Make a Suggestion for IWConf18

Recently, we announced the open call for presentations for the 2018 Iowa Water Conference. (There’s still time to submit your abstract – the deadline is September 4 at 11:59 p.m.!) We have had some great submissions thus far, and look forward to reviewing them with the Iowa Water Conference planning committee.

However, it occurred to us last week through some conversations at the Prairie Lakes Conference in Okoboji, IA that there may be a swath of good presentation suggestions sitting out there from people who wouldn’t want to volunteer other people (or themselves) without an invitation. While we ask for suggestions in the post-event evaluation, we historically have not actively solicited suggestions for speakers the rest of the year.

To solve this dilemma, we are introducing a new webform on the conference page on our website. Here, you can make suggestions of topics or speakers you’d like to see covered at the upcoming Iowa Water Conference. Keep in mind this is prime agenda developing season – we typically fill up the agenda by November 1 – so while we accept suggestions year-round, anything after the agenda is full will be considered for the following year.

Of course, you’re always welcome to chat with us as you see us out and about, or shoot an email directly to hbates@iastate.edu. Happy suggesting!

IWC Debuts New Logo

The Iowa Water Center is pleased to unveil our new logo!

It’s been five years since the Iowa Water Center last redesigned the logo, and it’s amazing how things have changed in that time. New staff, new projects, and a reinvigorated commitment to enhanced water management across the state have better defined our focus as originally laid out in the federal Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) of 1964.

Through this legislation, we are tasked with conducting a statewide research program that supports four critical needs on a local level:

  1. improvements in water supply reliability;
  2. the exploration of new ideas that address water problems or expand understanding of water and water-related phenomena;
  3. the entry of new research scientists, engineers, and technicians into water resources fields; and
  4. the dissemination of research results to water managers and the public.

We are also called to “cooperate closely with other colleges and universities in the State that have demonstrated capabilities for research, information dissemination, and graduate training in order to develop a statewide program designed to resolve State and regional water and related land problems.”

We don’t take these directives lightly. Through our conducted research, robust online presence, and role as a connector for collegiate and credible water-related agency and organization work, we strive to foster efficient, effective advances in water management for the state of Iowa. Every project we take on has to pass this test, so it is only fitting that our new logo symbolizes what we so highly value.

The water droplet, of course, is a familiar emblem for our industry. However, our water droplet takes subtle cues from an ear of corn to tie into Iowa’s agricultural roots. The four colors of the droplet represent those four critical needs defined in the WRRA. Additionally, these sections cross over and into each other, symbolizing the connective nature of our work. The font is a nod to our administrative home at Iowa State University.

IWC_Logo_Stacked_FullColor

We look forward to our stakeholders becoming familiar with the new look as we also look to improve our website so that it better reflects our Center. We’d also like to give a special thank you to Zao525 for their expertise, attention to detail, and guidance in this process.

Breaking down the Waters of the US

Submitted by Solomon Worlds, Iowa Water Center Science Communication Intern

Note: This post, and the referenced Riessen article, was written prior to the release of the Executive Order issues on WOTUS. The EO can be found here.

Hello Readership,

Recently, there has been a great deal of commotion around a recurring Supreme Court case that has yet to be ruled on. This legal battle is just another in the long line of battles over a famous piece of legislation we know as the Clean Water Act (CWA). This most recent battle is over the “Waters of the US rule” (WOTUS) definition that was made by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in June of 2015. Immediately after the decision was made, many legislators and officials (including our Iowa governor and two federal senators) voiced their opposition.

Some say that the federal government is overstepping their bounds. They say the federal government does not have jurisdiction over some of the WOTUS and that the June 2015 definition is either too broad or too vague. However, is there real constitutional precedent to halt the federal government’s involvement? What is actually in the CWA? Since this fight has made it to back the Supreme Court, what is different? And, what were the decisions of previous hearings? What will be the outcome of this rendition?

Jack Riessen, P.E., retired Iowa Department of Natural Resources employee and former advisory board member for the Iowa Water Center, wrote a short informative report in January 2017 that answers all of my above questions and probably a few others that you may have thought of. His well-written article carefully gives a brief history of the CWA fight by outlining the events of the past that have gotten us to where we are now. This enlightening review is written to appeal to those who do and those who do not know a lot about water, making it accessible for everyone. Click here to read Riessen’s full piece.

