Conservation Efforts

By UMRI's Outreach Coordinator, Christine Curry and Iowa's Conservation Director, Mike Delaney, and other Iowa Izaak Walton League chapter members

Sunday morning view of Lakeside Lab Dock at West Okoboji Lake, Wahpeton on August 8, 2021. Photo by: Christine Curry

For many years we have gathered near our favorite stream or lake during the summer months to recreate and fish.  And in recent times we have had more concerns with water quality through out the state of Iowa. Luckily there are people monitoring these bodies of water more closely. The Iowa Environmental Council now has a Weekly Water Watch during the summer which provides updates on Iowa E. coli and microcystin/algae blooms beach advisories, important water quality news, and water related events across the state. Water pollution either comes from a single, direct source, known as Point-source pollution from a factory or wastewater plant or it comes from runoff of soil, fertilizers, chemicals and manure from agriculture land known as Nonpoint-source pollution. Irrefutable data help tell the story about how clean it is and what pollutants are complicating its use for drinking, outdoor recreation, fishing and wildlife habitats.

“Dump No Waste, Drains to Waterways” Vintage drain cover Downtown Cedar Falls. Photo by: Christine Curry

The Cedar River Project—

We recently had the opportunity to learn more firsthand from southern Minnesota stream volunteers who found excessive levels of E. coli bacteria from human waste (as well as from hogs and cattle) in the Cedar River.  During a summer of stream monitoring, they employed a lab to conduct genetic testing on samples from areas with high E. coli colony counts. The results led to a re-evaluation of the county septic system program.  This is a perfect example of why data matters and how a group of citizens’ science volunteers can be part of the solution.

Cedar River Stream Monitoring Training class conducted August 2nd at the campus of University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Photo by: Mark Owens

Bill Buckley explains the collection and shipping procedures to analyze the exact source of E. coli. Photo by: Christine Curry

During a one day training in August, IWL’s Iowa stream volunteers from 3 counties along the Cedar River gathered on the campus of University Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls to learn some straight-forward scientific methods for collecting and analyzing samples for E. coli, a large and mostly helpful group of bacteria that causes illness when there is too much from the wrong source. Larry Dolphin, led the training team along with Bill Buckley and Mark Owen: all members of the Austin, MN Ikes chapter. Iowa participants from IWL chapters included: Douglas Johnson and Randy Vandeventer from Floyd County, Josh Balk from Black Hawk County and Dale Braun and Neil Middleberg from Linn County, and Christine Curry from Polk County. Larry took us through the protocol guide, a 2-step process to determine where there is too much E. coli bacteria in the water and whether it comes from livestock or human waste. After a couple of hours of going over the protocols we gathered outside on a picture perfect day at a nearby stream to go over sample collection methods.

A picture perfect day for the class to be outside learning more details about stream monitoring. Photo by: Christine Curry

Training protocols continue with collecting water samples for stream monitoring for E. coli bacteria off the stream bridge on the campus of University of Northern Iowa. Photo by: Christine Curry

A transparency tube is used to demonstrate how to take a turbidity reading as part of the water quality data procedures. Photo by: Christine Curry

An incubator is part of the equipment needed to assess high E. coli colony counts. Photo by: Christine Curry

This example is an incubated 3M plate, the dark dots indicate results showing E. coli concentrations. Part of the first step is to determine where high E. coli bacteria is concentrated. Photo by: Christine Curry


It’s super exciting to know that we now have three Iowa county teams who will continue this monitoring on the Cedar River and its tributaries. Through mid-October, weekly water samples will be incubated for the presence of E. coli collected and to determined if further analysis is justified to learn the exact source of the E. coli., either livestock or human. This data is extremely valuable and even more important if it’s paired with a Save Our Streams SOS assessment of both chemical and biological water quality monitoring.

Okoboji Blues Water Festival with Susan Heathcote—

Iowa Rivers Revival’s Low head dam display with Watershed Heroine Susan Heathcote at Okoboji Blues Water Festival, August 7, 2021. Photo by: Christine Curry

Another Watershed Heroine—

Susan is one of two certified IWL’s Save our Stream/SOS trainers in the state of Iowa. I had the opportunity to meet with her before while volunteering for some of the Iowa Environmental Council events, so I had some knowledge about all of her great work regarding water quality. Susan also led an initial SOS training at Jester Park that I had the opportunity to attend before COVID 19 changed our world.

