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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Planning for Watershed Success in Eastern Iowa

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Attendees of the Indian Creek Watershed open house discussing the map of the watershed. Photo from the Indian Creek Watershed Facebook page.

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

This week, we chatted with Jennifer Fencl, the Solid Waste & Environmental Services Director at The East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG). Fencl works to bring eastern Iowa stakeholders together to better manage their natural resources and to create a long-term investment in their community. Below are a few highlights from our conversation that outlines some of the behind-the-scenes work in watershed planning.

Please describe your work in watershed management in Iowa.

The East Central Iowa Council of Governments (ECICOG) became involved in watershed management in 2011 when the City of Marion requested assistance in applying for Watershed Management Authority Formation grant funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) for the Indian Creek watershed. The Indian Creek Watershed Management Authority (ICWMA) was formed under Iowa Code 28E and 466B in August 2012 with 6 of the 7 eligible jurisdictions agreeing to plan for improvements on a watershed level. Funds were made available in 2013 by the IEDA to complete watershed management plans to address flood risk mitigation and water quality. The ICWMA received one of the three planning grants and engaged in a multi-jurisdictional planning approach facilitated by ECICOG in partnership with several local, state, and federal agencies. The resulting Indian Creek Watershed Management Plan (ICWM Plan) identifies strategies and recommendations for stormwater management and water quality protection, including specific implementation activities and milestones. The ICWM Plan was completed and presented to the public in June 2015 and adopted by all six of the ICWMA members at policy maker meetings during July and August of 2015.

As the ICWMA Plan was wrapping up, the City of Coralville requested ECICOG’s assistance in forming a WMA for the Clear Creek watershed. In this case, Coralville was willing to sponsor the WMA formation and planning grant application services. The Clear Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) formed as a WMA under Iowa Code 28E and 466B in October 2015 with all 9 of the eligible jurisdictions joining. ECICOG secured DNR watershed planning funds early in 2016 and the CCWC is mid-way through their planning process. Fortunately, the Clear Creek watershed was one of the eight watersheds selected for the Iowa Watershed Approach HUD grant project. The additional watershed planning funds from the HUD grant will add significantly to the resulting watershed plan.

In early 2016, the Middle Cedar Watershed Management Authority (MCWMA) was on its way to formally becoming a WMA and needed some help in completing the agreement filing, developing by-laws, and organizing the Board of Directors. ECICOG assisted the MCWMA in forming under Iowa Code 28E and 466B in June 2016 with 25 of the 65 eligible jurisdictions joining. The MCWMA is one of the eight watersheds selected for the Iowa Watershed Approach HUD grant project.

What are the challenges and rewards in doing work with watershed management?

One challenge that became clear in the Indian Creek process was the disconnect between the watershed (technical) assessment and the local stakeholders. That gap must be bridged to develop meaningful, locally-based goals and implementation strategies.  For me, the reward is watching the interaction between perceived “enemies” (urban/rural; big city/suburb; ag producer/government type) and bringing skeptical people into the process to develop an actual plan… that they ultimately agree to.

What kinds of stakeholders are involved in developing a watershed management plan?

It is critical to include the local Soil and Water Conservation District, government representatives, and the landowners (both urban & rural, flood impacted if possible) in developing goals and strategies. I believe that it is also important to identify the ‘experts’ in your watershed, both locally and from state agencies, early on and have them provide input on what assessment activities and planning services are really needed from an outside consultant. There is a role for everyone to play.

What are the basic steps in putting together a watershed management plan?

Here is my road map:

  1. Invite participation
  2. Identify resource concerns
  3. Assemble experts
  4. Complete assessment work
  5. Present the assessment to a broad list of stakeholders (need good interpreters)
  6. Develop goals, define implementation strategies, and prioritize the strategies
  7. Compile the plan and present the plan for comment
  8. Shop the plan for formal adoption by policy making board/councils.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to those wanting to develop a watershed plan for their community?

Run… kidding, sorta.  Seek help from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship basin coordinators first, and then gauge the interest of the other entities in the watershed. You need to find some champions to help smooth the way for local elected officials.

Introducing the Iowa Watershed Approach

Post originally appeared on the Iowa Learning Farms website

Today’s guest post was provided by Adam Wilke ISU Extension and Outreach Water Specialist.

The Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) is a new five-year project focused on addressing factors associated with flood disasters in the state of Iowa. The IWA project will also provide benefits of improved water quality by implementing conservation practices outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

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Assessing Cedar River flood waters, September 2016. Photo courtesy Brian Powers/DSM Register

The “HUD Project,” as it is commonly referred, was awarded $96.9 million by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The National Disaster Resilience Competition provided $1 billion to communities that have experienced recent significant natural disasters, including Iowa’s three flood-related Presidential Disaster Declarations in 2013. Iowans remember the devastating floods of 2008 and 1993, and some are still working to repair damage from September 2016 flooding.

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Map of the Iowa Watershed Approach. Courtesy of Iowa Flood Center.

The IWA focuses on nine watersheds throughout the state, representing varying soil types, topographic regions, and land uses. These watersheds were prioritized as regions that have been most impacted and distressed from previous flood events and have unmet recovery needs. The IWA is a vision for both rural and urban resilience, and three cities (Storm Lake, Coralville, and Dubuque) are priority areas for the project.

Previous efforts to address flooding impacts were piloted through the Iowa Watersheds Project in five watersheds throughout the state in 2010. By 2016, over 65 constructed practices—such as ponds, wetlands, and terraces—have been completed.

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Road damage from Cedar River flood, June 2008. Courtesy Iowa Dept. of Transportation

The theme of year one is “The Iowa Watershed Approach: A Visions for Iowa’s Future Under Changing Hydrologic Conditions.” Climate science indicates that annual average precipitation in Iowa has trended upward over the last 100 years and extreme precipitation events (more than 1.25 inches per day) have increased throughout the state. University of Iowa research of 774 U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges found an upward trend in frequency of flooding throughout the Central U.S. over the past 50 years. This has contributed to crop loss and destruction of infrastructure, such as homes, roads, and bridges.

The IWA will work to achieve six specific outcomes:

  1. Reduce flood risk
  2. Improve water quality
  3. Increase flood resilience
  4. Engage stakeholders through collaboration and outreach/education
  5. Improve quality of life and health, especially for susceptible populations
  6. Develop a program that is scalable and replicable throughout the Midwest and the United States

The IWA focuses on innovative in-field and edge-of-field practices to reduce flood potential and decrease nutrient concentration in surface water. The practices include:

• Wetland Construction                              • Farm Ponds
• Storm Water Detention Basins              • Terraces
• Sediment Detention Basins                    • Floodplain Restoration
• Channel Bank Stabilization                    • Buffer Strips
• Saturated Buffers                                       • Perennial Cover
• Oxbow Restoration                                     • Bioreactors
• Prairie STRIPS

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Courtesy ISU Extension and Outreach. 

The IWA project creates Watershed Management Authorities (WMA) and these organizations allow for a broad range of stakeholders—including scientists, state agencies, counties, municipalities, farmers, and citizens—to organize and work towards the common goals of flood reduction and water quality improvement. Some watersheds, such as the Middle Cedar, have established WMAs, while others are beginning the formation process.

Stream gauges will provide data for the Iowa Flood Center to conduct hydrological assessments in each watershed and allow researchers to assess risks associated with flooding and water quality, including developing and evaluating future scenarios to maximize results from project resources.

WMA will use these findings to best select eligible subwatersheds at the HUC 12 (Hydrologic Unit Code) scale and prioritize implementation of constructed projects. Stakeholder inputs, watershed plans, and hydrological assessments will guide the WMAs in selecting the most beneficial practices and appropriate locations.

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Courtesy ISU Extension and Outreach.

This project combines the strengths and efforts of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and the Daily Erosion Project by the Iowa Water Center to achieve these goals. The IWA is a new way to think about the movement of water across the Iowa landscape. One of the most important pieces of completing such a large and complicated project is to ensure stakeholder engagement throughout the project. We look forward to hearing your questions, thoughts, and concerns as we all seek the common goal of reducing flood disaster and ensuring water quality for generations to come.

–Adam Wilke

Get to know the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance

Story submitted by Kathleen Chester, Rathbun Land and Water Alliance Outreach

 The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance

 The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance was established in 1997 to promote cooperation between public and private sectors in an effort to protect land and water resources in the Rathbun Lake Watershed.  The Rathbun Lake Watershed is located in the six southern Iowa Counties of Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne and covers 354,000 acres. Rathbun Lake is the primary water source for Rathbun Regional Water Association, which provides drinking water to 80,000 people in southern Iowa and northern Missouri.

The Alliance’s integrated approach resulted in the development of a water quality monitoring program and the completion of the Rathbun Lake Watershed Assessment and Management Plan in 2001. In 2003, the Alliance was one of only 20 watersheds in the nation to receive the EPA’s Targeted Watershed Initiative Grant. More than a dozen organizations and agencies at the local, state, and federal levels partnered with the Alliance to begin implementing best management practices in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. This generated a project which has come to be known as the Protect Rathbun Lake Project.

