A Day at the Lake

Post submitted by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

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Slideshow of the Iowa Water Center Board visit to the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.

This week, the Iowa Water Center Advisory Board held their bi-annual meeting at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory at Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa. The IWC advisory board started in 2006, and is made up of representatives from around the state (list of members provided below). This was the first meeting for several of our board members, so we covered IWC history to start off the meeting and spent time discussing current and upcoming IWC activities.  Staff members and the advisory board also visited the research field sites for Elizabeth Swanner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences at Iowa State University.

Swanner’s research is funded by the Iowa Water Center’s competitive annual seed grant program. This grant program funds one faculty member at an Iowa college as well as graduate students. Swanner’s project titled, “The role of iron mobility from anoxic sediments in stimulating harmful algal blooms,” received funding in 2016 and renewed funding for 2017. During the visit, Swanner described the project and demonstrated how samples are collected during a pontoon boat ride. Her research is focused on evaluating the potential that iron is released out of lake sediments, thus stimulating the blooming of toxic cyanobacteria in Iowa’s lakes during the summers. You can read more about her research here.

Follow her research on twitter at @betsyswanner.

The Iowa Water Center Board Members

  • Larry Weber (Chair), Director of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, University of Iowa
  • Marty Adkins, Asst. State Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Daryl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Biology at University of Northern Iowa
  • Mary Skopec, Executive Director of Lakeside Laboratory
  • Jon Nania, Supervisory Hydrologist at the Iowa Water Science Center at the USGS (replacing Kevin Richards as USGS Iowa Water Science Center representative)
  • Jon Tack,  Water Quality Bureau Chief at the Iowa DNR (replacing Bill Ehm as IDNR representative)
  • Jake Hansen, Water Resources Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (replacing Jim Gillespie as IDALS representative)
  • John Lawrence, Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach
  • James Reecy, Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University (replacing Wolfgang Kliemann as ISU Vice President for Research representative)

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Mary Skopec for making the arrangements for our meeting at Lakeside Lab. We highly recommend trekking to Okoboji for a tour of the campus or to take one of Lakeside’s academic courses. Lakeside does a variety of outreach, too – so bring the entire family!

Iowa Water Conference 2017

Submitted by Solomon Worlds, Iowa Water Center Science Communication Intern

Dear Readership:

The discussion of water research and policy at the Iowa Water Conference was far from dry. As a student who is very interested in the happenings of Iowa’s waterways, I found many aspects of the conference very informative.

The first presentation, “From the Bottom Up,” was a terrific way to get everyone engaged right from the start. Chad’s story of cleaning the Mississippi river, among others, was inspiring and exhilarating. The sessions after this were all quite informative, but I remember thinking, “I know nothing.” As I expressed in the past, my water knowledge is shabby at best and that was never more salient than it was when I was at the Iowa Water Conference (It also did not help that I was ill and made frequent trips to the restroom to wash my hands to prevent the spread of germs).

The second day, which featured a version of me that did not have a fever or a runny nose, was much more enjoyable. I was also the moderator for the “Engaging the community as a partner” sessions. Hearing about a project that has happened in a community near me in the second session was fascinating. I had no idea that so much was happening right in my city. Hearing about new scientific educational methods to engage our young students early on in their education was also very interesting, as I have been a student for the bulk of my young life. The last discussion in that track was on communicating the risk of what is happening and, as a science communicator, I found that immensely useful.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the Iowa Water Conference. I wish I had been healthier, but that is not the Water Conference’s problem. I did feel a bit isolated, however, being that my research is in psychology and policy. I would recommend brushing up on H2O before you decide to go.


Flow freely my friends,

P.S.: Rick Cruse is a man of many talents. When he is not leading the Iowa Water Center, he writes lyrics to famous songs. Check it out! https://youtu.be/SPeHRhxhBI4

Solomon Furious Worlds

Current Research track now open for the 2017 Iowa Water Conference


Are you a researcher with ongoing or recently completed research related to water?

The Iowa Water Conference Planning Committee invites researchers from around the state to submit an abstract to present at the 2017 Iowa Water Conference in the Current Research track.

Submissions to this track will undergo a review process by the Iowa Water Center. Selected presenters will have the opportunity to share and discuss their research in a 30-minute slot during the breakout session times at the conference. A total of nine presentations will be chosen for this section of the conference.

“The Current Research track is an opportunity for researchers to discuss ongoing projects and new information,” said Dr. Richard Cruse, Director of the Iowa Water Center. “Providing a platform for researchers to share their work with the public is a critical component of the Center’s education and outreach goals.”

The deadline for abstract submissions is February 1, 2017. The submission process is online at the following link (http://www.aep.iastate.edu/iwc/papers). Questions and inquiries regarding the conference can be directed to Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center (hbates@iastate.edu).

2016 Fall Watershed Academy

Learning about the tools of the trade in conservation…

Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Iowa State University Professor in Agronomy, presenting on the sensory evaluations of soil at the Watershed Academy.