Now retired, Susan volunteers hours of her time continuing to share her knowledge and educating others about protecting our natural resources, water quality, and pretty much anything to do with rivers and streams. Susan had signed up to share information about the Iowa Rivers Revival  organization at one of the exhibitor booths at the Okoboji Blues Water Festival August 7th. I was fortunate enough to have been able to carpool with her.

As we departed Des Moines Susan shared her enthusiasm for her water conservation advocacy and the history of her work which includes numerous contributions to our communities. She served twenty-three years as the Water Program Director at the Iowa Environmental Council. Susan is one of the founding members of the Iowa Rivers Revival and has continued to serve as a board director.

Iowa Rivers Revival’s Low head dam exhibit attracts children of all ages to learn more about river safety. Photo by: Christine Curry


Soon after we got the table set up, we were joined by IRR board member Robin Fortney who is another well known figure in Iowa’s conservation circles. She is also a great photographer and Robin’s photos have been featured on our website. The main display on the table was a low head dam flow model, with water and a pump— a fun interactive display that attracts children of all ages.

This was my second time to attend the Okoboji Blues Water Festival, and it was fun to see several partner organizations exhibiting and well as seeing some familiar faces. The Festival hosts an inspiring panel discussion with current water quality issues and a keynote speaker. This year Robert Kennedy Jr. spoke about his environmental advocacy with the Waterkeeper Alliance.

West Okoboji at Lakeside Lab—

Susan Heathcote takes in the view from Lakeside Lab’s overlook. Photo by: Christine Curry

Susan and I had the opportunity to stay over night and visit Lakeside Lab which is a community resource facility for water quality monitoring, environmental education, and research. It is owned by the State of Iowa and serves university students and offers outreach programs. Almost everyone who’s involved in water quality monitoring in the state of Iowa has been at this facility or at least knows about it. And what a place it is! We took a couple of hours to explore the beautiful grounds that were rooted in prairie at it’s finest. This place is truly an inspirational gift for any student or visitor.

Prairie Restoration Sign at Lakeside Lab, West Okoboji Lake. Photo by: Christine Curry

Lakeside Lab’s Prairie in August 2021. Photo by: Christine Curry

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) at Lakeside Lab Prairie, August 8, 2021. Photo by: Christine Curry

Save Bloody Run—

Fisherman at Bloody Run Creek. Photo by: Larry Stone


It’s time to call a halt with the current threat of Iowa’s Bloody Run Creek.

A special letter—

from UMRI’s Executive Director

I observe and appreciate your efforts to protect a short piece of Iowa’s trout stream fishery in the Driftless Country of NE , IA. Good for you! I have many Iowa memories. Our family lived in Newton, then Clinton where I graduated from high school in 1954. I became an enthusiastic Mississippi River Rat. You could find me on the mighty-Miss as often as possible. My very first serious questioning of “progress” was around a proposed steel mill on the Mississippi River south of Camanche in the 1950s. I was 16 years old. But that is another story.

I suspect this one occurred about 30 years ago. My HS classmate and outdoor pal, Art Ladehoff and his son Greg and I set out for a day of trout fishing. When Art and I were kids, the opening Day of Iowa trout fishing was a skip-day. Art went on to create Big Foot Decoys. A great success story. When we were in high school we frequently headed for Big Mill creek which entered the Mississippi at Bellevue. On this day, as I recall, we really were more interested in just being together, heading north of Clinton on Highway 67 north past Sabula, Green Island and toward Big Mill. Every mile revealed beautiful country-side as well as boy-hood memories. I’d continued my love for fishing of all kinds as well as developing a love for the fly rod and fly-fishing. Art enjoyed fishing, but never was as crazy about it as I am. His Son Gregg, an outstanding athlete in general and golfer in particular was a budding fly fisher.

We kept driving, and for reasons I do not recall, we ended up in beautiful Clayton County. We found Bloody Run. We were able to access a stretch of the Bloody Run that really looked like trout water. Bends and runs, pools and riffles. And, that day, there were Browns and Rainbows that allowed us to think we were competent anglers. More likely; as the old fisher remarked, “the river let us have a good day”. I do not recall the number of fish, the size of the fish. The fishing was productive. And, a splendid day of rejoicing in natural beauty with a life-long friend and his son.

