What we can learn when we come together

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

The agriculture community is a vast network that includes farmers, researchers, coordinators, agronomists, and more. Whether we are in the lab or out in the field, we all have one person in common – the farmer. According to a study by Doll and Reimer in the Journal Extension, many public and private professionals interact with farmers to guide on-farm decision making, but rarely do these individuals effectively interact with each other. When these individuals do work with each other, the research indicates it could be substantial for their knowledge and understanding of nutrient management.

In this study by Doll and Reimer, researchers invited Extension educators and private sector nitrogen dealers from across the Midwest for a 1.5-day workshop to discuss the many aspects of nitrogen fertilizer, including the biophysical and the social. The workshop goal was to inform management and policy decisions and to encourage future research and educational partnerships on nutrient management (Doll and Reimer 2017). The workshop included a myriad of topics and formats that involve small group sessions using flip charts to farmer panels to large group discussions. Of those who came to the workshop, 96 percent advised farmers on nutrient management as part of their jobs (Doll and Reimer 2017). Nutrient management on the farm plays a critical role in influencing local water quality as well as contributes to water impairments in the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone.

The researchers in this study reported, “96 percent of participants said that a mix of presentations and discussions provided an effective means for learning about nitrogen management” (Doll and Reimer 2017). Ninety-percent of respondents indicated that they improved their understanding of diverse viewpoints on nitrogen management during the workshop (Doll and Reimer 2017). Not only this, but they also improved their knowledge of available tools for decision-support in efficient nitrogen management. These are key findings given that there are many diverse approaches and viewpoints when it comes to policy decisions. Best of all, 90 percent would recommend this workshop to a colleague, and a majority of participants had increased “motivation to implement knowledge in the area of sustainable nitrogen management” (Doll and Reimer 2017).

Most respondents also indicated that they have never met each other prior to the workshop. These relationships are vital since each can have an influence on a farmer’s nutrient management decision-making. Regardless of the role you play, you are valuable to the agricultural outreach system. If you are a researcher, think about the wider influences of your research. If you are in the private sector, it is key to be learning continuously and to help clients make the best decision for resilient farm operations using the best data available.

It may seem like there is an ever-increasing number of meetings, conferences, summits, and workshops that are available in Iowa for researchers, coordinators, and farmers alike. We should not take that time for granted. Rather, we should appreciate having the time to get to know our community in water and to kick around new ideas with new people. I am inspired by the research from Doll and Reimer that if you can execute an event well with a diverse range of people, you can make a huge positive impact on water resources.

Doll, Julie and Adam Reimer. 2017. Bringing Farm Advisors into the Sustainability Conversation: Results from a Nitrogen Workshop in the U.S. Midwest. Journal of Extension 55(5) https://www.joe.org/joe/2017october/iw2.php.

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Hanna Bates is the Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center. She has a MS in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University. She is also an alumna of the University of Iowa for her undergraduate degree. 
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Working with your Watershed Partners Part 1

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Photo from the Iowa Watershed Approach website.

 

Developing a plan for Middle Cedar River Watershed

This spring, we talked to Jennifer Fencl, the Solid Waste & Environmental Services Director at The East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG), about how watershed management plans come together. We are now getting experience in the planning process as the Iowa Water Center is a partner organization for the Iowa Watershed Approach. This is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development award of almost $97M for Iowa for watershed improvement. This will fund watershed projects that address unmet needs from natural disasters in the past.  The project will work in nine watersheds located throughout the state. These watersheds are:

  • Upper Iowa River Watershed
  • Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed
  • Bee Branch Creek (Dubuque) Watershed
  • Middle Cedar River Watershed
  • Clear Creek Watershed
  • English River Watershed
  • North Raccoon River Watershed
  • East Nishnabotna River Watershed
  • West Nishnabotna River Watershed

Last week, we met with partners in the Middle Cedar River Watershed in eastern Iowa to develop a watershed plan. Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc. is making the management plan for the watershed. A watershed plan is a document that identifies water quality issues at the watershed-level, recommends solutions, and creates a framework for how to put these solutions into action. A watershed plan brings together data sets from a variety of resources that capture social and ecological aspects of the watershed. For full information on the project, see the Middle Cedar River Watershed webpage at the Iowa Watershed Approach website.