Written by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

A few weeks ago, approximately 70 Iowa-based water professionals came together for the Watershed Academy. This two-day event was co-organized by Iowa State University Extension & Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, the Soil and Water Conservation Society, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Academy sought to provide the latest information on conservation practices and educational resources.

At the Plate of the Union Water Quality Panel, I discussed our growing need for communicators to get information out to the public. The Watershed Academy is prime example for how we can get resources in the hands of those who can use them. The purpose of the Academy was to give watershed coordinators the materials to improve their outreach to the public. These are the kind of resources  that enable people to see conservation in action and to get their hands a little dirty.

Providing opportunities for hands-on experiences allow an individual to try something new in an interactive way. It not only gives them a better understanding of a practice, but it also enables them to see how they could use it in their own lives. Organizations such as Iowa State University Extension & Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, and commodity organizations, have user-friendly educational demonstrations and simple soil health evaluations that individuals can engage with. One tool is the Iowa Soil Health Assessment Card from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. This is a scorecard that farmers can easily use to assess their soil conditions based on sensory cues, such as the visual appearance, texture, and smell of the soil (Fortunately, not taste!).

The Watershed Academy also featured conservation initiatives from the private sector.  Bert Strayer, Western Cover Crop Lead for LaCrosse Seed, presented information on the company and how they discuss soil health with their customers. Their catalogs and informational materials not only describe their products, but also outline the importance of conservation. This is a cover crop supplier that not only provides a product, but also seeks to inform their customers about the importance of healthy soils.

Another presentation was by Erin Ogle, project coordinator for the Taylor County Water Quality Initiative project. This project is a unique example of how research and support from public entities can come together with the private sector to provide conservation services to farmers. Through a partnership with AgSolver, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, and others, farmers located in Taylor County can develop conservation plans for their fields that address both environmental and profit goals of the farmer. If you want to learn more about this project, Ogle will be giving a presentation at the 2017 Iowa Water Conference!

It was great to learn about all the different resources that are available to watershed coordinators and other water professionals in the state. Having educational tools can be instrumental in improving our water resources. That can especially be said for interactive demonstrations that get you a little dirty in the process!

Iowa Water Center Spirit of the Water Essay Contest now open!

Without water, there would be no life. Water serves as a medium in which we can grow healthy plants, innovate in industry, and play in the outdoors. From supporting our natural habitats to running through our kitchen faucets, it allows us to flourish as a community of living beings.

It not only sustains us, but inspires us.

The Iowa Water Center would like to invite students from around the state to participate in the 2017 Iowa Water Center Spirit of the Water Essay Contest and share with us how water inspires them.

What students are eligible to participate?

  • Students enrolled in 9-12th grade in public, private, and home school programs in Iowa are eligible for the high school contest.
  • Students enrolled in 2 and 4-year degree universities and colleges in Iowa are eligible for the undergraduate competition.
  • Students enrolled in graduate and MFA programs located in Iowa are eligible for the graduate competition.

Information regarding submission guidelines, judging criteria, and essay prompts can found at the following at the Iowa Water Center website.

We recognize the positive impact of diversity and welcome applications from all students meeting eligibility guidelines.  Persons with documented disabilities are encouraged to contact IWC staff to make timely requests for reasonable accommodations

Cedar River Watershed Coalition Meeting Recap

Citizen action for better integrated watershed management

Written by Melissa Miller, Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center

On Friday, October 29, I had the good fortune of heading northeast to Parkersburg, Iowa for the Cedar River Watershed Coalition’s Fall 2016 meeting. This group has been convening since February of 2010, and I’ve made it to a few meetings in my time at the Iowa Water Center.

The agenda included presentations by Josh Spies and Nicholas Longbucco from The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Larry Weber, Director of the University of Iowa’s IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering; and Lawrence Green, the NRCS District Conservationist for Butler and Franklin Counties. In the afternoon, we toured the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area, one of Iowa’s largest wetland complexes.

One reason I particularly enjoy going to these meetings is the watershed focus. Integrated watershed management (IWM) is recognized in the literature as an effective method for improved natural resource management. The big key in IWM is the comprehensive, holistic approach to watershed planning. It uses the watershed as the geographic boundary for planning and incorporates social and political science aspects into the natural sciences.

Integrated watershed management is easier said than done. Because our watersheds are not within the same boundaries as our political boundaries, bridging across different communities can pose a challenge. Those involved in watershed organizations know firsthand the potential struggle of participation – both the types of people who are involved and the amount of people who choose to be involved. Participation from the local community is paramount for success, yet it also seems to be a major challenge.

The Cedar River Watershed Coalition is a good Iowa example of a large watershed coming together to improve water resource management. The meetings I have attended always draw quite a few participants, and this one was no different. More chairs had to be brought out to accommodate the approximately 80 interested citizens, professionals, and elected officials who came out for the two-hour meeting. This level of involvement is an indicator of success for IWM. Diversity in participation better represents the watershed and, in turn, garners more support for making changes. It also improves efficiency and impact of the organization as a whole.

