Meskwaki Nation Leads Creation of Iowa River Watershed Coalition

posted by Guest Blogger on Friday, July 30, 2021

Water quality improvement is an aspect of natural resource management that has become exceedingly difficult to perform in recent decades. This is because water quality improvement is a topic that involves politics, finances, business, and applied ecology (to name a few) when finding viable solutions. Unfortunately, deliberations on solving water quality issues often end in gridlock as involved parties are quick to point fingers at the group(s) they think are causing the pollution, but are slow to implement productive changes to their waterways. We must remember that we all have a piece of the pie.  

Iowa River

Initiating worthwhile methods to clean up a waterway takes a monumental effort that should not be understated, and this task often takes years to put into place; however, there comes a time where more action is vital, and such is the case for the Iowa River. 

The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa has historically been focused on keeping the Iowa River and its tributaries clean as they pass through Settlement boundaries. The cultural significance of the Iowa River has driven the Tribe to confront the issues causing its water to degrade, prompting the Tribe to develop a water quality baseline, their own Water Quality Standards, and establish the Iowa River Watershed Coalition.   

Water testing in a stream

The Meskwaki has kept tabs on the water quality of the Iowa River officially since 2006. The results of this sampling reflect the deteriorating water conditions that sources such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and State of Iowa have reported. In an effort to establish the need for improved and sustained water for Tribal members, the Tribal governance has begun to develop their own Water Quality Standards akin to those of a state or federal entity. The purpose of these standards is to protect, maintain, conserve and improve the water resources on the Tribal lands for the health and welfare of present and future generations, the Tribe’s cultural heritage, and the unique features of the Settlement environment. The Tribe has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency and will be finalizing a draft Water Quality Standards for public review in the coming months. Meskwaki Department of Natural Resources (MNR) views the Standards as a reactionary and last resort measure to maintain water quality levels.

The connectivity of a watershed could result in a location’s issues stemming from the root-causeIowa River Watershed being miles, or tens of miles, upstream. Likewise, what happens on the Settlement will affect the water quality of our neighbors downstream, for better or worse. In the spirit of partnership and to bring all stakeholders together, MNR started working to conceptualize the Iowa River Watershed Coalition (IRWC) in 2019. MNR’s primary goal was the IRWC would not be created solely by the Tribe in order to minimize bias and maximize participation. With this goal, the Tribe connected with a third-party facilitator to coordinate all meetings to set the foundation of the coalition between the members.  

In February 2020, the coalition held its first meeting in Tama with 67 invited organizations and agencies across various stakeholder groups (e.g., city, county, state, and federal agencies; soil and water conservation districts; agriculture; environmental advocacy; utilities/municipalities). Over the first year, Coalition membership worked to build a foundation of trust and partnership for a solid working structure.  

The IRWC formalized its identity as a group of federal, state, tribal, business, and private organizations and individuals concerned about water quality and flooding risks within the 13 Iowa counties and the Tribal Settlement encompassing the Iowa River watershed upstream of Highway 63 south of Tama. Membership in the IRWC has no limitations on entities or individuals who join; the only requirement is that entities or individuals must reside or conduct work within the Iowa River Watershed. A 19-seat Board of Directors structure was designed to fairly represent nine stakeholder groups with the first Board meeting taking place in February 2021. 

The foundational purpose of the IRWC is to work together, with a broad representation of stakeholders, to improve the water quality of the Iowa River because: 

  • The quality of our water affects the health of Iowans, our ecosystems, and the prosperity of our economy. 
  • Iowans working together will allow our communities and ecosystems to be more resilient and provide a vital natural resource now and for future generations. 

In the coming year, IRWC has set three goals:

  1. Compile watershed data from all partners to define the current benchmark and road forward;
  2. Provide outreach and develop new partnerships to represent who we are and what we do; and
  3. Stand up subcommittees to drive collaborative progress with all stakeholder groups for a better watershed community tomorrow. 

The IRWC is confident it will help spark change in the Iowa River through the voices, actions, and collaborative efforts of its membership to move the needle on water quality.  

Stay tuned for more news on IRWC efforts in the coming months. 

Jarrett Pfrimmer, Ph.D. - Director Department of Natural Resources

Jarrett Pfrimmer is the President of the Iowa River Watershed Coalition and Director of the Department of Natural Resources for the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki Nation). Over the last ten years, Jarrett earned a Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from South Dakota State University and worked for various local, state, and federal agencies along with a number of non-governmental organizations concerning natural resource conservation and management. Outside of work, Jarrett and his wife, Ashley, spend most of their time in the outdoors with family and friends hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking.

  1. clean water
  2. nitrate pollution
  3. phosphorus pollution
  4. water quality

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