One of the first steps in the process of making the watershed management plan is organizing the planning effort among partners who are contributing diverse data sets. Data for this project is coming from Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, the Iowa Flood Center, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, among many others. Collaboration and effective communication among this group will enable the creation of a comprehensive watershed management plan that works for the local community.

Although having data about the watershed is important, it is key to have local involvement. Planning partners will also engage the public through an open house meeting to inform them about the project and the different contributions from partner organizations. In the process of the plan coming together, local stakeholders will be recruited to participate in the effort.

What is the Iowa Water Center doing for the management plan?

Currently, the Iowa Water Center is the umbrella organization for the Daily Erosion Project, a tool that estimates soil movement and water runoff from hillslopes on a daily basis. Ever-increasing topsoil loss reduces crop yield potential, reduces water holding capacity of the ground, and contributes to water quality impairments through sedimentation in waterways. Soil movement estimation is valuable information for watershed planning because it can help prioritize critical areas in need of conservation efforts, and so financial resources can be used strategically to create the highest impact.

We also love to communicate what is happening around the state through our blog, website, newsletter, and Twitter. We plan on writing about the various stages of this project and others to keep you informed on what is going on across Iowa. We are looking forward to the first open house meeting with the folks located in the Middle Cedar.

This is a multi-part series exploring the process of how Watershed Management Authorities and other entities are organizing and making a positive difference in Iowa through the Iowa Watershed Approach.

Getting to know your Watershed Pt. 2

Notes from a newly forming WMA: Developing a replicable program with the Iowa Watershed Approach Pt. 3

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Hanna Bates is the Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center. She has a MS in Sociology and Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University. She is also an alumna of the University of Iowa for her undergraduate degree in Anthropology.  

Project AWARE 2017

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 Photo of Cedar River Coalition partners. Photo from @IWAReduceFloods, the Twitter account for the Iowa Watershed Approach.

Getting Down and Dirty for Cleaner Iowa Rivers

Last week we participated in cleaning up an Iowa river alongside the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other water partners across the state for Project AWARE. This event is a week-long outdoor expedition to clean up a selected Iowa river. The purpose of this event is to increase awareness of and engagement with Iowa’s public waters. It gives Iowans the opportunity to make a difference in water no matter who they are and what they do in the state. Participants have the opportunity to do the cleanup for one day or stay and camp the whole week.

This year, the event was held on the Cedar River in Mitchell and Floyd Counties from July 10-14. Hundreds of water partners and community members across the state joined for this year’s cleanup. We attended the fourth day of the event. Our starting point was about 19 miles up river from Charles City, Iowa. Once we arrived in Charles City, we had the opportunity to go inner tubing down the Charles City Whitewater course to the campsite to receive a t-shirt and join in on evening fun at the site.

While we only attended one day of the trip, we found many canoe-loads of trash that does not belong in a river, such as barrels, tires, and even a couch!

See photos below for the highlights!

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Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa

Cultivating a Community of Practice for Watershed Management

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

The word is starting to get out on one of our latest Iowa Water Center initiatives: Watershed Management Authorities of Iowa (WMAs of Iowa). This is a statewide organization to unite the ever-growing numbers of Watershed Management Authorities in the state. The goal of this group is to create a network for WMAs to connect with each other, give WMAs a voice in the state, and serve as an information resource for all watershed management stakeholders. WMAs of Iowa helps cultivate a community of practice for watershed management in Iowa.

