Watershed Management Authorities: Opening the Communication Line Between Cities and Farmers

Today’s guest post is by Mary Beth Stevenson, Eastern Basin Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Watershed Improvement Section.

Can you think of the last time you sat around a table with farmers and representatives from multiple Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), counties and cities, and elected officials to discuss water quality and flood risk reduction in your watershed? If you live within an active Watershed Management Authority (WMA) region, then these opportunities may arise more than you realize.

WMA map

What exactly can a WMA do? The Iowa Code charges WMAs with assessing flood risk and water quality concerns, identifying conservation and water quality structures and practices that will minimize flood risk and improve water quality, monitoring federal flood risk programs, educating watershed residents and seeking funding for watershed work. The Iowa Legislature authorized the WMAs in 2010 as a response to the disastrous Flood of 2008.


Since 2012, when the first six WMAs were established, 23 have now been organized. Currently, 71 counties are covered by at least one WMA, encompassing over a third of the state. WMAs don’t have taxing authority or regulatory authority. In addition, the Iowa Code forbids WMA from condemning land through eminent domain.

The collaborative framework of WMAs is established through cooperative agreements. These agreements are common among cities, towns, counties and other local governments to share resources such as ambulance or fire services. WMAs do not create ‘new’ layers of government; instead, they facilitate more efficient government by allowing for shared resources and cooperation.

For example, a recent Middle Cedar WMA meeting in La Porte City exemplified how WMAs can open a critical line of communication among rural and urban stakeholders. Representatives from both small towns and larger cities gathered with staff and elected officials from several counties and SWCDs at the La Porte City community center.

Middle Cedar

Many of those sitting around the table were farmers. The chair of the Middle Cedar WMA is Todd Wiley, a Benton County Supervisor and successful farmer. It was powerful to observe farmers actively engaged in discussions with city and county officials, collectively making decisions about project funding and the future of the Middle Cedar watershed.

If no farmers had been present at the Middle Cedar WMA meeting, an essential perspective would have been missing. Farmers are an integral piece of the watershed jigsaw puzzle, and their voices are very much welcomed in any Watershed Management Authority.


If a WMA exists in your area, don’t be afraid to attend a meeting and be an active participant. After all, it is your watershed and your perspective is a valued and respected part of the conversation.

For more information about WMAs, go to the Iowa DNR’s website.

Mary Beth Stevenson