The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has contracted the Missouri & Mississippi (M&M) Divide RC&D and Agren, both located in Carroll, to develop a water quality plan for the Raccoon River. The plan will be developed using a participatory approach (we call it an “expert panel”). This allows stakeholders to inform decision-making along with scientists and policy-makers.
We selected this process because we feel it is the best way to develop a strong foundation for successful implementation of the plan. The approach is beneficial when the problem at hand involves diverse stakeholders with different interests and information, which often makes it difficult for a single stakeholder to develop an informed and practical solution. Another feature of this strategy is that all of the planning activities will occur within the watershed boundary. Decisions will not be made in downtown Des Moines or a location outside of the basin. We feel it is important for the expert panelists (many of whom live outside the watershed) to interact directly with stakeholders and experience first-hand the landscape for which they are creating a plan.
Two multi-day expert panel meetings were held within the Raccoon River Basin early in the project. The purpose of these events was to evaluate conservation practices (also known as best management practices) and select combinations with the greatest potential to meet the objectives of the watershed management plan. A four-day expert panel was held in June 2010 to evaluate agricultural best management practices. Field-day-like evening sessions allowed the expert panel group to interact both formally and informally with stakeholders and local community members, as well as personally witness the conservation practices they are evaluating. Another expert panel meeting was held in October 2010 to evaluate non-agricultural best management practices. Each panel will recommend sets of best management practices with the greatest potential for maintaining an environmentally and economically sustainable watershed.
Following the expert panel events, the potential water quality impacts of recommended conservation practices were estimated by Iowa State University scientists. One of the tools they used was a scientific model referred to as the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT).
The expert panels were convened a final time in March 2011. The purpose of this meeting was to consider different incentives, institutional structures, and funding sources for implementation of the recommended conservation practices. The panel worked toward recommendations they felt were best suited to restore and maintain an environmentally and economically sustainable landscape and meet the needs of stakeholders within the watershed. These final recommendations will be compiled into a comprehensive Raccoon River Basin Water Quality Master Plan.