Let’s be honest here – we did not come up with this great idea. The need for this group came from the WMA stakeholders themselves, and they are the ones who will drive it. Multiple work sessions this winter with the WMA community resulted in a strategic framework that needed one thing: implementation. IWC proposed to act as a catalyst for implementation by offering administrative capacity – organizing meetings, managing a timeline, maintaining a listserv, coordinating all the work that has already gone into creating a presence for this group.

Right now, we’re in the process of inviting WMAs to join us, and we’re looking for board members from those existing and newly forming WMAs to drive the organization forward. We hope to have a board in place by this fall with a website, newsletter, and other outreach and resource activities to follow.

Why is IWC involved?

Great question.

I’ve confessed before to being the president of the WMA fan club, and waxed poetic about the effectiveness of watershed-based planning. I’ve also been using the admittedly odd metaphor that IWC can act as caulk for water groups in the state – we seek to fill gaps and build capacity that connects groups to use resources effectively and efficiently.

By building up WMAs in the state, we’re promoting a research-backed method of natural resource management that will lead to better water resource management and implementation of creative and practical solutions to water resources related problems. That is the reason we exist, you know. (Need proof? Read the Water Resources Research Act as amended in 2006!)

Caring for Creation & Sister Water

Submitted by Emilia Sautter, Ecospirituality Coordinator at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center. Post originally appeared in the Prairiewoods’ Newsletter

Caring for Sister Water was one of many creation care efforts that came with the founding of Prairiewoods 20 years ago. These efforts included two infiltration ponds that hold much of the water that runs off our parking lots and roadways, as well as numerous trees and plants with extensive root systems that hold and cleanse water. After the Cedar Rapids floods of 2008, we doubled our efforts to address storm water concerns— we installed permeable pavers, hosted rain barrel classes and identified four storm water culverts that drain on our land. Varying degrees of erosion meant that all four of these culvert areas needed attention.

The first project—the North Culvert—was addressed in the fall of 2013. We built a series of rock check dams to help slow storm water, reducing the erosion that was degrading the area.

The East Culvert, the largest culvert on our property, recently was completed, thanks to generous grants from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Rockwell Collins. This culvert has a drainage area of about 73 acres, meaning that water from more than 70 acres drains onto our land through this storm water culvert. The water then flows into Dry Creek and eventually into the Indian Creek and Cedar River Watersheds. (The Cedar River Watershed includes Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids and a number of other communities. It is what flooded in 2008.) Over the years, rain events and impervious surfaces (such as roads, driveways and turf grass) have forced large amounts of fast moving water through this culvert, degrading the culvert and resulting in severe stream bank erosion.

Why do we care? Erosion means soil loss, soil loss leads to sedimentation in the water, and sedimentation (the number one cause of water pollution in Iowa) leads to reduced water quality (1). Soil is the foundation of our entire food system, and without it we humans could not live. The health of Sister Water is a direct reflection of our own health, as our bodies are about 60% water.

During the East Culvert Project, we reshaped the eroded banks to allow water to spread out. We also re-seeded the banks with vegetation that better holds the soil. We removed some trees to allow more light in to help the vegetation thrive.

One way to help Sister Water is to move away from systems that force water into our waterways, since this leads to flooding and water pollution. Sister Water wants to move more slowly, at her own pace, nourishing flora and fauna as she infiltrates back into Earth. At Prairiewoods, we want to help her as best we can.

Thanks to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Rockwell Collins, we are offering free educational classes as part of our East Culvert Project. Join us for EarthFriendly Lawn Care on Sept. 29 (see p. 9 for details) or for upcoming Rain Barrel Classes (see our website for details). Visit  www.IowaStormWater.org to learn what you can do with your own lawn.  And if you are a Cedar Rapids resident, visit  www.Cedar-Rapids.org to learn how you can get reimbursed for up to 50% of storm water retention projects on your property

(1) Statistic is regarding the source of surface water pollution by volume in Iowa. Source: https://www.polkcountyiowa.gov/conservation/education/nature-in-iowa/water-quality/.

