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Countywide Water Resources Assessment

Dubuque Countywide Water Resources Assessment
Countywide Water Resources Assessment

Location:  Dubuque County, IA
Client:  Dubuque County


Dubuque County lies in northeastern Iowa and transitions from rolling hills in the western part of the county to limestone bluffs along the Mississippi River to the east. With its close proximity to the mighty Mississippi and its changing landscape, the watershed quickly transition from the cropped uplands to the wooded hillsides and river bottoms.

The City of Dubuque, which sits on the namesake river, is leading the charge in a joint effort with the County to develop a fuller understanding of the water quality throughout the county. The County's streams, rivers, and ponds provide recreational opportunities for approximately 100,000 residents and visitors alike. The limestone bluffs in eastern Dubuque County are characteristic of the region and greet visitors along Heritage Trail, which crosses the county to the trout streams and water trails.

The Project

The County retained HEI to identify, prioritize, and target agricultural conservation practices at the watershed scale for the entire county to facilitate outreach by local stakeholders in achieving water quality goals.

The project approach:
  1. identifies conservation practices using the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF), 
  2. quantifies the predicted nutrient and sediment removal benefits of each practice as well as the estimated costs, and
  3. identifies practices with the greatest ability to reduce downstream flooding.
This is accomplished with the support of the Prioritize, Target, and Measure Application (PTMApp)—a tool developed in part with the support of HEI’s own staff. The integrated model (i.e., the combination of ACPF and PTMApp) is called IAPA. The project team also used the Altered Hydrology Tool HEI created for the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council to complete this project. 

The IAPA data will facilitate local stakeholder discussions around the prioritization and targeting of conservation practices to achieve nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment water quality goals. Combined with hydrology information, this will support the City, County, and Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) goals to maximize flood reduction and water quality benefits with limited public funds. The data has also been used to develop farm-scale outreach materials to facilitate discussions by the newly formed watershed program in Dubuque County.

HEI and the County have expanded this project by incorporating flood mitigation goals into the project information. The data will inform investment discussions by identifying opportunities to increase upstream storage and other methods to reduce peak flows and potential flooding impacts. 

Public Engagement and Outreach

Local acceptance and engagement is crucial for almost any water quality project where public funds will be used to implement best management practices on private lands. Our team provided public engagement and outreach services to help inform landowners and gain their acceptance of the proposed projects. Working closely with County and SWCD staff, our team created an ArcGIS StoryMap to explain the project to the public. This StoryMap delves into the background, existing conservation practices in Dubuque County, where and why to invest in conservation, assessments, and action plans for implementing proposed practices. 

StoryMap - Water in Dubuque County: Community Flooding and Water Quality

Client Benefits

  • A better understanding of agricultural water quality improvement projects throughout the county, which will help focus public and private dollars on the projects that provide the greatest improvements on the dollar to support the recently developed Performance Based Conservation program.
  • The County and HEI are expanding the scope of this project to include hydrology information, which will inform stakeholders about upstream storage and other methods to reduce peak flows and potential flooding impacts at targeted locations within the county.
  • Prioritized practices that can reduce peak flooding at targeted locations within the county (cities, major bridges, etc.).