The Iowa Whitewater Coalition (IWC) formed in November 2002 under the auspices of the Iowa Water Trails Association with a threefold purpose. First, it advocated a safe way to traverse the Center Street and Scott Avenue dams in downtown Des Moines. This effort is part of the Iowa Water Trails Association’s effort to create a paddling trail from Estherville to Keokuk on the Des Moines River. As they are now, the existing dams at Center Street and Scott Avenue in downtown Des Moines create a hazard that keeps most recreational paddlers off the Des Moines River, cutting off a vital link on the Des Moines River Water Trail between Saylorville Dam and Lake Red Rock. Although a survey had demonstrated demand for paddler access to this downtown stretch, inviting paddlers there with the present danger of the dams would be reckless. This was amply demonstrated by the drowning of a kayaker at the Scott Avenue dam in the summer of 2002.
Second, IWC advocated a whitewater course that would make downtown Des Moines a destination for kayakers, canoeists and possibly rafters. Whitewater paddlers could ‘park and play’ and enjoy Des Moines urban facilities, before and after paddling. As whitewater paddlers appear willing to pay fees for such a course, it could become a revenue-generating source for downtown Des Moines. It would also be a place where state and local swiftwater rescue personnel could train regularly, rather than periodically driving as far away as South Bend, Indiana. IWC expects such a course to draw many spectators and add to the overall ambience of downtown Des Moines. Whitewater courses in sites such as Durango, CO and Wausau, WI regularly draw spectators who contribute to the local economy.
Third, IWC advocated whitewater runs and the protection of Iowa’s few whitewater streams and playspots across the state of Iowa. A Des Moines Whitewater Park could take a variety of forms as the design phase progresses, but IWC suggested that in the Capital City, landscaping and the types of boulders used should echo rivers and streams from around the state to call attention to Iowa’s surprising array of canoeing and kayaking opportunities. If the Principal Riverwalk’s design theme evokes historical and ecological "strata," the Des Moines Whitewater Park project is a chance to add more Iowa ecotypes to the showcase. IWC wants to include all levels of paddlers and are committed to the idea of both easy and adventurous ways down the Des Moines River.
IWC incorporated as IOWA WHITEWATER COALITION, INC., with the State of Iowa on April 30. 2004, and received 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service on February 4, 2005. IWC joined the Iowa Environmental Council as a member organization in March, 2006.
Today, on a statewide basis IWC views rivers as Iowa’s greatest overlooked natural resource. Low-head dams are physical barriers for public navigation and recreation. These hazardous structures divide fisheries and create ecological dead zones in rivers. IWC has undertaken a project called “Reconnecting the Rivers.” Iowa Whitewater Coalition’s approach to river restoration is a progressive approach to fundamental problems regarding rivers in Iowa. The overall goal of this project is to bring Iowa rivers back to their original biological integrity.