Axios Des Moines
March 16, 2023
🐼 Hiya, Thursday. It's National Panda Day. But don't just look at your day in black and white.
🌨️ Weather: Rainy with a chance of snow in the evening.High of 45°.
🏀 March Madness: A handy guide to keeping up with happenings around town, including free events.
🎂 Happy birthday to our Axios Des Moines member Mary Wegner!
Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 672 words, a 2.5-minute read.
1 big thing: Polk's bulk water projects
An outreach program started in 2020 by Polk County to build watershed improvement systems in bulk is now expanding to other counties.
Why it matters: More than 100 land buffer structures, which slow runoff and improve water quality, have been added in Polk County because of the program.
- The collective effort from other governments could help alleviate longtime environmental problems linked with farming.
Catch up fast: "Batch and Build" was launched by Polk County Public Works to increase the number of buffer projects — grassy areas at the edge of fields that reduce erosion and help remove nitrates before they enter streams or rivers.
How it works: Conservation projects often follow a cumbersome process. A farmer has to sign up for a government-subsidized cost-share program before hiring a contractor to install buffers and then submit paperwork for reimbursement.
- Polk's system cuts much of this red tape by first mapping areas where batch projects — those in proximity of each other — make sense.
- The county then recruits landowners to participate and acts as the central fiscal agent by handling site planning, government approvals, contractor hiring and financing.
- The county also pays landowners $1,000 for temporary easements to access their properties while the projects are being installed.
Between the lines: Polk's program is part of an initiative with the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance and the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship.
- Before the program, the county typically assisted with just a few projects a year, John Swanson, Polk's water resources supervisor, tells Axios.
The latest: The batch model is expanding with projects ongoing or planned in at least nine other counties, Don McDowell, a spokesperson for the state's agriculture department, tells Axios.
- Plus, Polk County is expanding the batch concept this year to build rural wetlands — projects that are generally larger and more expensive and complicated than buffers, Swanson says.
Worthy of your time: The Confluence for Watershed Leaders — a national advocacy group — recently highlighted Polk's efforts.
What we're watching: Polk County is also assisting in urban wetlands, including agreements approved last month for a 30-acre project in an undevelopable area of Ankeny.
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2. High school graduation declines
Iowa's four-year high school graduation rates continue to slightly decline from pre-pandemic levels, but remain high in comparison to the rest of the country's.
Driving the news: The class of 2022 graduated at a rate of 89.9%, according to newly released data from the Iowa Department of Education.
By the numbers: Graduation rates were 91.6% in 2019, 91.8% in 2020 and 90.2% in 2021.
- Around 3% of students dropped out, totaling 4,698 high schoolers.
- This year's rate is still higher than 89.3% from a decade ago.
The big picture: Neighboring states Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota all reported rates ranging from 82.2 to 89.7%.
Between the lines: Students in the class of 2022 were 10th graders when the pandemic started and classes became virtual.
3. The Ear: News that doesn't fall snort
🐓 As spring migration returns, a backyard flock in Iowa is reporting bird flu. (Des Moines Register)
🇺🇸 Vice President Kamala Harris visits Des Moines for the first time today since taking office to speak with local activists about abortion rights. (KCCI)
🤑 A Mega Millions ticket purchased at the QuikTrip off SE 14th Street is a $1 million winner. (Des Moines Register)
🍀 Set aside the Guinness and try one of these creative St. Patrick's Day drinks this weekend. (dsm Magazine)
🏀 East High School’s basketball coach has resigned after being placed on administrative leave. (KCCI)
4. Caitlin Clark's newest appearance
Iowa women's basketball star Caitlin Clark stars in a new NIL ad from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses that calls for the modernization of the Small Business Administration, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.
Why it matters: NILs are expanding. This campaign is believed to be the first time they've been used to advocate for federal policy.
- In the ad, Clark calls herself a "superfan" of Almost Famous Popcorn in Cedar Rapids.
Stat to go: The last time the SBA was reauthorized by Congress Clark wasn't born.
Q: What do pandas wear when they're robbing a bank?
A: A pan-dana.
Today's newsletter was edited by Everett Cook and copy edited by Lucia Maher.