April 15, 2021

Rathbun Recognized with 2021 Circle of Excellence IAWA Iowa Watershed Award

Rathbun Recognized with Circle of Excellence

IAWA Iowa Watershed Award

AMES, IOWA – John Rathbun, watershed coordinator for the Clear Creek Watershed Coalition, was honored with the Circle of Excellence award from the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) as part of the fourth annual IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards program.

Rathbun is honored alongside five other watershed coordinators who are also receiving a 2021 IAWA Iowa Watershed Award. The recipients were announced at the 2021 Iowa Water Conference.

“In these challenging times, it’s important to recognize these unsung heroes who continue to make great progress implementing conservation practices that improve water quality,” says Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director. “These watershed coordinators have worked during a global pandemic to help meet local community goals while also simultaneously advancing the objectives of the statewide Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

A crucial flood control project takes shape

This is the second year in a row that Rathbun has earned this award. After several years of his planning and meeting with landowners and local governments, 2020 saw structures taking shape that will mitigate flooding along Clear Creek.

“Last year we installed 14 practices,” Rathbun says. The work included 10 ponds, three grade stabilization structures that look like dry ponds, and two rock chutes. This spring, 20 more practices, a mix of sediment control basins and grassed waterways, will be built. All of that work is in the agricultural half of the watershed’s 66,000 acres.

Later this year, the city of Coralville will restore flood plains. Upstream, the town of Tiffin will restore native prairie along a stretch of the creek.

“People will be able to walk their dogs and see what Iowa used to look like,” Rathbun says of the prairie restoration.

The entire project is aimed at flood control, with part of the cost supported by a federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The normally calm Clear Creek starts in farming areas north of the Williamsburg outlet mall and empties into the Iowa River in Coralville. During the historic floods of 2008, Clear Creek swamped Coralville, damaging more than 200 businesses and closing roads.

By the end of this year, Rathbun hopes to have some 70 flood mitigation practices finished.

“There will be lots of construction,” he says. “We’re looking forward to getting the rest of this project on the ground.”

In addition to reducing the risk of floods, the project is expected to bring the environmental benefit of cleaner water. Ponds and wetlands denitrify water and sediment settles out in them. At two locations in the watershed, the University of Iowa measures nitrate concentration and several other indicators of water quality as well as discharge rates.

Rathbun was hired as watershed coordinator in 2017 when he joined the staff of the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District. Before that, he spent 18 years as an urban landscape designer.

Rathbun’s partners in the Clear Creek Watershed Project include USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), Iowa Economic Development Authority, Iowa Department of Homeland Security, Johnson County, the East Central Iowa Council of Governments, the Iowa Flood Center, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Rathbun also works with Johnson County Conservation Department and the local Watershed Management Association. The Mayor of Coralville, John Lundell, and Iowa County Supervisor John Gahring have also offered support and advice to the project, he says.

To help maintain momentum for this work, Rathbun will receive funding through the Iowa Watershed Award to apply to the Clear Creek Water Quality Project as well as funding for his own professional development.

The IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards program was developed by IAWA in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, IDALS, and Iowa DNR.

The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) is increasing the pace and scale of farmer-led efforts to improve water quality in Iowa. Founded in 2014 by Iowa Corn, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, IAWA is building public-private partnerships focused on implementing water quality solutions. Iowa farmers are actively engaged in various conservation efforts that improve water quality. Learn more at www.iowaagwateralliance.com.