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For over a decade, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has worked with a number of watershed groups in northeast Iowa on issues directly related to improving water quality. Engaging residents from the start of each new project was a critical component to success. This performance-based, resident-led approach has roots in the Big Spring and Northeast Iowa Demonstration Projects of the 1990s, and was refined in a series of projects in subwatersheds of the Maquoketa River from 2000-09. With facilitation by ISU Extension, watershed councils were organized in the Maquoketa Headwaters and Mineral Creek watersheds, and later in Hewitt Creek, Coldwater-Palmer, Lime Creek, North Fork Maquoketa Headwaters and Dry Run Creek watersheds. In the most recent projects, watershed councils developed monitoring plans and their own performance incentives to promote and evaluate producer adoption of a group of management practices aimed at improving water quality. Participation in these watershed improvement projects has reached 50-75% of farm operators through this innovative resident-led approach to water quality improvement.