Cedar River (essay)

In honor of publishing the 2017 Spirit of the Water Essay Contest, the Iowa Water Center staff have decided to join in and answer the chosen essay prompt for the contest.

This year, the prompt was: Think of a body of water that you are familiar with and the different kinds of benefits that it provides to the surrounding area. Why are places like that worth protecting?

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Dr. Richard Cruse fishing in 2013. Photo submitted by Cruse.

Cedar River

Story submitted by Dr. Richard Cruse, Director of the Iowa Water Center

What is it that makes lakes and streams so special to so many? Is it what our eyes see, or what our noses sense, or maybe it is the sounds associated with diverse life along these bodies of water?  Maybe it is the sense of warm or maybe chilly water as you walk in a stream or the temperature of a fish you hold taken from the water.  And what about the personal feelings of freedom that comes from bonding with constantly flowing water as it finds it way around the next bend?  And then there is the mystery of what lies beneath the surface, a surface that reflects your image like a mirror no one can ever possess.

My personal bond with streams was first tied to fishing in the Cedar River.  I spent countless hours sitting on the bank with a fishing pole in hand, dominantly early in the morning or late at night pursuing what was then our sport fish – the channel cat.  As I learned what worked (and of course what did not), success was the norm.  Catching was not the challenge it once was, nor was it as exciting as it previously had been because I had experienced it many times.  Yet, my drive to repeat the fishing activity grew.  What was truly driving my urge to fight mosquitos and suffer welts from an occasional poison ivy or nettles encounter?  It was not the thrill of catching a fish, the likes of which I had caught many times before.  It was, and still is, the bond and sense of freedom that comes from a natural water connection.

My sense of connectedness with the natural world has grown from the seeds planted in my childhood along the Cedar River.  I’ve fished for REAL sportfish in what some consider quite glamorous fishing locations – Minnesota, Ontario, and even in Europe.  I’ve camped along lakes in the Canadian Wilderness about which many can only dream.  I’ve camped and hunted in the Saw Tooth Mountains of the Idaho Rockies following, crossing and drinking from mountain streams overflowing with energy, freedom, and the laughter of Mom Nature.  My desire to return to these locations is immense, but no greater than the desire to return to the sand bars on which I camped as a teenage on the Cedar in Bremer County.

The passion of those that have experienced the unexplainable connection with our lakes and streams drives our desire to maintain or improve water quality and natural resources in Iowa and the nation.  The magic of the water moments cannot be duplicated or reproduced with any technology known to man.  My dad told me often, not everything with value can be bought, and in fact, things with the most value have no price tag.  My bond with the natural world is priceless and my desire to share these experiences with family and friends knows no bounds.  May everyone sometime experience the choir of frogs singing relentlessly through the night, the echo of rippling water flowing across a rocky river bottom, the fragrance of fresh air heavy with night time dew, and the unexplainable joy that only these experiences can bring.

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

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.

Talking Soil in Canada

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

This month, I spoke at the Rendez-vous Végétal 2017 in Quebec, Canada. Speaking to French Canadians in Quebec about the cost of soil erosion created some unique anticipations: How well will soil erosion vocabulary be translated and understood? What erosion problems actually exist and how do my Iowa experiences relate to Quebec challenges? Will my message be accepted or be viewed as too Iowegian and be of value for Iowans only?  Will the audience appreciate the humor or will it be misunderstood?  Speaking to a non-native English speaking audience has the potential to be a memorable adventure.

Sometimes this angst is unwarranted, which was true in this instance.  Speaking in an auditorium fit for a concert or headline event was a great start.  Further, a complete translation of my presentation was provided on a large screen while I had my own private screen next to the podium. Fortunately, about 60% of the audience was bilingual, which eased concerns of the message on soil erosion or a few jokes getting lost in translation. The audience itself was composed of well informed, science savvy farmers and agency professionals. Regardless, throwing in a few jokes about government administrative changes in the U.S and a few Canadian fishing adventures cannot hurt in “breaking the ice.”

I learned soil erosion and soil degradation is a serious concern in Canada.  The form of erosion dominating the Quebec landscape is a bit different from that in Iowa and the Midwest. The biggest concern seems to be from bank collapse that occurs in surface drainage ditches.  While this dominated the discussion on soil in the area around Montreal, other areas experienced soil degradation somewhat similar to those in Iowa.  The greatest connection occurred when discussing the following topics on soil erosion:

  • Why soil needs to be protected,
  • how economic pressure increasingly encourages all out production at the expense of conservation,
  • how differences exist in conservation ethic between many farmers and landowners,
  • the importance of production-based conservation practices (no-till, cover crops, crop rotations),
  • and the grave soil resource concerns associated with climate change.