Project Highlights

Knowing where to install best management practices has been significant to the success of reducing contaminants delivered to Rathbun Lake. GIS technology was used to create a model that identifies priority land, which is land determined to have the greatest potential to deliver sediment and phosphorous to Rathbun Lake. Due to the size of the Rathbun Lake Watershed, it was divided into 61 more manageable sections called subwatersheds. The primary objective is to apply best management practices on priority land in targeted sub-watersheds.

The Protect Rathbun Lake Project was one of the first in Iowa to use the targeted approach. Protect Rathbun Lake Project staff work with landowners to install conservation practices in areas where priority land exists.

State Recognition

The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance has grown to be recognized as one of the more effective, locally-led watershed organizations in Iowa. In 2012, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad selected the Rathbun Lake Watershed as the location for the field level event as part of Iowa Soil and Water Conservation Week. The governor, lieutenant governor, and numerous state agency department heads traveled to the Rathbun Lake Watershed to hear firsthand from the landowners who participate in the Protect Rathbun Lake Project about what actions they take to protect Rathbun Lake.

Organization and Leadership

Alliance members have created a strong organization with leadership committed to the organization’s mission, which is to foster a voluntary approach driven by landowners, water users, and public and private organizations to protect and enhance land, water, and economic resources in the Rathbun region.

This partnership includes the following individuals, organizations, and agencies: Participating landowners in the Rathbun Lake Watershed; CoBank; Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Division of Soil Conservation; Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Iowa State University; Iowa Watershed Improvement Review Board; Southern Iowa Development and Conservation Authority; US Army Corps of Engineers; US Environmental Protection Agency; USDA Farm Service Agency; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne Counties; Iowa Farm Bureau at the state and county levels; and Rathbun Regional Water  Association.

Project Goals

The Rathbun Land and Water Alliance’s primary goal is to reduce sediment and phosphorus delivery to Rathbun Lake and water bodies in the lake’s watershed. The goal is to treat 30,000 acres of priority land, which will reduce annual sediment and phosphorus delivery to Rathbun Lake by an estimated 90,000 tons of sediment and 360,000 pounds of phosphorus. Monitoring water quality is essential to evaluating the effectiveness of the installed conservation practices.

Technical and financial assistance provided by project partners has allowed landowners with identified priority land to take advantage of cost share opportunities. The state’s low interest loan program is also available to landowners to construct best management practices such as terraces, planting grass waterways, grade stabilization structures, and sediment control basins.

Results

Close to 600 landowners have worked with the Alliance to install practices in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. To date, these practices have prevented 49,484 tons of sediment and 213,204 pounds of phosphorous from being carried in runoff each year to Rathbun Lake.

 More than 1.5 million feet of terraces and more than 500 sediment basins and grade stabilization structures have been installed since 2004.

Financial Support

Since the Protect Rathbun Lake Project began in 2004, Alliance members and partners have provided significant financial and technical support for the organization’s efforts. Close to $31 million in financial support has been contributed for project activities in the Rathbun Lake Watershed. Specific mention should be made of the nearly $5 million invested in best management practices by landowners in the watershed to protect Rathbun Lake.

The support has enabled the Alliance to share the cost of installing best management practices with landowners in the watershed as well as carry out other important project activities. This support also allows two full time staff to coordinate the installation of best management practices by working with watershed landowners at the field level and one technician is stationed in the Chariton field office.

In addition to the installation of conservation practices, the support enabled the creation of a landowner recognition program and helped fund water quality monitoring and Rathbun Lake shoreline and wetland restoration.

Landowner Recognition and Outreach

Without the cooperation of the Rathbun Lake Watershed landowners, the installation of soil saving practices that protect Rathbun Lake would not be possible.  To recognize those who have shown exemplary stewardship in protecting Rathbun Lake, the Rathbun Lake Protector Program was developed. Each year, the Alliance invites the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in each of the watershed counties to nominate those who they believe have contributed to the protection of Rathbun Lake. Nominations were based on past efforts as well as present and planned actions to protect water quality.

These landowners are recognized at the Protect Rathbun Lake Annual Meeting held each fall. To date, more than 50 landowners have received this recognition. Each of these Rathbun Lake Protectors has had a sign installed on their farm recognizing them for their actions.  Additionally, plaques engraved with the names of these landowners are displayed in each Soil and Water Conservation District office.