Flow forward my friends,

Solomon Furious Worlds

P.S.: In my first post, I promised more information on my name. My father wanted my middle name to start with an “F.” It was almost “Francis,” but there was a character from a popular 1991 film featured a character whose name was “Jason ‘Furious’ Styles.”

Iowa Watershed Management Authorities: Notes from the Statewide WMA Meeting

Post submitted by Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center

At a recent Iowa Watershed Approach meeting, I introduced myself (half-jokingly) as the president of the Watershed Management Authority Fan Club. As evidenced by my post last fall after a trip to the Cedar River Watershed Coalition meeting, I am a strong supporter of a watershed approach to natural resource management. Naturally, Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs) are a recipient of my affection.

A brief overview for those not familiar with WMAs: Watershed Management Authorities are a state of Iowa-recognized mechanism for encouraging the collaboration of the different communities within a watershed and enacting watershed based planning, including adoption of conservation practices that mitigate flooding and improve water quality. WMAs were first introduced in Iowa in 2010 when Iowa code 466B was enacted. Major initiatives of this chapter include the formation of the Watershed Resources Coordinating Council (WRCC), Watershed Planning Action Committee (WPAC), the Water Quality Initiative (WQI), and WMAs. There are currently 17 WMAs in the state, with at least five more on deck for formation.

At a statewide WMA meeting on February 7, 2017, representatives from those WMAs gathered in Dubuque, Iowa to give updates and to talk strategy, successes, and collaboration. Mary Beth Stevenson with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) kicked off the afternoon with some fun facts about WMAs, including:

  • 17 WMAs have received funding for planning or implementation through IDNR, Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship, or the Iowa Watersheds Project or the Iowa Watershed Approach (two rounds of grant funding from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development)
  • 15 WMAs currently have funding at some level
  • 10 WMAs are funded at a level with enough money for full-time staff and implementation
  • 12 WMAs have or will have some level of paid staff, even if just part-time, funded locally and/or through grant funds

This is a promising start for WMAs as a successful vehicle for watershed management. Even more promising were the updates from the WMAs. Everyone had something to report from across the state. Indian Creek, one of the original six WMAs in 2012, is looking to hire a coordinator and completed an annual review that is turning into a strategic plan. Turkey River WMA, one of the “original HUD” projects  succeeded in influencing policy in all participating political subdivisions (and achieved a 5% flood reduction in Otter Creek with the construction of 29 well-placed structures). In the Walnut Creek WMA a soil and water conservation district staff member found a lamprey (nearly extinct) in a CREP wetland. The Maquoketa River is also in the process of forming a WMA, not because they have outside funding, but simply because they have a group of interested citizens that recognize the benefits of working together.

These are just a few updates of many. My pen could hardly keep up and I couldn’t keep from asking questions. It is extremely energizing to be in a room full of people sharing ideas, concerns and solutions, and I wanted to learn all that I could. After the updates, Polk County WMA Coordinator John Swanson presented the unique activities happening in his part of the state (we will feature that presentation in its own post in the near future). We finished by breaking out into small groups to talk about how to keep WMA momentum going, establishing a WMA coordinator/staff position, watershed plan development and assessment, and how to structure a WMA collaborative group that communicates regularly to move all WMAs forward.

Citizen engagement is critical to the success of watershed management. I will leave you today with a challenge: find the WMA nearest you, even if you don’t live in that watershed, and attend a quarterly meeting. After you attend, you may just want to join my Watershed Management Authority Fan Club.

When it comes to water…

From Melissa Miller, Iowa Water Center Associate Director

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday, my family and I made a lunch and relaxation stop in Elkader on our way to Wisconsin for a weekend getaway. My girls love water, so we walked over the Keystone Bridge for a good look.

may and hana on turkey

Hana, 3, and May, 5 pose near the Turkey River in Elkader on 8/19/16.