Yes, climate change is real north of the border.  An audience member questioned if conservative people in the States really do not accept science and if they recognize the increase in frequency of heavy storms and longer growing seasons.  Studies show that most people believe that the climate is changing (Arbuckle et al 2013, Leiserowitz et al. 2014). Recognizing that the problem is occurring may not necessarily be the issue. Instead, it is building consensus on the source of climate change, the threat of regulation and other policy recommendations, and the scope of the conversation that may determine how the public copes with the problem.

One of my counterparts at the conference recognized that human emotions frequently overshadow science – even if they dangerously affect soil and water resources and the future of agriculture.  Regardless of what we know about our soil and water, we must contend with public opinion, awareness, and the actions people take at multiple scales. That was the right time to retire to the post conference networking and socializing event.

References

Arbuckle, J. Gordon Jr., Linda Stalker Prokopy, Tonya Hiagh, Jon Hobbs, Tricia Knoot, Cody Knutson, Adam Loy, Amber Saylor Mase, Jean McGuire, Lois Wright Morton, John Tyndall, Melissa Wildhalm. 2013. Climate change beliefs, concerns, and attitudes toward adaptation and mitigation among farmers in the Midwestern United States. Climate Change 117: 943-950.

Leiserowitz , Anthony, Edward Maibach, Connie Reser-Renouf, Geoff Feinberg, Seth Rosenthal, and Jennifer Marlon. Climate change in the American mind: Americans’ global warming beliefs and attitudes. 2014. Technical report, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication: Yale University and George Mason University, New Haven, CT, 2014. URL http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/Climate-Beliefs-November-2013.

Learning there is “more to your field than yield”

This month, the “2017 Iowa Soybean Association Research Conference” (ISARC) was held in downtown Des Moines. This is an annual conference focused on sharing information from the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) research teams. These teams include Analytics, Environmental Programs and Services, and the On-Farm Network.

The conference focused on the mega issues in Iowa and on-farm data collection conducted by the ISA in 2016. A few of the major topics discussed at the conference echoed what is on farmers’ minds across Iowa. These included presentations on weed resistance, monarch habitat, water quality, and conservation practice efficacy with a particular focus on cover crops. Other subjects for discussion were digital data in agriculture and landowner-operator conversations.

A crosscutting theme during this two-day conference was the “wicked problem” of complexity that farmers face when it comes to farm management. A wicked problem is one that is challenging to solve. This is in contrast to “gentle” problems that have binary, direct answers. Wicked problems, such as policy issues, are not straightforward because individuals are often working with a myriad of variables and have to coordinate with diverse stakeholders. Another key concept that makes a problem, such as water impairments, particularly wicked is the level of complexity it involves and the relationship it has to other systemic problems.

Amy Asmus, owner and agronomist at Asmus Farm Supply, kicked off this perspective at the beginning of the conference with a presentation on weed resistance. Asmus outlined that weed resistance is not just a biology problem, but also a technological and a human behavior problem. A key takeaway from her presentation was that answers are often not going to be found in a jug, but in the hearts and minds of community members. Regardless of the subject matter, presenters throughout the ISARC agenda echoed this perspective.

So what is this wicked problem in conservation?

Farmers frequently face problems on their farm that rarely have single “silver bullet” solutions. Growers must constantly balance the ecological, economic, and social inputs into their operation with the intent to meet specific goals in their output. This system of inputs and outputs exist within a short-term and a long-term time frame. Farmers must meet year-to-year economic demands while maintaining the long-term ecological integrity of their farm. On top of it all, when it comes to decisions that affect water and soil, the problems in conservation reach beyond a field border and into the greater community.

It is becoming more apparent that our wicked problem in conservation can be addressed in a way that is two-fold. We need to build a data-driven understanding of our water and soil impairments as well as create a venue for the diverse stakeholders in water to work in cooperation. More often than not, water quality and quantity is a science of society rather than solely an understanding of hydrological and soil processes. Water impairments in Iowa may be wicked problems, but they can also serve as opportunities to develop a holistic approach that acknowledges the needs of our environment and our community to be resilient for the future.

Are you looking for opportunities to engage with our wicked problem in water?

If you have a water-related opportunity to share, comment below!

Daily Erosion Project goes International

This week Dr. Richard Cruse, Professor in Agronomy at Iowa State University and Director of the Iowa Water Center, was invited to speak at the Rendez-vous végétal 2017 in Quebec, Canada. He provided a presentation on the cost of soil erosion and introduced the Daily Erosion Project to an international audience of soil and water professionals.

Below is an article published in le Bulletin des agriculteurs, a publication on new agricultural technologies in Quebec.  The article is written by Nicolas Mesy, an agronomist and freelance reporter and photographer. Topics the article explores include soil loss in Iowa, the science behind the Daily Erosion Project, and how soil erosion assessments can be a tool in decision-making.

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Current Research track now open for the 2017 Iowa Water Conference

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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).