A Comparative Analysis of Iowa Watershed Organizations: Structure, Function, and Social Infrastructure

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 05/05/2021
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Monica Haddad
Iowa State University


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    A Comparative Analysis of Iowa Watershed Organizations: Structure, Function, and Social Infrastructure.


    In 2012, Iowa released the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) as a response to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, acknowledging the role that agriculturally dominant states play in water quality issues downstream. The INRS is reliant on voluntary implementation of conservation practices to mitigate field runoff. Such implementation can be difficult to achieve at the watershed scale. Social infrastructure—defined as how communities come together to solve problems—is critical to this large-scale, voluntary implementation. To better understand this critical component, I am proposing a comparative analysis of how six lowa watershed organizations are reaching their goals, focusing especially on how they impact social infrastructure in rural areas. The results of this study could aid the INRS in being implemented.


    This study will examine the structure and function relationship of these watershed management organizations and how they impact social infrastructure in rural areas. By gathering qualitative data through focus groups with farmers, interviews with various watershed organization stakeholders, and a content analysis of relevant organizational documents, this study will increase: 1) farmer and stakeholder awareness of watershed organizations’ role in social infrastructure; 2) knowledge of how watershed organizations facilitate interaction, management actions, etc.; and 3) awareness of policy and program changes that could be beneficial to watershed organizations. Such a qualitative approach is necessary given the lack of studies reviewing multiple watershed organizations. Due to natural hydrological processes creating lag time in observed water quality improvements, assessing watershed organizations by quantitative measures alone is insufficient. It is imperative to understand the social factors related to watershed organizing.


    Recommendations will be provided to the organizations under study, as well as others who are interested, so that they can act on the results to implement new policies or programs to help them reach their goals and foster social infrastructure. Farmers will find these outcomes relevant because they could shape the relationships that they have with watershed organizations, and I will be reliant on farmer focus groups to define social infrastructure in their communities.


    Both the Iowa Water Center and Iowa Watershed Approach have partnered with this study to facilitate communication with watershed organizations and stakeholders that are familiar to them. Evaluation of outcomes will rely on face-to-face discussions and a post-study survey at meetings with each of the watershed organizations.


    Project objectives from proposal:

    From interviews with watershed organizations in Iowa, this project will generate qualitative data that improves awareness among farmers, landowners, citizens, and organizers of how different initiatives can increase social infrastructure—particularly in rural areas—and how organizations have been reaching their goals, including goals for landowner and farmer participation.  Content analysis of organizational documents will be used to assist in changing the behavior and attitudes of those in authority in watershed organizations. Watershed organizers implementing different polices/programs as a result of the study’s data will be an action outcome.


    Learning outcomes will be based on three items: 1) increased awareness among farmers, landowners, citizens, and organizers of the role that watershed organizations play in building social infrastructure; 2) increased knowledge of different tactics that watershed organizations use to facilitate stakeholder interaction, communication, learning, and management actions; and 3) increased awareness of how different policies and/or programs may be beneficial to achieving their goals.


    As an action outcome, watershed organizations in Iowa will change their behavior due to recommendations that come from this study. In the medium-term, I will provide the six watershed organizations in this study with specific recommendations related to their structure, goals, and involvement of farmers. I will also make contact with other watershed organizers who were outside of the analysis, as they may benefit from the recommendations. In the long-term, after the conclusion of this study, watershed organizations will implement different policies or programs based off of the recommendations provided to them.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.