| Small system sets big example for Source Water Protection Week
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Small system sets big example for Source Water Protection Week

Winterset, Iowa, a city celebrated as the birthplace of Hollywood icon John Wayne, has another tale to tell – a story of resilience and innovation centered around Cedar Lake, the community's drinking water source. Facing water quality challenges, the city of about 5,500 residents developed and executed a successful source water protection plan and earned the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) 2023 Exemplary Source Water Protection Award for Small Systems.

Winterset's efforts highlight why AWWA is promoting Source Water Protection Week Sept. 24-30. The event aims to engage consumers, water utilities and environmental advocates and demonstrate that the best way to ensure high quality drinking water is to protect water sources. AWWA’s downloadable materials are available here.

Source Water Protection Week logo and imagesCedar Lake's water issues included excessive runoff, nutrient overload and silt intrusion, prompting action from the Winterset Water Department. The city is part of the Des Moines metropolitan area. 

"Cedar Lake had struggled for years from watershed influences, including a high watershed-area-to-lake-size ratio, predominantly from farming systems, including livestock," said Tim Palmer, watershed manager for the Winterset Water Department. Winterset responded by installing a reverse osmosis nitrate removal system. (Pictured right, watershed for Winterset, Iowa's, source water.)

Collaboration, action plan key to success
Winterset's SWP plan involved collaboration with diverse stakeholders and establishment of a source water protection team, which was instrumental in tackling water quality challenges. Palmer emphasized, "Cedar Lake Watershed has long been a priority for the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District," leading to conservation practices that enhance water quality and farmland productivity.

Tim PalmerThe program's success also hinged on partnerships with local agricultural stakeholders and organizations. These partnerships facilitated the adoption of best management practices and soil health practices, including the establishment of Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program wetlands. "These wetlands efficiently capture and filter water from tile-drained land, removing substantial nutrients, primarily nitrates," said Palmer.

The Winterset SWP program also involved a comprehensive action plan, which included components like grass waterways, intake terraces, biofilters, saturated buffers and small wetlands. These strategic components effectively control water flow and improve water quality before reaching Cedar Lake.

A small but passionate group of residents, producers and local leaders drives community engagement around the SWP plan, which is key to the program's success. "Keeping customers informed about water supply concerns and fostering partnerships with conservation districts and local leaders have been pivotal," said Palmer.

As Winterset continues to grow, the SWP program proves adaptable, updating zoning ordinances to encompass runoff treatments and mitigate pollutants. Proactive measures are implemented to address potential risks to source water quality, ensuring a sustainable water supply for the expanding city.