Valuable Resources

Conservation activities carried out by the Alliance’s Protect Rathbun Lake Project protect Rathbun Lake which is a water source for not only drinking water but is also a valuable recreation resource. It is visited by more than one million visitors each year, is home to Honey Creek Resort State Park, and provides valuable habitat to fish and wildlife.

In partnership with the Protect Rathbun Lake Project, the Iowa DNR and US Army Corps of Engineers have invested resources in the restoration and protection of the shoreline at Rathbun Lake.  To date, this shoreline work has been completed at more than a dozen critical sites around Rathbun Lake. This work significantly reduces shoreline erosion at these sites, improves water quality, preserves important fish habitat, and protects recreational infrastructure.

Annual Meeting

Each fall at the Protect Rathbun Lake Annual Meeting, project staff provide an update of activities carried out during the past year. This event is regularly attended by 200 Rathbun Lake Watershed landowners. In the fall of 2016, the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance initiated the first Farm to Faucet Landowner Appreciation Event, which included a tour of the new Rathbun Regional Water Association’s water treatment facility.

To follow along with the Rathbun Lake Project, place presentation requests to the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance, and attend upcoming events, check out their website!

Plate of the Union Water Quality Panel Discussion

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Left to Right: Jim Gillespie (IDALS), Maritza Pierre (SASA), Chris Jones (IIHR), Tim Smith (Farmer from Eagle Grove), Hanna Bates (Iowa Water Center), Adam Wright (SASA)

Building awareness and creating conversation for action

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

This year, the Iowa State University Sustainable Agriculture Student Association (SASA) received a national grant from the Plate of the Union Campus Challenge. Part of this sponsorship included hosting a panel on water quality issues. The panel included:

SASA invited me to sit alongside the experts above to lend my perspective on the challenges we face in water-related issues. As a Sustainable Agriculture program alumni, it was a privilege to be part of the discussion. I was also excited to share what I have learned so far in my research and work in water. As we all know, water quality and quantity issues have come to a forefront in Iowa. Because of this, I believe it is important for the public to come together to discuss the challenges we have and potential solutions.

Although the panelists work in water, we each represented a different corner of the topic. These areas included data collection, education and outreach, policy, and practice implementation. This made for an interesting discussion that ranged from policy to practices out in the Iowa landscape.

We each had time to outline our views on water in Iowa. I proposed that we have developed quite the toolbox of resources for the public to use to address water quality issues in Iowa. I’d even say we have a toolshed of resources due to the proactive approach that the State of Iowa has taken to develop three strategies:

Not only do we have Iowa resources available, but also federally-funded resources available. There are financial and technical resources available for conservation practice implementation through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as well as research and outreach support through entities such as the Iowa Water Center (that’s us!).

The problem I identified is that there is a struggle to get these tools out to the public in a meaningful and practical way. There is evidence to suggest having a peer network and educational opportunities can have a positive impact on conservation efforts. I proposed that we need more “bridge builders,” or individuals to act as the go-between for research and the public. This is so that we can provide information and the tools that the public can use. Not only this, but these tools can improve through building the relationship between these two groups. By engaging people in the process of developing better tools and generating more information, we can create a more powerful outcome.

The audience had a strong focus on the farmer’s and policymaker’s role as deciders in water management. They challenged our current financial programs and the subsidy system. This criticism was in regards to how these programs can create a mono culture agriculture system. A system that lacks biodiversity can negatively impact water quality and soil health. A proposed solution to this is to promote crop diversity through the use of cover crops, small grains, and perennials on farm ground.

Land use choices is not just an issue that farmers must contend with. Adding biodiversity is also an issue of consumer demand for certain agriculture products. If farmers do not have a market for a crop, it is difficult for them to justify growing it because they need to derive a livable income. A resounding solution from this discussion was that we all must work together to be able to proactively address water-related issues.

I found the discussion last week to be inspiring. As a room, we questioned each other’s viewpoints and looked at water from many angles. We examined the tools that we have now and how we could go forward to make a difference together. Regardless of who you are, we can all learn from each other and take action in protecting our water resources.

Get to know the Daily Erosion Project

… Some Ugly Truth Revealed

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

Answering a speaking request from the Nebraska Natural Resource Districts, I delivered a talk last week in Central Nebraska. Kearney, Nebraska to be more exact. Kearney is located deep into the irrigated area of the Great Plains, and so I wondered a little – actually more than a little – why this group would be interested in my focus area of soil erosion. More specifically, why they would be interested in hearing about a project that I am working on that is called, The Daily Erosion Project.

