the possibility of the new UIRWMA coordinator being housed in the Winneshiek County USDA/NRCS offices.
Duncan said because his role is to work directly with area Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), he believes it would be a good fit. He said under that scenario, the Winneshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District would be the employer of record
Duncan said having the Watershed coordinator under the NRCS “umbrella” would provide whoever was hired with access to trainings, office space, proven watershed management experience, computer access, etc.
“We could provide assistance to get the coordinator up to speed on conservation planning,” said Duncan.
In addition, Duncan said if the grant money for cost share dwindles, NRCS has access to additional federal funding with higher rates of cost share … “maybe even the ability to partner to obtain rates that are more attractive.”
Duncan said NRCS also can provide engineering assistance and equipment.
“If this is successful, we also talked about hiring an additional technician and having that employee in our office if the Board wants to do that,” said Duncan.
When Beard asked if there had been any discussion about this proposal with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Paul Berland of RC&D answered, “We have had that conversation and they didn’t see any reason that wouldn’t work.”

Across county lines
Weymiller asked if having the coordinator housed in Winneshiek County would hinder any work in Allamakee County.
Duncan said it would not.
“We would hope to be able to work with NRCS offices in Allamakee and Howard counties. We can work across county lines. We’ve done that before … We’ll make it work the best we can,” said Duncan.

Other issues
During the meeting, the 30-plus people in attendance heard from Ashlee Johannes, outreach coordinator for the Iowa Watershed Approach Resilience team.
She discussed the different factors which affect flood resilience, including mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
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What’s next?
Within the next week or two, the Board will finalize the job description for the coordinator and request the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors approve Winneshiek County SWCD as the employer of record for the new hire.
The UIRWMA Board’s next meeting is Wednesday, March 29 at 7 p.m.