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Watershed Planning


"Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan"

Environmental concerns, such as nonpoint source pollution, often cut across political jurisdictions. Consequently, environmental mitigation and protection require a comprehensive and collaborative, partnership approach that works with a multitude of programs, departments and agencies.

A watershed approach provides a framework for coordinating and integrating the myriad of programs and resources. This approach directs the focus on water quality in a geographic area delineated by a watershed.  Watershed planning takes the watershed approach to the next level – the creation of a plan to assess and address water and soil quality issues in each watershed.

These locally-led plans provide important information to citizens about point and nonpoint sources of pollution that are impacting the water resources within a given watershed. Watershed planning is at the heart of successful water quality restoration and protection.

There are many plans already developed that can be drawn from a watershed plan is being developed that is are unique to each watershed, such as Comprehensive Land Use Plans, Hazard Mitigation Plans and Park and Recreation Plans.


Watershed Planning Assistance

There are many resources to guide the watershed planning process, most agencies offer their assistance at no cost.

State of Iowa

  1. Regional Basin Coordinators
  2. Soil & Water Conservation Districts
  3. IDALS Urban Conservationists

Natural Resource Conservation Service

  1. Iowa Service Centers, Alphabetical - by county

Non-Governmental Organizations

  1. Council of Governments

Regent Universities in Iowa

  1. Iowa Flood Center and the Iowa Watershed Approach, The University of Iowa
  2. Smart Planning Toolbox - School of Urban & Regional Planning - The University of Iowa Graduate College
  3. Iowa State Extension, Leadership & Performance Driven Watershed Management


Watershed Assessment & Data Collection

The starting point in watershed efforts is to go through an assessment process to identify issues. The following Watershed Assessment Protocol Resources can help with the assessment:

The best starting point is to:

  1. Contact a Basin Coordinator - they are the experts in the state who can help get the process started
  2. Gather and analyze existing primary and secondary data


Types of Data 

Local Policy: floodplain ordinance; erosion and sediment control ordinance; post construction stormwater management ordinance; illicit discharge detection and elimination ordinance; environmentally sensitive areas ordinance (ESA); stream buffer ordinance - stand alone or part of an ESA; ag. land protection (land with high corn suitability rating); overlay zoning (for critical areas); planned unit development (PUD) policy

Local Plans: comprehensive land use plan; hazard mitigation plan; parks and recreation plan

GIS Maps of Land Use and Population Characteristics: land use; cropped areas; major forested areas; impervious cover; potential pollution sources (point source and non-point source) land that needs remediation (brownfields, grayfields); protected areas (conservation easements); existing structural and non-structural conservation practices; park and recreational areas, boating access points; historic and significant cultural sites; demographics - population, housing characteristics

Physical and Natural Resources: watershed boundaries; hydrology; water use designations; floodplains; topography; soils and erodibility indices; climate; habitat; threatened and endangered species - plants, fish and wildlife

Pollutant Sources: point sources; non-point sources

Waterbody Condition: water quality standards; 305(b) report; 303(d) report; TMDL reports; source water assessments; IOWATER data

Waterbody Monitoring Data: real-time data collection


Assessment Protocols

Guidance Documents

  1. Iowa Stormwater Partnership - Urban Watershed Assessment and Land Use Plan Guidance
  2. Natural Resource Conservation Service Rapids Watershed Assessment Protocol
  3. Iowa DNR River Restoration Toolbox
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency - How to Conduct a Watershed Survey
  5. United States Environmental Protection Agency - Conducting a Visual Assessment


Urban Watershed Best Management Practices 

  1. Barriers to Green Infrastructure (Hudson Valley Survey)
  2. Permitting Green Infrastructure (America Rivers)
  3. Conservation for the 21st Century (The Conservation Fund)
  4. Clean Water Cash Flow (Natural Resource Defense Council)
  5. Managing Wet Weather with Green Infrastructure (Environmental Protection Agency)
  6. Integrating Green Infrastructure into Ordinances (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
  7. Green Infrastructure Guide (Missouri Department of Natural Resources)
  8. Multifunctionality of Green Infrastructure (Science for Environmental Policy)


Iowa Stormwater Management Manual

  1. Iowa Stormwater Management Manual (Iowa Department of Natural Resources)
  2. Learn More about Green Infrastructure