New coalition to advance flood mitigation, water quality efforts in north central Iowa


Cynthia Farmer, policy associate,, 402.687.2100, ext. 1034; Ken Nelson, commissioner, Cerro Gordo Soil and Water Conservation District,, 641.430.7420

NORTH CENTRAL, IOWA – A new watershed coalition has been established in north central Iowa. The Winnebago River Watershed Management Coalition (WMC) met for the first time this month to kickstart local water quality and flood mitigation efforts.

With the addition of the Winnebago River WMC, Iowa has 29 Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs) covering nearly half the state.

“WMAs are a unique approach to addressing water concerns,” said Cynthia Farmer, policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs. “They represent an opportunity for individuals to work together to improve the environment, enhance quality of life, and keep decision making local. Their structure transcends political boundaries, just like the watersheds they are working to preserve.”

Authorized in 2010 by the Iowa Legislature, WMAs may 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 funds made available to the authority for purposes of water quality and flood mitigation.

Local leaders and their jurisdictions work collaboratively within the same watershed through a cooperative agreement. The Winnebago River WMC currently has 11 members representing local counties, cities, and soil and water conservation districts. The coalition’s first meeting focused on electing leaders, approving bylaws, and planning the next steps. Community members were also present and provided input on which projects and issues should be prioritized moving forward.

Ken Nelson, a commissioner with the Cerro Gordo Soil and Water Conservation District, has taken an active leadership role in organizing the success of these efforts.

Nelson, who currently serves as the chairperson of the Shell Rock River WMC, was elected chairperson of the Winnebago River WMC.

“After the successful formation of the Shell Rock River WMC in 2021, it became clear a similar effort was necessary for the Winnebago River watershed,” Nelson said.

With the help of Nelson and other Shell Rock River WMC members, Center staff connected with jurisdictions in the Winnebago River watershed to help recruit local involvement and leadership, including Aaron Burnett and Brent Hinson with the City of Mason City and Mark Smeby of Worth County.

“The City of Mason City is interested in flood control, enhancement of recreation, and improvement of water quality in our waterways,” Burnett said. “The watershed coalition fits well with a number of initiatives the city has pursued in recent years, and we welcome this regional approach to these issues and opportunities.”

Farmer said it is great to see local leaders who are passionate about water quality efforts in the Winnebago River watershed.  

“We’re excited to see what this coalition will accomplish in the next few years and beyond," she said.