Conservation Efforts

By Mike Delaney, UMRI Iowa coordinator, Christine Curry, and other Iowa Izaak Walton League chapter members

 As we celebrate World Water Monitoring Day in September, we must note the importance of fertile soil, especially in Iowa. We continue to celebrate farmers and others who are implementing regenerative land practices in our state, hoping that others will join in on making sound conservation practices to improve water quality while increasing profits. And the science shows through water quality data in our state and elsewhere we need many more farms planted with cover crops surrounded by deep rooted prairie strips. During this month “Kiss the Ground” was released, a video showcasing the benefits of regenerative agriculture. It’s available through Netflix or Vimeo for $1. We strongly recommend that you take time to watch and share this link with others. This documentary clearly demonstrates that we can make a difference by restoring healthy soil to solve the worlds problems— a proven solution right under our feet— to ensure clean water, reverse climate change, and provide healthy food.

World Water Monitoring Event at Gouldsburg Park, Fayette County


The UMRI Iowa team joined in with Tim Wagner, Izaak Walton League of America’s (IWLA) Ag Outreach Coordinator, and Zach Moss, IWLA’s Save Our Streams Coordinator in Fayette County at Gouldsburg Park along the beautiful Turkey River to celebrate World Water Monitoring Day in Iowa. Our goal was to make connections, share and celebrate successes, discuss water quality and conservation issues, and plan for the future of water quality monitoring. Happily, we certainly achieved all of our goals, despite the Coronavirus with physically distancing and wearing masks.

Our team safely gathered outside along the Turkey River with masks on the afternoon of September 15th, to assist Zach Moss with both chemical and macroinvertebrate monitoring. It was a picture-perfect day in Iowa. Water samples showed healthy numbers for pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, phosphates, chloride, and turbidity. Many healthy water bugs were also observed! This is typical for this section of the Turkey River, which has a reputation for being one of the cleaner rivers in Iowa due to the good farming practices taking place in this area.

Zach Moss collecting water sample in the Turkey River, September 15, 2020. Photo by: Christine Curry

Collecting data—part of the chemical analysis, Nitrate Nitrogen ppm, Turkey River, September 15, 2020. Photo by: Christine Curry

Christine Curry assisting Zach Moss with a net to collect samples for biological monitoring Turkey River, September 15, 2020. Photo by Curtis Cokeley

Zach Moss counting macro invertebrates collected from the net with Tim Wagner writing the results and Mike Delaney. Many Mayflies counted— Good sign for water quality. Turkey River, September 15, 2020. Photo by Christine Curry

The early evening gathering included concerned citizens and others partners in the watershed from related organizations and groups. Tim Wagner welcomed everyone and introduced our team and other participants. He also discussed how farmers can make a huge impact by being proactive in addressing water quality in Iowa by testing water off that runs off their farms.

Zach Moss was the featured presenter and he discussed the Save Our Streams program, which is the only statewide volunteer water quality monitoring program in Iowa. His presentation included monitoring results, IWLA’s Clean Water Hub database, and the importance of community science water quality monitoring projects. Zach also shared the findings from the afternoon’s water quality monitoring that took place just down the hill from the covered shelter house where we were safely gathered.

Gouldsburg Shelter, World Water Monitoring Event, participates safety gathered along the beautiful Turkey River in Fayette County, September 15, 2020. Photo by: Curtis Cokeley

Mike Delaney shared his experience over the past few decades with his involvement in several organizations involving the Raccoon River Watershed from monitoring, research to conferences.  He also discussed the latest research efforts on bacteria, and how this project is completely supported by small individual donations.  Christine Curry shared UMRI’s socially distanced activities that have taken place over the past few months.

Mussel shells collected by Mike Delaney on the Turkey River shoreline down the hill from Gouldsburg Park Shelterhouse, September 15, 2020. Photo by: Christine Curry

Local Heroes in Howard County


During our introductions some of us met new partners in the watershed— two local heroes from Howard County’s Watershed Project, Neil Shaffer and Hunter Slifka. Both have worked together with farmers and other stakeholders to promote opportunities to improve soil health, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat while increasing net farm income. They are excellent communicators and work with citizens, landowners, county supervisors, State Legislators and others in the watershed to share several options and resources with both conventional and progressive farmers. Together, they have managed to incorporate several thousand acres of land under conservation programs, in fact the largest percentage in Iowa.

Howard County’s Hunter Slifka and Neil Shaffer featured at the One Water Summit 2019. Photo provided by Hunter Slifka

Recent stats provided by Hunter Slifka—

Silver Creek Water Quality Project:
-10,616 acres of Conservation implemented/going to be implemented in 2020, this equates out to $424,994 in cost share dollar’s
-$7,051,100 in conservation has been spent to date in the watershed (9 years)
-23,548 tons of sediment reduced to date in the watershed
-27,175 pounds of phosphorus removed from the watershed to date
-512 total BMP’s installed to date
-3 years in a row over 33% of the watershed’s crop acres have had a cover crop seeded down which is about 6,200 acres of cover crops
-10% of the entire watershed is enrolled into CRP
-Brook Trout have been re-introduced into the watershed and they have begun natural reproduction

