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Watershed Management Authorities in Iowa

In 2010, Iowa lawmakers passed legislation authorizing the creation of Watershed Management Authorities. A Watershed Management Authority (WMA) is a mechanism for cities, counties, Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and stakeholders to cooperatively engage in watershed planning and management.

The Iowa Watershed Approach
More information on Iowa's newest WMAs, winners of US Department of Housing and Urban Development's National Disaster Resilience Competition.

The WMA is formed by a Chapter 28E Agreement by two or more eligible political subdivisions within a specific eight-digit hydrologic unit code watershed. A board of directors governs the WMA, which may undertake the following activities:

  • Assess and reduce flood risk;
  • Assess and improve water quality;
  • Monitor federal flood risk planning and activities;
  • Educate residents of the watershed regarding flood risks and water quality; and
  • Allocate moneys made available to the Authority for purposes of water quality and flood mitigation.

A WMA does not have taxing authority and it may not acquire property through eminent domain.

Additional Information:

(per Iowa Code Chapter 466B.2)

  • Must be located within an 8-digit HUC watershed
  • All political subdivisions (cities, Counties, SWCDs) must be notified and provided the opportunity to participate within 30 days prior to WMA organization
  • A Chapter 28E agreement that includes a map of the watershed must be filed with the Secretary of State
  • The WMA must be governed by a Board of Directors
  • WMAs may not acquire land through eminent domain and do not have taxing authority

Full text of the Iowa code chapter that describes the creation of WMAs

Benefits of forming a WMA:
WMAs have been formed across Iowa for a variety of reasons. While the driving motivation for WMA formation may be water quality improvement and/or flood risk reduction, there are multiple benefits to cooperating with other jurisdictions within a watershed:

  • Conduct planning on a watershed scale, which has greater benefits for water quality improvement and flood risk reduction
  • Foster multi-jurisdictional partnership and cooperation
  • Leveraging resources such as funding, technical expertise
  • Facilitate stakeholder involvement in watershed management

The actual steps to forming a WMA in your watershed will vary based on local needs and available resources. Here are some preliminary steps you may want to consider as you get started.

What are the resource concerns within the watershed that will motivate communities to participate in a WMA? These could include, but are not limited to:

  • water quality concerns (impaired waterways, drinking water quality, etc)
  • chronic flooding
  • recreation
  • resource enhancement or protection (wildlife habitat, drinking water, parkland or conservation area, etc)

To start the WMA formation process, you may want to create a list of informational resources or consult with technical experts in order to gain an accurate understanding of environmental conditions. Also, at this stage you may want to develop a map of the watershed, which is a required component of the 28E agreement submitted to the Iowa Secretary of State. The map should include all political subdivisions that will be invited to participate in the WMA. The Iowa DNR can assist with creating watershed maps.

The overarching goals of the proposed WMA may be to address flood impacts or improve water quality, but it is important to underscore the tangible short-term benefits of participating in a WMA. These might include:

  • Better communication about priorities, projects, and resource concerns
  • Multi-jurisdictional planning and management
  • Identifying opportunities to partner on larger projects or to share equipment or resources

While the ultimate goals and objectives of the WMA will need to be developed in collaboration with other WMA partners, it will be helpful to the decision-making process of potential members to have a better understanding of the process and types of activities the WMA may undertake.

Invite all cities, counties, and Soil and Water Conservation Districts to participate in the WMA It is important to note that, per Iowa code, all eligible political subdivisions (SWCDs, cities and counties) must be invited to participate in the WMA. There are many different ways to approach this step, and your method will depend on local needs. Your contact with the potential members could include any one or combination of the following outreach methods:

  • A general, informational / scoping meeting to which all potential parties are invited (be sure to include public notice)
  • Formal letters of invitation mailed to all parties. Include a map of the area and basic information about WMAs in Iowa
  • Personal phone calls and/or emails
  • Visits to the meetings of city councils, boards of supervisors, and soil and water conservation commissioner meetings. It is a good idea to have someone who is knowledgeable about the proposed WMA on hand at these meetings when the decision to join is on the agenda, in case there are any questions or concerns that need to be addressed.

In your outreach to potential WMA members, be sure to highlight the benefits of participation. No political subdivision is required to participate in a WMA, and with limited staff resources, they will want to understand what they are likely to get out of their involvement. Be sure to document all communications with eligible entities to demonstrate that this requirement has been met.

For more information on the 28E formation process:

A list of funding resources has been compiled on the Iowa Stormwater Education Program website.

WMA technical assistance:

Northeast Iowa River Basins
Miranda Haes

Central Iowa River Basins
Kyle Ament

Western Iowa River Basins
Steve Konrady


Learn how Watershed Management Authorities are reducing flood risk and protecting Iowa water quality.