Farmer engagement in watershed governance: The role of soil and water conservation districts in Iowa’s watershed management authorities

Authors: Landon Yoder*, Indiana University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Rural Geography
Keywords: watershed management, agriculture, soil and water conservation practices, river basin organizations, water quality impairment, flood risks
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Governor's Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Iowa has experienced 951 presidential flood disaster declarations and worsening water quality across the state over the past several decades. In response, the state legislature authorized city, county, and soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) to voluntarily form watershed management authorities (WMAs) to develop watershed plans to mitigate flooding and water quality problems. The SWCDs represent a critical pillar in these tripartite organizations to connect farmers to watershed management. These county-based entities are comprised of five elected commissioners, often farmers, which administer U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation funds to farmers applying for cost-share assistance to reduce soil erosion and nutrient losses. This research examines the role that SWCDs play in engaging farmers in watershed management. I draw on responses from semi-structured interviews with 14 SWCD commissioners and 29 city and county board members at four of Iowa’s 23 WMAs. Questions focused on WMA's farmer outreach efforts and the types of reasons farmers support or oppose undertaking practices to mitigation soil erosion and nutrient loss. Responses were coded in Atlas.ti software and iteratively organized into thematic categories. Preliminary findings show that SWCD commissioners’ experiential knowledge is seen as a key leverage point by other board members in building support for watershed management among farmers. SWCD board members, however, expressed reluctance at discussing WMAs, and water quality specifically, with other farmers given the inaccurate perception that WMAs may be regulatory efforts. These findings suggest that SWCDs may not be reaching farmers that do not already use soil and nutrient conservation practices.

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