The Daily Erosion Project is a tool that utilizes multiple data sources to estimate soil movement and  water runoff from hill slopes on a daily basis. Currently, this tool models soil erosion across approximately 1600 small watersheds that geographically form the State of Iowa. The development and expansion of this tool is coming to other regions of the Midwest, such as Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Eastern Nebraska.

Why would anyone be interested in this information? Healthy and abundant soils lead to healthy and abundant crops. Our ever-increasing loss of topsoil reduces crop yield potential, and in times of drought, this becomes more and more evident. As we’ve seen throughout history, societies without quality soils tend to have short histories.

Soil erosion also contributes to our surface water quality problems. Eroded sediments fill reservoirs and floodplains. This not only damages our built environment, but also disrupts ecological habitats in our water systems. Solutions to this include removing sediment from ditches – or dredging – at a significant cost to the taxpayer.

Soil loss also comes at a cost to the farmer. Lost sediment from farm fields carry nutrients that have been valued at more than $2.50 per ton of lost soil.  The average hillslope soil loss rate of Iowa is about 5.8 tons per acre per year, with some watersheds averaging over 30 tons per acre per year. Soil erosion costs!

Soil erosion can be minimized with a three-pronged approach to managing the issue. Farmers and landowners across the US Corn Belt Region can: (1) seek to understand the cost or impact of inappropriate management, (2) learn how the right soil management practices can pay dividends, and (3) use the soil management practices that are well-suited for their operation.

Targeting limited financial resources to assist with land management improvement in the areas of most need and/or most vulnerable has merit and just makes good economic sense. Data driven soil erosion estimates, such as those generated by the Daily Erosion Project, can provide the foundation for informed policy and good, everyday practices on farmland across the Midwest.

Now, back to Nebraska.  

Areas of Nebraska have recently experienced periodic rainfalls of five or more inches of rain. This is occurring more frequently in recent years than it did in the past. Similar rainfall experiences exist for Iowa and surrounding states. People from around the corners of the Midwest are coming to acknowledge that our land is not immune to the extreme weather events that we have been experiencing from year-to-year. Some watershed-level soil erosion estimates during storm filled years in Iowa have even exceeded 40 tons per acre – in a single year.

The Nebraska Natural Resources District seems to get it. They were energetic, highly engaged, and rich with questions. A good and very important question from the group was: Can the Daily Erosion Project be used to test scenarios of different management practices? Currently, the tool is being developed to run different scenarios with a variety of in-field conservation practices, such as extended crop rotations and conservation tillage practices. Using the Daily Erosion Project in this way is the next step to not only place data in the hands of farmers, but to also help them make better management decisions on their land.

We can do better; we must do better. By getting tools, such as the Daily Erosion Project, in the hands of the public we now have the ability to do better. It’s another tool in the toolbox that the public can use to help make better decisions. Nebraskans get it and others must, too.

Iowa Water Center seeks partners for community arts event

We’ve got something brewing over here at the Iowa Water Center, and we’re pretty excited about it.

This year is the tenth anniversary of the Iowa Water Conference (in its current form), so we thought we’d make it kind of special. The conference agenda (which will be released soon!) is particularly spectacular this year, but we can always do more.

The idea started off that we’d have Luther professors Jodi Enos-Berlage and Jane Hawley bring their Body of Water performance to Ames for conference goers to attend on the first night of the conference. This multimedia approach to water education seemed like a provocative addition to our two-day event, and we’ve had requests for several years to bring back an evening reception/activity for those attending from out of town. A lovely idea!

But then, we learned about a project that local Ames High School students are working on that also combines art and water education. The students within The Bluestem Institute at AHS are creating photo collages combined with text from interviews to define water quality terms from a technical, social and cultural perspective. They’ll be presenting during the Iowa Water Conference, but the work they’re doing is something to behold, so we didn’t want to limit it to conference attendees.

LIGHTBULB. Gallery session before the Body of Water performance. A community event, adjacent to the Iowa Water Conference, but not solely for paid attendees. Invite the community, far and wide.  These unique approaches to water outreach and education need to reach as many people as possible. Our state has some incredibly innovative environmental education efforts (Water Rocks!, anyone?), and it’s our job to display, disseminate, expose and otherwise facilitate learning. We at the Iowa Water Center are on a mission to better the state of water in the state of Iowa. Education and outreach are a big part of that.

But, we can’t do it alone. We want this evening event to be well-attended and free of charge to patrons. So we’re asking for partners – be it financial sponsors, connectors, marketers – whatever you can do to help make this happen, we want to talk to you. If you are interested in learning more or helping us brainstorm, contact us. We can’t wait to talk with you!