leadership and performance drive watershed
Iowa State University College of AgIowa State Extension

Module 3 - Citizen-leaders and the performance-based management model

Objectives and Outcomes

  1. Introduce the performance measures and citizen-led concept
  2. Discuss the model and review example watersheds

On-farm performance measures refer to a farmer’s ability to assess the environmental impact of individual practices and management systems. In the past 8 years, the concept of on-farm performance driven environmental management has been developed through a series of northeast Iowa projects. In 1999, ISU Extension began providing both community development and educational assistance that enabled watershed residents to establish citizen-led councils.

In the Maquoketa Headwaters watershed, scientists from the Texas Institute of Agricultural and Economic Research and Iowa State University conducted research monitoring and modeling to generate scenarios predicting the environmental (nonpoint source) impact and economic costs/returns of numerous alternative BMPs to address the watershed’s known problems.

Developing the Performance-based Approach
The watershed councils who received education to interpret these model scenarios were empowered by their ability to understand the performance of alternative practices and the flexibility this gave them to make progressive improvements. Based on these scenarios and education about their watershed’s impairments they made a formal recommendation/request for practices to be prioritized in their watershed project. A citizen-led council in the Mineral Creek watershed was brought into a BMP modeling effort and producers were similarly engaged and energized by their ability to understand the potential environmental and economic performance of various practices. A subsequent watershed conservation program in Mineral Creek has been lauded as one of Iowa’s most successful. Key features in that success were the inclusion of watershed leaders in the planning process, the recruitment of cooperators by their neighbors and strong community support.

Establishment of Citizen-led Watershed Councils
The Maquoketa Headwaters and Mineral Creek projects piloted a model of resident watershed councils coached by extension educators. The councils had the goal of reducing the impairment status of their watersheds. Performance evaluation was no longer solely the responsibility of experts, but also included tools (computer modeling and agronomic tests) that were useable at the farm level and linked to accountable management decisions. In four priority watersheds councils were allowed to set goals and determine their own watershed program based on their knowledge of local contaminant sources. Over a three-year period these locally-managed performance-based environmental management programs have successfully demonstrated that farmers will set and act voluntarily on personal environmental goals when they are convinced there is a problem and can measure their progress in solving the problem.

Performance-based Watershed Management Results
These performance management programs have resulted in extensive, voluntary adoption of improved soil and nutrient management practices and targeting. The average stalk nitrate test in the longest-running watershed project, Hewitt Creek was reduced 33% in the first year and an additional 29% in the second. Strong local leadership and peer recruitment have emerged. Performance results shared neighbor-to-neighbor build local pride in watershed improvement and peer pressure for new participation. Enrollment has grown in the second year to 45-55% of farm operators in the watersheds and new cooperators continue to join. In a recent survey of participants, over 90% were confident that the program rewards a conservation systems approach, encourages farmers to change their management - including neighbors who are not participants, has a positive effect on the environment and is also profitable. Further, farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchanges and leadership opportunities encouraged producer experimentation and acceptance of performance-based management tools. Cooperators continue to be engaged in progressively modifying their day-to-day management practices to further protect water quality.

Developing Leadership for Performance-based Environmental Management (PowerPoint)

Iowa HUC 8 Watershed Map

Performance-based Environmental Management: Hewitt Creek Model, ISU Extension PM 2013

Renewing Local Watersheds: Community Leaders Guide