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/.

Soil – Agriculture’s Reservoir

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

The soil is like a sponge that holds water so it is available when crops need it. Wetter soil at the surface prevents deeper infiltration and so water is lost as surface runoff. Not only this, but soil moisture is also a variable that influences the timing and amount of precipitation in a given area. This is due to the impact it has on the water cycle. This cycle circulates moisture from the ground through evaporation and plant transpiration to the atmosphere and back to the ground again through precipitation. Therefore, the amount of water stored in the soil can affect the amount of precipitation received during the growing season.

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Satellite imaging from the European Space Agency. The center figure depicts imaging derived from SMOS.

According to Hornbuckle (2014), “we enter each growing season ‘blind’ as to whether or not there will be enough soil moisture and precipitation to support productive crops.” If there were a way to document and record water storage in the soil besides field measurements, we would have a better ability to predict future weather patterns and therefore, make better field decisions. Satellite remote sensing tools such as the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and NASA’s Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) can be used to take such measurements. Before these tools can be used to estimate water storage and improve weather and climate predictions, researchers must compare them to what is actually measured within the soil. This process of confirming accuracy of a tool is called validation.

A project led by Dr. Brian Hornbuckle, and funded by the Iowa Water Center in 2014, sought to improve and validate SMOS and SMAP in near-surface soil moisture observations of Iowa. Hornbuckle used a network of soil moisture measurements located in the South Fork Watershed as a standard to validate the accuracy of SMOS and SMAP. At each site, soil moisture and precipitation was measured.

Some of the results of this research project are presented in a 2015 article published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology.  Rondinelli et al. found that SMOS and the network of soil moisture measurements detect different layers of the soil. SMOS takes measurements of the soil surface while the network observes a deeper level of soil. These results will allow scientists to better evaluate the accuracy of measurements from SMOS and SMAP and ultimately enhance our understanding of the water content of the soil surface.  As noted earlier, it is this layer of the soil that determines how much precipitation is lost to surface runoff.

In a subsequent study published in 2016, Hornbuckle et al. published further results that indicate new ways of using SMOS. Researchers found that SMOS can be used to look at water in vegetation, as opposed to water in the soil.  Hence SMOS might be used in the future to observe the growth and development of crops, and perhaps estimate yield and the time of harvest as opposed to conducting field surveys from the ground. It also has the potential to measure estimates of the biomass produced during the growing season, which could be useful to reach bioenergy production goals.

Research like this demonstrates that a single tool can be used in multiple ways to better understand our landscape. Not only this, but preliminary studies of SMOS also show that it is important to verify the accuracy of tools before relying on them. Like all research, the work is not done to identify all the potential uses for SMOS and SMAP.  A new NASA grant, in partnership with the Iowa Flood Center, will help get researchers even closer to making satellite measurements a useful, scientific tool to understand water near the soil surface.

References

Hornbuckle, Brian K. “New Satellites for Soil Moisture: Good for Iowans!.” A Letter from the Soil & Water Conservation Club President (2014): 20.

Hornbuckle, Brian K. Jason C. Patton, Andy VanLoocke, Andrew E. Suyker, Matthew C. Roby, Victoria A. Walker, Eswar R Iyer, Daryl E. Herzmann, and Erik A. Endacott. 2016. SMOS optical thickness changes in response to the growth and development of crops, crop management, and weather. Remote Sensing Environment (180) 320-333.

Rondinelli, Wesley J., Brian K. Hornbuckle, Jason C. Patton, Michael H. Cosh, Victoria A. Walker, Benjamin D. Carr, Sally D. Logsdon. 2015. Different Rates of Soil Drying after Rainfall Are Observed by the SMOS Satellite and the South Fork in situ Soil Moisture Network. Journal of Hydrometeorology. April 2015.

 

View from my Windshield: Observations of soil erosion across Iowa

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

For the past couple of weeks, I have been on the road across Iowa. These trips vary in their purpose, but one thing that remains the same is the evident erosion in the fields along my travels. Regardless of where I am – whether it is in the Loess Hills visiting family or in the Des Moines Lobe for a meeting – spring rains have revealed that there are deep cuts in the bare brown soils where lush, even soils used to be.

Cruse et al. (2016) writes:

“Topsoil thinning is closely linked to loss of crop production potential. Typical statewide average erosion rates have only a minor impact on crop yields in the subsequent year. However, cumulative effects are far more significant and contribute to a loss of state revenue that becomes much more important as time progresses.”

