Conservation Efforts

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

Our social distancing outreach activities have continued from the summer into the fall during this challenging time. We continue to work with our partners in the watershed to emphasize the importance of conservation land practices, benefits of prairies, and water quality monitoring through safe community events. And in this report we continue to feature local heroes in the watershed.

Tipton Prairie and another local hero—


The Raccoon River Watershed Association (RRWA)  organized the “Tipton Prairie and Pioneer Cemetery Historic Walk” which took place on October 10th, a special outside event for community members to learn about two of Greene County’s historical lands. Participants included members from the community, RRWA, Izaak Walton League’s Panora Conservation and Des Moines Chapters, and Whiterock Conservancy.

Community members join others on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Tipton Prairie to learn more about the benefits of prairie plants from Greene County’s Conservation Director, Dan Towers. Photo by Christine Curry

It was fabulous to learn that people still listen to community radio!  Several locals from the community also showed up thanks to Raccoon Valley Radio’s (98.9FM KGRA) Coltrane Carlson, who featured Greene County’s Conservation Director, Dan Towers in a discussion the day before the event.

Everyone was pleasantly surprised to have “Tipton” family members show up for the event. Tim & Linda Tipton’s grandparents owned land that was adjacent to the north of the prairie. Greene County purchased the prairie in 2002. While the prairie was never owned by the Tipton’s, it was referred to as Tipton Prairie because of the family’s close connections to the land and the Greene County Conservation Board. Photo by Christine Curry

The presentation and history walk was led by Dan Towers.  During his presentation we had the opportunity to soon learn that Dan is also a historical figure in this area…another one of our “local heroes” in the watershed. He has worked as Greene County’s Conservation Director for 37 years. Dan oversees 20 areas that total 2000 acres of land, which includes prairies, parks, bike trails, river access points for boats and kayaks, and wildlife habitats.

Dan grew up along the North Raccoon River and has seen a huge increase in recreational activity over the past 50 years.  “In the 70’s we would float the river most weekends and it was rare to see another paddler.  Now when the river is in the right condition there will be several trailers and pickups at each access on the weekends.” said Dan. One of his goals was to increase access to the river. His hard work and dedication has paid off. Greene County has increased the number of concrete ramps from 3 to 7, an average of one every 6 miles.

Positive Changes in the Watershed— as noted by Dan Towers

“The North Raccoon River corridor provides the most natural resource area in a county that is predominately intensive row crop.  Nearly all of the timbered area along the river has changed ownership in the past 30 years.  These woodlands have gone from being considered an area not much good for anything agricultural related to a place to provide families outdoor recreational opportunity.  Many now have homes or weekend cabin retreats on them.  The increase in Iowa’s deer herd has driven most of this interest.  These owners incorporate timber stand improvement practices, food plots and other conservation practices that have resulted in a much better managed ecosystem.”

Knowledge is good, and excellent when shared. And thanks to individuals like Dan Towers, a few more community members have learned about history and benefits of prairies and good land stewardship practices close to home. Photo by Christine Curry

Water Quality Monitoring with Taylor—

It was a beautiful warm October Sunday morning when we met Drake University’s enthusiastic research student Taylor Vroman at the edge of the Raccoon River at Gray’s Lake. She is part of Dr. Peter Levi’s team collecting water samples for various tests and analysis of bacteria. This work contributes to a statewide profile of published scientific data.

Taylor Vroman is featured collecting water samples…This site (Raccoon River at Gray’s Lake) is one of the five locations in the Walnut Creek and Raccoon River Watersheds, where samples were taken once a week for two months during the summer time over a range of weather conditions. Sampling will begin again in the Spring 2021. Photo by Christine Curry

Dr. Levi was awarded a grant sponsored in part by members of the Raccoon River Watershed Association to support this research project. Individuals made direct donations to support this research because they care about water quality research in the watershed. This study has three primary goals: 1) to quantify harmful strains of bacteria in the Raccoon River and several tributaries, 2) to investigate the relationship between harmful strains of bacteria and general measures of E. coli, and 3) to estimate the human health risk for recreating at several stream and river access points during summer months.

Taylor is not out fishing in her waders and boots… “One of my favorite parts of this study is how it directly connects to the public. In the eight weeks I was grabbing samples, I was asked many times about what I was doing. I find it very reaffirming to know that there is public interest and am reminded of how important the research I’m so fortunate to be able to do truly is.” said Taylor. Photo by Christine Curry


Although E. coli levels are commonly used as a proxy for water quality, the measure does not necessarily provide a good assessment as to whether someone would become ill after ingesting stream water. E. coli originates from many different sources, not all of which are harmful to humans.

Dr. Levi and Taylor’s early analysis shows that E. coli concentrations were highly variable over time and space, so it’ll be interesting to see how the more pathogenic strains correlates to these measures. Taylor stated, “I collected samples in the pouring rain in late September and E. coli levels spiked up, so it was clear that bacteria were in the process of flushing off the landscape and through the streams.”

We are grateful to Dr. Levi and Taylor for their research work and the support of individuals who have made financial contributions towards this project. Rural and urban communities will continue to be challenged by extreme shifts associated with climate change and public health outbreaks such as the current Covid crisis. Our plans include continuing to work with our Izaak Walton League Chapters and other partners in the watershed, help coordinate and connect communities, and share good examples.

Iowa Farmers Union Annual Conference December 3-5, 2020
is one of our UMRI partner and they have some outstanding presentations lined up…please check it out!