Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

E. coli takes center stage, stream and ditch monitoring, success stories

E. coli in the Cedar River in Iowa ?

Izaak Walton League chapter members are crossing borders from Minnesota to Iowa to learn more about the E. coli that also pays no heed to boundaries. The question is, is E. coli in the Cedar River in Iowa and if so, what’s its source? The Austin, MN Ikes chapter found its own grim answers after a summer of weekly sampling and DNA analysis. A January 2020 meeting introduced the protocol to Iowans, and this summer there will be streamside action to follow up. Regardless of the findings, water monitoring brings people to a topic that is dear to them on all sorts of levels – they fish, or they love being outdoors, or they worry about contaminants, or they want their kids involved with Mother Nature. In this case, there’s a pretty strong concern for the quality of the Cedar. The city of Cedar Rapids is actively engaged in related work, and this piece, spearheaded by the Ikes and UMRI, is another part of the story. For more information, please contact Dale Braun with the Linn County chapter,

Save Our Streams and Spring

We aren’t quite ready to get out for spring sampling, but it will be soon! As we have for a year now, we’ll monitor in small groups of 2 or 3 people. I’ll be putting out the word about how to participate in the Minnesota Driftless area soon.  In the meantime, a reminder that you can work toward becoming Save Our Stream(SOS) certified via some terrific online ‘classes’ offered by the National SOS folks. They are not as much fun as doing the learning in person, OK, I get that. But they are still fascinating, and it’s the groundwork to being able to attend an in-person workshop to finish up your training. Yes, in-person is coming, but just for you who have finished the online portion. Click here for the details!

Ditch work in the Minnesota River Basin

A cadre of UMRI staff and volunteers continues its relentless effort to put ditch projects through the same environmental assessment that other water works must abide by. Their work is focused on several of the basin’s 38 counties, where officials represent a range of willingness-to-not-at-all participate in the process. One of the upshots is a court challenge to require an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). Movement elsewhere is quite the opposite. A hopeful example lies in a county mired in expensive flooding and sedimentation damages – this cost combined with UMRI input has the county willing, even keen to require better designed drainage projects. This is progress, and a good counterbalance to officials who take three or four email requests to respond to UMRI staff requests.

And some people to hear and be inspired by…

As I said last month, let me point you to some gems:

a. The next in UMRI’s virtual series called “Thinking Like a Watershed” takes place Tuesday, Ap. 6, at 7 p.m. Central, and will feature one of Iowa’s farming champions, Seth Watkins of Pinhook Farm, and Vicki Nichols Goldstein, founder of Inland Ocean Coalition. Both are national advocates for watershed health and will present on their work to connect land-bound and oceanic waters.
Register here! 

b. The National Save Our Streams (SOS) folks host another of their workshops Tuesday, Mar. 30, at noon Central, on “Action and Advocacy to Protect Water Quality: What You Can Do.” Register here!
February’s program on nitrates, focused on Iowa and the Upper Midwest but with universal implications (“Expect regulation.”), can be found here!

c. This came to us via a participant in a “Thinking Like a Watershed” presentation. It is a lovely piece on diversity in agriculture, written by partners from Green Lands Blue Waters, “Elevating Diverse Voices in Agriculture Science”.

d. And one more, stories of good water works generated live on the third Saturday of each month and available as a podcast soon after, from colleagues at Fishers & Farmers