A Race to the Lake (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?

Photo left: An Iowa 3A Cross Country Race after the starting line, Hanna Bates in a Cross Country Race. Photos from 2007.

A Race to the Lake

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

“This wouldn’t be so bad, I told myself. But secretly, I knew that I was quite wrong.” ― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

This was my initial thought at the beginning of each cross county race in high school. Heck, even at the beginning of each practice run when I was dusted from the start by each of my teammates. Our running paths would take us through country golf courses, down empty gravel roads in the countryside, and through state parks that were isolated natural oases among the patchwork of cities and crop fields that make up Iowa. Regardless of where we were running, the path always ended with water, which would be my respite.

I was never very athletic growing up. Scratch that. I was not athletic at all. My athletic career prior to long distance running was a brief stint in volleyball in which I was the substitute for the bottom team (no joke). I sought out running, rather it sought me out, because I was looking for a sport that excluded flying balls and included getting a little lost out in nature. Being out in the woods also provided a break from the pressures of school work and other extracurricular activities.

As Bryson says in A Walk in the Woods:

”Most of the time I am sunk in thought, but at some point on each walk there comes a moment when I look up and notice, with a kind of first-time astonishment, the amazing complex delicacy of the woods, the casual ease with which elemental things come together to form a composition that is–whatever the season, wherever I put my besotted gaze–perfect.”

I was never in it for the race, but for the benefits of green exercise. I was never first, but never last. In my best race I came in 24th out of about 120 racers in the junior varsity heat. During this race my coach sounded kind of surprised and cheered, “wow, you’re actually racing!” along the sidelines of the trail. My intelligent response as I ran by was “what??” in disbelief. Up to that point, I thought he let me on the team just for fun.

As Bryson also notes, the hardest part is discovering that there is always more hill. And that’s where water enters my story. Prairie Rose State Park near Harlan, Iowa is one of my favorite places to run. Almost an island in the middle of farmland, it is a collection of trees, grassy paths, and a good-sized lake. In the muggy heat of August, I would run up steep hills and down winding paths leaving myself a little dazed and directionless. The lake would always be my guide. It was what would keep me going on the trail. I couldn’t go backwards. I couldn’t stop and sit on the trail and wait for the end of the path to come closer. I only had to think of the lake as punctuation mark at the end of a hard run. It served as an exclamation point to the end rather than a simple, banal period.

I would trudge on and it would appear and disappear from a distance. If I could make it to the sandy shore of the lake, I could do anything. As it appeared more frequently and came closer, I knew I was at the conclusion of the trail. When I would reappear from the trees and through the clearing, I would go straight towards the water. I couldn’t peel off my sweat soaked socks fast enough as I would stumble across the sandy beach to the swimming area of the lake. My shoes and socks would be abandoned on the shore without care – I just wanted the cool touch of lake water on my tired legs and feet. I would take in the lake’s embrace as it cooled the heat from a tough run in the woods.

I would often be close to last to emerge from the woods and into the water on group runs, but I was accepted as if I was the first. Places like this are worth protecting because they are welcome to you no matter who you are and why you came. It’s just more than glad that you did. The lake was more than just a finish line, but something worth the trouble when struggling through the challenging terrain. The lake serves so many benefits to the community by providing habitat and and being a popular camping spot, but to me, it served as a milestone for overcoming the large hurdles in long distance running.

In the years since my cross country days it has been emptied of its contents and dredged. I have run a little less and had to trade in dirt paths for tough concrete. I visited the lake once when it was undergoing repair. It looked like a crusty pockmark waiting to be a healthy habitat again. It has since been refilled and back to its old glory, which has been a reminder for me to come back to nature on my runs. I can’t wait to visit home, put on my running shoes, and race to the lake.