The simple fact is that without soil there would be no life. In Iowa, we have high quality soils that, along with some good science and great farmers, enable us to be the top producers in corn, hog, and egg production. This leads to the question: What may be the ultimate cost of this productivity?

Cruse et al. (2016) conducted a study to determine the effects of erosion on commodity yields and to gauge the future impacts on the agricultural economy in Iowa. Researchers studied seven farm sites in Iowa with cropping history and available yield maps. The Daily Erosion Project was used to estimate crop yield impact on soil depth from 2007-2014. The average state loss across those years was 5.7 tons of soil per acre per year. “Assuming a 2.2 bushel per acre corn yield loss across 14 million acres in a given year and a corn price of $4.00/bu, the next year’s crop production loss would equate to approximately $4.3 million total across this land area” (Cruse et al. 2016). There are informational resources and federal programs available for soil conservation practices, but with a short-term economic market system, there is little motivation to participate.

Cruse et al. (2016) writes:

“Short-term minor yield impacts on a per acre basis create little incentive for investing in short-term soil conservation strategies available for many farmland renters. However, as the cumulative effect compounds the economic effect over time, landowners that have longer term planning horizons are much better positioned to recover their financial investments in soil conservation practices.”

To put is succinctly, a loss of soil leads to a loss of productivity, which leads to a financial loss for the state. The impacts of the above findings on decision-making out in the field may be significant given the short-term mindset of our commodity market. Making present-day investments to maintain soils may pay off in the end when compared to short-term commodity gains from year-to-year. Other research has revealed that there is hardly a piece of land in Iowa that is exempt from the problem of erosion. According to Cruse et. al. (2006), soil erosion affects everyone although it is spatially and temporally variable. With 55% of Iowa farmland leased rather than owner controlled (Duffy et al. 2013), an investment in soil saving practices will require candid conversations and real partnerships between a tenant and landowner.

Overall, the first step in making a change is being knowledgeable about your surroundings. Next time you are on the road, look out in the field and really see where you are travelling. Then, compare that to what the data shows on the Daily Erosion Project. You may be surprised about what you learn.

References

Cruse, R., D. Flanagan, J. Frankenberger, B. Gelder, D. Herzmann, D. James, W. Krajewski, Kraszewski, J. Laflen, J. Opsomer, and D. Todey. 2006. Daily estimates of rainfall, water runoff, and soil erosion in Iowa. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 61(4): 191-199.

Cruse, Richard M., Mack Shelley, C. Lee Burras, John Tyndall, and Melissa Miller. 2016. Economic impacts of soil erosion in Iowa. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Competitive Grant Report E2014-17.

Duffy, Michael, William Edwards, and Ann Johanns. 2013. Survey of Iowa Leasing Practices, 2012. Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. File C2-15.

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.

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.

Get to know Alert Iowa

Post submitted by Samantha Brear, Alert Iowa Mass Notification System Program Manager and State E911 Program Planner at Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Alert Iowa is a statewide mass notification and emergency messaging system. The system can be used by state and local authorities to quickly disseminate emergency information to residents in counties that utilize the system. The system is available, free of charge, to all counties. Eighty-four of Iowa’s 99 counties are using the Alert Iowa system.

AlertIowaMap.JPGAlert Iowa allows citizens to sign up for the types of alerts they would like to receive. Types of alerts may include evacuation orders, boil order notifications, and other local safety information messages. The best way to receive messages is via text message.  However, users can also opt for a voice call and an email.

The system interacts with National Weather Service notifications.  When the National Weather Service issues weather alerts, such as Flash Flood Warnings and Tornado Warnings the system sends these alerts automatically to members of the public who have opted in to receive them.

The map shows the counties that are utilizing the Alert Iowa system. Citizens can sign up to receive alerts on their county’s registration page. If they choose, they can sign up to receive alerts in multiple counties.

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are another type of emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through mobile carriers. WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, which are repeated twice, followed by the WEA, which will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The National Weather Service can send out Flash Flood Warnings, Tornado Warnings, and Amber Alerts while Iowa Homeland Security can send out Civil Emergency Warnings to every smart phone within a specified threat area. Wireless Emergency Alert service is offered as a free service by wireless carriers.  Citizens do not need to sign up for this service.

Alert Iowa and Wireless Emergency Alerts are only two of the ways citizens can receive emergency alerts. Other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news broadcasts, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV programs, outdoor sirens and phone apps.

Please visit http://www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov/about_HSEMD/alert_iowa.html for more information and how to sign up!

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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