DNR’s Josh Balk named IAWA Watershed Coordinator of the Year, honored at Iowa Watershed Awards

Josh Balk

WATERLOO, Iowa (IAWA) – Josh Balk’s dedication to improving water quality in the Cedar River watershed is being recognized with the 2023 IAWA Watershed Coordinator of the Year award, an honor given to one outstanding Iowa watershed coordinator each year.

In his role as an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) watershed and source water coordinator, one of Balk’s main focuses has been the Dry Run Creek Watershed Improvement Project in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. To address the stream’s impairment from stormwater runoff and stream sedimentation, Balk and his peers have focused on streamside work and community engagement – both of which are bearing fruit after years of hard work.

“When I first started, I was having to conduct extensive outreach to engage people,” Balk said of early volunteer recruitment efforts to grow community awareness and drive action to improve Dry Run. “It’s been great to go from that to having people knocking on our door.”

Balk said he is especially proud of his involvement in getting 300 volunteer college students and residents engaged in dozens of urban rain garden training and construction projects. Because they naturally slow down and filter rainwater, rain gardens are an effective way for urban residents to combat stormwater runoff.

Another point of pride is the early progress of the new Wetland Banking Mitigation Project. Despite just getting started, the project has already seen 12 acres of wetland and 62 acres of restored native prairie added to the Dry Run streambank. Those practices are set to protect more than 800 tons of soil from erosion, as well as reduce 1,040 pounds of soil phosphorus loss and 1,600 pounds of soil nitrogen loss annually.

Balk added that the new wetland and prairies’ attractive, wildlife-friendly habitat have inspired more positive conversations with neighboring landowners. He said those kinds of conversations are essential drivers of local water quality improvement efforts.

Moving forward, Balk will continue doing extensive public education and outreach, streamside work, farmer and landowner engagement, water monitoring, and more within the Dry Run watershed and other watersheds in Black Hawk and surrounding counties.

Balk was celebrated alongside fellow 2023 IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards honorees Mary Beth Stevenson (Public Impact) and Charlie Schafer (Private Impact) during the annual Iowa Watershed Conference at Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel in Altoona.

Published on Sept. 19, 2023