Just a week later, Elkader and other Northeast Iowa residents are dealing with severe flooding from torrential downpours earlier in the week that dumped as much as 8″ of rain in some areas, causing damage to homes, businesses, and even killing one person swept away in the flash floods. Some residents had to evacuate their homes and take shelter elsewhere (including fish!). The water that makes these communities peaceful, beautiful places to live and visit can also pose severe challenges.

turkey river flooding

Flooding of the Turkey River in downtown Elkader as taken by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center’s Airborne Snow Survey airplanes.

This storm is a solemn reminder of the power of water and the importance of studying it. Our seed grant RFP will be released soon, and this year we are partnering with other Water Resources Research Institutes in the Mississippi and Ohio River Basins to share knowledge so that we’re advancing our understanding together. In addition, the Iowa Watershed Approach has already begun work in communities to help address flood and water quality risks and increase community resiliency to events like the ones this week. Related to flooding, up-to-date flood information is available through the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

IWC’s overarching goal is to improve management of water resources. “Management” might not be the best term, because in many cases, water (and nature) does what it will. There’s a parallel between “managing” water and “managing” children – no matter what you want out of it, the true nature of the water (and the child) will always rise up.

family on turkey

One of many attempts at a “nice” family picture at the Keystone Bridge. Getting kids to look at the camera with serene smiles can be as difficult as telling a river or a rain cloud exactly where to run or when to empty.

 

IWConf17 presentation applications are due (really) soon

If you’ve been putting off submitting an application to present at the 2017 Iowa Water Conference, put it off no longer – applications are due Sunday night (Aug 14) at 11:59 p.m. The IWConf17 planning committee will review in the weeks following as the “first cut” for determining the 2017 conference agenda.

(It’s okay if you wait until Sunday to submit. It’s not procrastination. You’re busy. It’s prioritization.)

Wondering if you should submit an application? Do you answer yes to any of the following questions?

-Do you have a story to tell about watershed successes?

-Are you looking for partners for a current or new project?

-Do you have the latest tool in your water management field with proven results?

-Have you figured out a way to engage new sectors of populations in water-related activities or conversations?

From the call for applications:

This year’s theme, “Watershed Management: Partnerships for Progress,” promotes water resource management from a watershed perspective, with a particular emphasis on the partnerships necessary to accomplish goals. Improving water management on a watershed scale is a complex undertaking due to the variety and sheer number of stakeholders. Watersheds do not adhere to political jurisdictions; they often cross borders of different cities of town, counties, and in some cases, states. The 11th Annual Iowa
Water Conference looks for presentations to tell stories of successes and lessons learned through forged partnerships while providing updates on the latest technical approaches to water management from a variety of perspectives.
One final thing to note – conference goers have requested to hear more stories of successful implementation- a translation of research/development into practice. They want to come away with an idea of how your presentation’s focus fits into their lives. The committee will be looking at applications through that lens this year.
Instructions for submitting are in the call for applications. As usual, if you have questions – let us know.

From the IWC Director: Water Quality – Why Such a Challenge?

On July 26, IWC Director Rick Cruse presented to about 150 attendees at the Arkansas Water Resources Center’s Annual Conference. The theme of the conference was “Nutrients, Water Quality and Harmful Algal Blooms.” Dr. Cruse spoke during the opening general session in a presentation entitled “Water Quality – Why Such a Challenge?” The following is a summary of what he told our downstream friends in Arkansas.

Why is water quality such a challenge?  A few simple concepts help recognize why this challenge exists.

We know that water added to a pail filled water will be lost.

We know that complex systems are more difficult to understand and manage than simple ones.

We also know that activities favoring economics of an individual may not favor natural resources or the general population.

And finally, to be a champion one must be willing to identify a goal and be committed to meet that goal.

Transposing these concepts to agriculture is quite simple.  Adding nutrients to a landscape that has had repeated nutrient additions and does not have the capacity to hold additional nutrients will likely lose those nutrients as a full pail loses water added to it.  Managing nutrients in agricultural systems is incredibly complex; elements of this complex system range from policy influencing human management choices to highly variable weather systems.

Understanding these elements independently is difficult, understanding how they interact is incredibly challenging.  Management practices that favor maximum short term economic returns require short term management choices; managing natural resources such as water requires a long term vision.  Short term profit motives seldom support long term water quality goals.

Finally, if we want improved water quality, we must make water quality a committed goal and not just an add-on to a system that we know to be very leaky.