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Charles City and Iowa Soybean Association partner for a sponsored project

One of the sites of the Washington School Watershed, that was created through a community and Iowa State Extension effort. Now Charles City is making further efforts toward water quality. Press photo by Thomas Nelson.
One of the sites of the Washington School Watershed that was created through a community and Iowa State Extension effort. Now Charles City is making further efforts toward water quality.
Press photo by Thomas Nelson.
By Thomas Nelson,

A watershed management plan could be funded through a sponsored project that Charles City is able to do because of its wastewater treatment plant project.

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISBA) has been working with Charles City to put together a sponsored projected aimed toward water quality.

“This project is a pilot for us, in an innovative way to increase funding solutions for water quality improvement,” said Karl Gesch, ISBA watershed coordinator and resource management specialist. “Sponsored projects program is an exciting opportunity to improve water quality from non-point sources, particularly agriculture.”

Point sources are a specific thing or location you can point to, such as a wastewater plant or a factory, Gesch said, “even a pipe you can point to that’s discharging to some receiving water body.”

Non-point sources include agricultural or urban water runoff.

“In Iowa the majority of non-point sources are agriculture,” Gesch said.

The ISBA has been working with Charles City for about a year, along with Des Moines and Eagle Grove.

“In working with those three communities we’ve completed some watershed assessments, we worked with farmers and landowners and other stakeholders in the watershed,” Gesch said.

The outcomes of local goal-setting and the prioritization along with the data obtained in the watershed assessments were used to develop a watershed plan for each community, Gesch said.

The plan will help prioritize watershed project activities to move forward with sponsored project funding.

Sponsored projects are a program that’s put on by the state of Iowa and are a state revolving loan program.

City’s with a large drinking water or wastewater project, like Charles City with its wastewater treatment upgrades, can apply for a sponsored project.

The city can then apply for up to 10 percent value of the main project toward a sponsored project.

That 10 percent would mean the city would have $1.6 million in funds to put toward the project because of its $16 million wastewater treatment plant project.

“There may be state caps on that funding level,” Gesch said.

Applications for a sponsored project are due March 1.

Gesch spoke to the Charles City Council about the project at its Monday night planning session.

The project would include sponsoring best water practices in urban and rural areas around Floyd County and in Charles City.

The plan could cost $3.6 million, and the sponsored project funds would help with about a third of that amount. Other funding sources are possible as well.

“The sponsored project funding could go a long way toward it,” Gesch said. “It’s one very important piece of the pie, but it’s not the sole source of funding.”

The Charles City Council voted unanimously March 24, 2017, to approve a 30,000-acre target area for an Iowa Soybean Association-partnered project.

The area is upstream of the Cedar River watershed and includes a few creeks coming into the city.

Any landowners in the area would then be eligible for funding to do water improvement projects.

Bioswales, cover-crop projects and buffer strips are eligible for a Regional Conservation Partnership Program or RCPP grant that the city is offering.

RCPP is a federal program funded through the Department of Agriculture, and the city received $1.6 million to put in these practices to help improve water and soil quality and to help decrease flooding.

The soybean group has partnered with Charles City for that project to help landowners implement these practices.

“I think it’s really awesome that Charles City is willing to partner with those upstream landowners and farmers and foot the bill, so to speak, for something they will benefit from,” Gesch said.

Charles City and its surrounding county areas have hundreds of thousands of feet of terraces for the Washington School Watershed.

“Farmers and landowners and the technical support staff and groups have done a really good job with terraces in the past,” Gesch said. “Soil erosion reduction and prevention are one the major goals of the watershed plan.”

Terraces are included in that plan, on an as-needed basis.

The project is looking toward falling in line with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Iowa Soybean Association with the project was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

“Water quality improvement efforts like this are very complex, but I think the beauty of the watershed approach is that there’s a lot of different partners who can make different meaningful contributions toward the overall goals of water source improvement,” Gesch said. “It’s really innovative on the part of the Charles City, very few communities in the state are thinking like this and acting like this and working upstream.”