Turkey River Headwaters & Chihak Creek Water Quality Project:
-24,100 acres of conservation implemented/going to be implemented in 2020, this equates out to $766,263 in cost share dollars
-$1,955,938 in conservation has been spent to date in the watershed (2 years)
-9,974 tons of sediment reduced to date in the watershed
-12,411 pounds of phosphorus removed from the watershed to date
-272 total BMP’s installed to date
-13% of watersheds crop acres seeded to cover crops which is about 6,100 acres of cover crops
-3,840’ of streambank stabilization was installed in 2019/20

Howard County as a whole:
-20,000+ acres of cover crops seeded with cost share (another estimated ~2,000 acres of non-cost share cover crops being seeded)
-Installed 47.5 acres of grassed waterways in 2019/20
-2,245 TOTAL CRP Contracts
-24,696 TOTAL CRP Acres
-$6,165,860 in TOTAL ANNUAL CRP Payments
-Completed 20,000 feet + of Streambank Stabilization in the last 5 years (previously we had basically none)
-Obligated $1,058,165 in EQIP payments which is 10,001 acres for FY20 (this was the most in Iowa this year)
-Obligated $1,105,950 in CSP payments which is 5,930 acres for FY20
-$4,169,743 in total active EQIP contracts which is 15,762 acres
-$8,190,535 in total active CSP contracts which is 52,236 acres

How do we know this is working? “Water monitoring is key,” Neil stated. They have been monitoring water for over 20 years now. They currently pull samples every week between the Turkey River and Silver Creek. Without this data they would not be able to benchmark their successes. Other organizations have been able to provide financial support to continue the efforts in recent times, since the state funding for water monitoring was significantly reduced. We are grateful for their great work and believe they serve as a model. Our plans include to share their story with others and to work closely with them throughout the state.

More Water Quality Monitoring— Polk County Snapshot.


UMRI’s Mike Delaney and Christine Curry teamed up to volunteer with the Polk County Snapshot, water quality monitoring. Mike has been involved with IOWATER and Polk County Snapshot water monitoring for over 15 years. Mike was so happy to observe many schools of minnows and some other small fish during one of the collection sites at Jordan Creek in West Des Moines, Iowa. He remarked, “A huge improvement over the past few years to see stream life like this in the suburbs.”

Mike Delaney collecting water sample near First Unitarian Church of Des Moines for Polk County Snapshot water quality monitoring program, September 22, 2020. Photo by: Christine Curry

Transplanted and deeply rooted in Iowa


This month we had the privilege of spending the morning at Delaney’s Raccoon River prairie with Robin Fortney. She is well known in Iowa’s conservation circles of water paddlers and prairie peeps. Robin was born and raised in Maryland, but moved to Iowa as a newlywed in 1976. After her husband died in 1987, she found reasons to stay in Iowa after meeting prairie and river people. Robin says, “These wild places are the best part of Iowa and and the people who understand and value them are my favorite sorts of folks!”

Robin Fortney smack in the middle of Delaney’s Raccoon River Prairie as she gets ready to capture her next beautiful photograph, September 19, 2020. Photo by: Christine Curry

It was through the development of Neil Smith Refuge that Robin was inspired about Iowa prairies. She had a significant role in helping establish the foundation of this beautiful piece of restored prairie. We asked Robin how this all came about: “In 1993, I participated in a prairie seminar and heard from prairie experts from Iowa DNR, UNI and USFWS. We took a field trip to the fairly new Walnut Creek NWR (now Neal Smith NWR) and heard about their vision for a huge tallgrass prairie reconstruction project near Prairie City. The refuge manager, Dick Burger, told us that they could use a friends group. Penny Thomsen volunteered to help get it going and I joined her in that effort. I served on the Friends board for 10 years, getting much hands-on instruction about tallgrass prairie. Also assisted in the development of the People of the Prairie exhibit.”

“Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) at Neal Smith Refuge, September 2020” Photo by: Robin Fortney

Robin has paddled miles of streams and rivers. When asked where and is there a favorite? This is her reply: “ I’ve paddled all over Iowa, MN, WI, NE, MS, AR, CA, TX, FL, GA, MD, VT, Vancouver Island BC and France. All are memorable!”

Robin is a true naturalist and a fabulous photographer.  She is an active member of several of UMRI’s partner organizations and serves as board member of the Raccoon River Watershed Association.   Robin has visited 24 state preserves since mid-March 2020, plus various state and county public lands. Almost everyday since Covid restrictions started, she’s been out documenting her observations through digital photographs which she then posts to her Facebook page with descriptions and identifies plant names. Robin then deletes them from her camera. A reminder of how quickly beautiful images can so easily disappear in this changing world. We are grateful to have natural treasures in Iowa, and Robin is one of them.

“Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) at Delaney’s Raccoon River Prairie, September 19, 2020” Photo by: Robin Fortney

“Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum); derecho blew down the flower stalks” Delaney’s Raccoon River Prairie, September 19, 2020”
Photo by: Robin Fortney

“Low flow water continues in the Raccoon River along Delaney’s prairie, September 19, 2020. Photo by: Christine Curry