Development of a Watershed Project Extension

Post submitted by Jordan Kolarik, Wright Soil and Water Conservation District Project Coordinator

boone logoThe Boone River Watershed Nutrient Management Initiative project has been granted additional funding from Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). This is in order to extend the project for another three years to increase the use of conservation and water quality practices in Prairie and Eagle Creek Watersheds. In these projects, we will continue working towards meeting Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. The extension process involved writing a new grant application based on the lessons learned from our first three years.

The project, led by the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, started in 2014 with funding that was split between two sub watersheds within the Boone River Watershed. For the last three years the project employed two half time watershed coordinators, one that worked on the Eagle Creek Watershed and one who worked on the Prairie Creek Watershed. Project coordinators, among many things, are responsible for holding and attending outreach events, are responsible for project cost share applications and the conservation planning that goes with them, and grant administration for the project.

I started as a half time project coordinator in the Prairie Creek Watershed in the fall of 2015. At the end of last year, I became the full-time coordinator for both sub watersheds in this project. For the project extension application, I had creative control over adjustments to the projects focus, goals, and cost share options. I could utilize the lessons learned from the first three years of the project, my experiences and observations in the first year working with the project, and specific requests that I received from grant funders, partners and producers.

In the extension, we sought to increase collaboration and coordination with partners to implement innovative ways to reach new audiences and to improve technical assistance. We seek to transition to an increased focus on implementation of conservation practices that provide long term benefits (i.e. long term adoption of cover crops and edge-of-field practices).

As a result, I decided to change the cost share options in a way that I believe will encourage long term adoption of cover crops. This is by offering cost share at a higher rate for producers that sign up for three years compared to a one year sign up. Another request includes giving a higher cost share rate to those who are (1) first time users of cover crops, (2) going into a new crop, or (3) users of winter hardy species. We will also offer a higher rate to those who commit to doing both cover crops and strip-till/no-till.

IDALS requested a watershed plan to be completed by the end of the first year of our extension to identify the best locations not only for in-field practices, but also for edge-of-field practices. These include bioreactors, saturated buffers, filter strips, and wetlands. This will allow for a more focused approach to increase edge-of-field practices and help use resources in areas that will provide the greatest conservation benefits. The project will continue to provide cost share assistance for these practices, but will also work to leverage additional funding sources so that we may offer up to 100% cost share.

Education and outreach strategies will emphasize past successful efforts, such as hosting field days and meetings, social media presence, informational mailings, and recognition of local “Farmers Champions.” We are also adopting new ways to reach individuals not informed through these traditional approaches. To increase local partnership and locally led efforts, I came up with the idea to form two community-based groups as a way for local landowners and businesses to stay informed and get involved. The Friends of the Boone River group will help educate and keep the community updated on what is happening in the watershed. This group will also be an informational resource for those who would like to get involved through our mailing list. In addition, local businesses can become a Friend and, if interested, they will be added to a contact list for the project. The formation of The Boone River Watershed Conservation Farmer Advisory Group, led by local “Farmer Champions,” will provide insight to the project as well as education and outreach opportunities beyond the time and scope of the project.

One of the major objectives of this project is to increase the amount of long-term conservation practices on the land, and so permanent changes will be tracked through documenting the number of practices and the number of acres that they treat. It is our goal to have 50 farmers implement long term conservation practices and see a total of 6,000 acres of conservation practices. Lastly, we hope to see measureable improvement in the water quality of Eagle and Prairie Creek, which will be measured through voluntary tile water monitoring, edge of field practice water monitoring, and in-stream watershed scale monitoring. This will allow the project to assess the impacts agriculture management and water quality improvement practices are having on water quality.

The key changes to this watershed project extension have the theme of long-term adoption and increase participation. Everyone has a role to play if we are going to meet the nutrient reduction goals, regardless of where you live or where you work.

If you would like to learn more about the project, contact Jordan Kolarik at jordan.kolarik@ia.nacdnet.net.