This begs the question: What is the Cedar River doing to engage so many on a continuous basis? I’ll leave you with a few ideas I have. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

  • A very real, demonstrated issue. The floods of 2008 devastated cities and towns in the watershed. Water management has remained front page news in the time since, including both water quality and water quantity. This fall’s threat of flooding in September was recognized at this meeting as creating a renewed sense of urgency for the group.
  • A dedicated coordinator. Research by Bidwell & Ryan (2006) concluded that watershed organizations without a paid coordinator lacked the ability to achieve even limited administrative duties. Having a point person, especially a passionate and effective point person, creates continuity and consistency with member and public interaction. Individuals within Iowa, such as Mary Beth Stevenson of the Iowa DNR, exemplify the importance of having this position. She, along with others in the state, work to promote water-related improvements at the watershed level.
  • Timely dissemination of information to interested partners. The Cedar River Watershed Coalition releases a regular e-newsletter, holds semi-annual meetings (like today’s) for information sharing and education, and members of the Coalition show up to meetings and events throughout the state to both learn and share their knowledge in water with others. They build connections – both within the watershed and beyond.
  • Accessibility. The Cedar River Watershed Coalition meetings are moved throughout the watershed to reach people where they live.
  • Bonding activities. (Not brotherly bonding, like taking a camping trip together.) Most Cedar River Watershed Coalition meetings include some sort of “field trip,” like a previous meeting’s bus tour of conservation practices or today’s trip to Big Marsh. This type of activity strengthens relationships between members and connects them more closely to the organization.

The Cedar River Watershed Coalition is one of many watershed level groups in the state doing good things for water resources.  If you want to get involved in your watershed, visit EPA’s Surf Your Watershed website to learn more about the watershed where you live, including what citizen-based groups are doing work to protect water.


Bidwell, Ryan D. and Clare Ryan. (2006) Collaborative Partnership Design: The Implications of Organizational Affiliation for Watershed Partnerships. Society and Natural Resources, 19:827-843.

Iowa’s Water Crisis: Let’s Talk

Finding Common Ground within a Divisive Issue

Written by Dr. Richard Cruse, Director of the Iowa Water Center and Professor in Agronomy at Iowa State University

We have all come to realize from the recent discourse in the news that water quality can be a bit political. Academic types, like myself, prefer to avoid situations where the political nature of controversial issues are likely to erupt.  Two weeks ago, the Story County Iowa Democrats hosted a public discussion titled, “Iowa’s Water Crisis: Let’s Talk” in Ames, Iowa. I was invited to be part of the panel discussion alongside Bill Stowe, CEO of Des Moines Water Works, and Seth Watkins, a farmer and Republican from Southwest Iowa. During this event, we had the ‘opportunity’ to objectively discuss Iowa’s water crisis.

From my perspective, the challenge involved being academically factual while maintaining a non-confrontational posture with either panel members. An additional challenge was to determine how to engage an audience in a Q&A format in a manner that avoids agenda-setting while still be informative and engaging. As an individual accustomed to lecture halls, I was out of my element. This is because I learned a few minutes before the event that my PowerPoint presentation I had prepared could not be used.  An academic without PowerPoint is like a glass of wine without the wine, or maybe without the glass, too.

Each panelist was given a moment to address the crowd of about 40-50 community members in attendance. I, the academic, made the statement that Iowa does not have a real water crisis.  Flint, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio water issues have exemplified water crises.  Iowa has a water challenge. It is our responsibility to strategically and proactively act so that it does not become a crisis. This statement was in contradiction to a prior statement made by Mr. Stowe who addressed the crowd before me during the evening’s agenda.

To my surprise, my statement seemed to gain traction and was not challenged by panel members or the audience.  Agreement and a general consensus seemed to exist over most components of the water quality Q&A portion of the event.  Seth Watkins repeatedly emphasized that caring for the land was his most important farm goal, and that good land management practices lead to farm profitability and improve water quality.

Incorporating conservation practices, specifically perennials, into the landscape was emphasized throughout the evening as a means for how farmers can address water quality impacts of their practices. The resounding question following this solution is: How do we get perennials worked into Iowa’s farming systems?

The academic response to this challenge is: Decentralize the livestock industry, such that livestock again can become an important part of the farming system. This allows for a financial use for the perennials that we desperately need for both soil conservation and water quality improvement.

Seth Watkins is a poster child for such a system. Watkins is a fourth generation farmer from Clarinda, Iowa who has a 600-head cow-calf operation and grows hay and corn. He uses a variety of conservation practices including: rotational grazing, restricted wildlife areas, riparian buffers, no-till, and cover crops, among many other practices. Watkins listens to the ecology of his farm ground and works to build an integrated system with his livestock and his crop production.

A question I had before entering the event was: Can a water quality discussion organized by a political organization be pulled-off without political rhetoric?  Before the event, I would have likely said, “NO.”  However, the Story County Democrat panel discussion was a breath of fresh air, informative, and proactive.  My academic fears associated with such an event were totally unfounded!