Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator, with input from Kiera Kellogg, David Minge, Mark Owens, Bill Buckley, Larry Dolphin, Mike Kennedy, and Barry Drazkowski.

Throughout Minnesota, UMRI partners with landowners, community leaders, conservation experts, and citizens to improve water quality and conserve natural resources. UMRI strives for forums of enlightenment, neighborliness, and a better landscape for all. Ongoing programs make positive steps toward cleaner water.


4 New Save Our Streams Teams Monitor Pollutants

Through the Save Our Stream program, an Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) water monitoring protocol, citizen-science volunteers went to work to collect water samples.

The four new SOS teams’ data was entered in the publicly accessible federal Clean Water Exchange and the IWLA database. The Winona Post highlighted their efforts.

In February, SOS team members gathered to share stories and learn from the data they had collected.


Driftless Region Events Focus on Farming Issues

Farmers are an integral constituent in conservation programs. In southeast Minnesota’s Driftless Region, UMRI addressed farmer and landowner issues with educational and collaborative programs.

  • A farmer/community program responded to aspects of the farm crisis.
  • At a farmers round table, participants addressed big-picture questions and named their needs for more sustained production of good food in constantly challenging times.
  • Farming practices and rental agreements that protect soil, prevent erosion, and make money headlined a farmer/landowner-focused program hosted by the Owatonna (MN) IWLA chapter.
  • UMRI exhibited at the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference in January 2020.


Cedar River Watershed Project Expands

The innovative citizen-driven effort to address E. coli contamination by the Austin, Minnesota-based IWLA chapter inspired an Iowa chapter to try the same approach to cleaner water.

In 2017, Austin activists analyzed samples to confirm dangerous levels of E. coli from hogs, cattle, and human waste. The teams spent five-plus months taking almost 500 samples to quantify dangerous levels of E. coli in the Cedar River. DNA analyses by a commercial lab determined that the source was human fecal matter along with that of swine and cattle. The data and citizen advocacy have led to a likely approved new septic ordinance (pending a public hearing under COVID-19 terms).

If funding is approved, the Linn County, Iowa, chapter will take the same approach to the southern reaches of the watershed. The Austin team will train and mentor the Iowa participants.

Austin team leaders are donating their time. The major cost for the program is the vital but expensive DNA “fingerprinting” analyses crucial to identifying specific sources of E. coli contamination.


Kathy Kester, Sam Kester, and Bob Wangsness gather water samples with the Austin, Minnesota, Cedar River Watershed Monitoring team. Some 40 people on four teams collected almost 500 water samples over five-plus months. The samples helped quantify dangerous levels of E. coli in the river. Photo by Bill Buckley.

River Basin Drainage Inventory Nears Completion

Staff members are collecting and cataloging all current agricultural drainage projects in the 38 counties of the Minnesota River Basin. Once the data is compiled into a single database, the completed site will be open to the public.


Grant to Fund Hands-On Learning

Hands-on learning stations are designed to engage the public in water quality issues. The Winona, Minnesota, Will Dilg chapter is working to create stations aboard the Cal Fremling floating environmental education center at the city’s Levee Park.

If awarded, a grant will also support additional Save Our Streams teams trained according to protocols designed by the IWLA and in place nationwide for the past 50 years.


At a farmer/landowner-focused program, soil health-motivated farmers Myron Sylling (top left) and Tom Cotter (top right) were guest speakers. Hosted by the Owatonna Izaak Walton League chapter on January 25, 2020, the event also featured George Boody of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) speaking about farming practices and rental agreements that protect soil and prevent erosion. After lunch, an informal discussion included chapter co-president Ted Mittelstadt (standing, above). The League of Women Voters/Upper Mississippi River Region, UM Extension, Cannon River Watershed Partnership, and LSP cosponsored the event. Photos by Caroline van Schaik

Partners Make a Difference

All the UMRI work in Minnesota happens in collaboration with like-minded partners who believe in the health of public waters through soils-focused farming and supported farmers and landowners. They include:

  • The League of Women Voters/Upper Mississippi River Region
  • Winona State University
  • National Trout Center
  • Driftless Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
  • University of Minnesota Extension
  • Land Stewardship Project
  • Cannon River Watershed Partnership
  • Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service/ Soil and Water Conservation Districts
  • Southeast Minnesota State College.