Decorah, IA (April 15, 2022)
In 2016 the City of Decorah began collecting a stormwater utility fee from residents as a part of their water and sewer bill. The nominal fee was created as a means for the City to address stormwater improvement projects throughout the community that would fall outside the scope of normal street and sewer maintenance. Many other communities in Iowa have implemented similar programs as a way of changing the way urban developed areas handle stormwater runoff. To get the most out of funds collected, City officials worked with Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) to assist in project and grant development to strategically leverage stormwater funds. Projects implemented through this project will primarily address flood mitigation and water quality improvements. As a result, the City was awarded $96,000 through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s (IDALS) Urban Conservation Water Quality Initiative grant program and $500,000 from the Iowa Finance Authority’s Watershed Protection Grant program. The City will contribute stormwater utility funds along with other partner contributions to match these two grant programs allowing the City to stretch resident’s contribution via the stormwater utility fee further. The City was also a partner in an additional $500,000 project developed by Winneshiek County Economic Development and Tourism and RC&D for similar projects. All of these projects allow the City and partners to implement additional innovative practices that produce a larger flood reduction and water quality improvement benefit to the community.
The City is practicing innovative strategies for mitigating flood and water quality issues within the community by, not only implementing projects within City limits, but expanding projects upstream into the Upper Iowa River Watershed. Northeast Iowa RC&D employee Tori Nimrod, who also serves as the Upper Iowa River Watershed Coordinator stated, “The City is taking advanced flood mitigation actions by working upstream in the Upper Iowa River Watershed to solve the root causes of Decorah’s surface water issues.” A total of 6 different flood mitigation and water quality improvement practices will be constructed as a part of the City projects. Five of the projects will be implemented within City limits; these projects include an infiltration basin, two oxbow wetlands, bio-retention system, streambank stabilization, and native prairie planting. The City also plans to implement a stormwater wetland and 6 water and sediment basins in partnership with Winneshiek County Conservation Board along Dry Run Creek on County property. These projects will help reduce flash flooding by storing excess water on the landscape and allowing it to slowly release.
These projects come as a result of prioritization towards urban stormwater improvement and flood mitigation by the City, and the implementation of strategic avenues to fund stormwater projects. City Engineer Jeremy Bril noted, “Working with these local partners has been a true collaborative effort that has allowed us to pursue grant opportunities to further extend our taxpayer dollars as we work towards solutions to our watershed challenges.” Project implementation involving the projects described above is expected to take place over the following two years. However, the RC&D will continue to assist the City in using innovative strategies to leverage City stormwater funds and to implement additional projects that continue to mitigate flooding and improve water quality in the City. Nimrod noted, “The City’s stormwater improvement initiative, along with the work of other valuable partners in the community, will expedite the progress towards a more flood resilient community.”