I understand that you have a battle brewing over the presence of a threat to this precious resource. Our earth strains under the weight of our presence. My days of volunteerism as a young Ike started at Pikes Peak in the Clinton Chapter around 1950. I loved going to the Chapter House. I could meet people like me who cared, folks who had been to distant places and caught monster fish and some even had wild tales of big game adventures. I participated in wildlife identification contests. Warden Maurie Jensen took me on my first ride in an airplane to drop food to pheasants during a hard winter. I was drawn to and mentored by good folk in the Ikes.

I hope you keep and grow what drives you to care for Bloody Run. Some would argue it small and insignificant. They would argue that the project proposers will protect the small watershed in ways that small producers often do not. To date, the legacy of large confinement operations is not necessarily a good one. I do not know the details of the cattle facility proposed. I do know the outcomes of many others. Those outcomes often are told in stories of failed promises and the inability of our agencies to protect the resource. Once contamination is confirmed, restorations are difficult, lengthy, and costly. Paid by you know who! The best return on investment is to protect the resource as it is.

The Mississippi, itself has been altered, polluted, and seriously degraded by our presence. A mighty river is much more than the water we look at out of our car windows as we drive a scenic route. It is a composite of all of the arteries that flow into it. It is a confirmation of the observation –“if you want to know what is wrong with the water, turn and look a what is happening on the land”.

Will Bloody Run continue to thrill old high school buddies? Kids wading their first trout stream? Will it feed riparian life? Birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fish with the food that originates in its aquatic insects that then mature into fly hatches that create feeding frenzies in and near the stream itself? Will it impact youngsters and inspire tomorrow’s environmental activists?

Is it worth the fight? I believe it is. Bloody Run is part of our inheritance and must continue to be part of the legacy that passes from us to those who follow. “One cannot miss what one never knew”—make sure this treasure is part of as many lives as possible.

Thank-you for all that you do for this earth, love it, hold it close. Tight lines to fishers and outdoor blessings to folk who simply love nature.

Dave Zentner
Duluth, Minnesota
CHS Class of 1954


The IWL’s History—

The IWL’s history: At the turn of the 20th century, uncontrolled discharges of industrial waste and raw sewage, unrestricted logging, and soil erosion threatened to destroy the nation’s most productive waterways. The country’s forests, wetlands, and wilderness areas were quickly disappearing. In 1922, 54 sportsmen declared that it was “time to call a halt” to this destruction. Aware that action – not just talk – would be necessary to solve these problems, the group decided to form an organization to combat water pollution and protect the country’s woods and wildlife. As a reminder of their purpose, they named the organization after Izaak Walton, the 17th-century English angler-conservationist who wrote the literary classic The Compleat Angler.


Click Here to learn more about Save Bloody Run!

Learn more—


“Defenders of Soil, Air, Woods, Waters & Wildlife”

Continue to Stay Safe and Stay Engaged…

Save our Streams—On-line training to become a certified Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Stream monitor

Stay tuned for more “Thinking Like a Watershed” program details…

“Thinking Like a Watershed”—


Links to recent presentations are here:

If you missed our “Heartland Heroines”  Thinking Like a Watershed presentation…

This is the video link: “Heartland Heroines” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Robin Moore & Denise O’Brien— June 1, 2021

Photo of Robin Moore provided by: Land Stewardship Project


This is the video link: “Planting Seeds to Grow Vibrant Communities” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Chris Deal & Art Cullen— May 4, 2021  
How Jefferson, Iowa’s Chris Deal is working with California Rep. Ro Khanna and others to grow vibrant rural communities in the Heartland with perspectives from Pulitzer Prize—winning journalist and editor of The Storm Lake Times, Art Cullen.

This is the video link “Watershed Bridges— Green to Blue”: Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Vicki Nichols Goldstein & Seth Watkins— April 6, 2021  How improving soil health and water quality in Iowa and other inland states benefit watersheds that provide critical services from land to sea.

—This is the video link “Local Heroes in Howard County”: Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Neil Shaffer & Hunter Slifka— March 2, 2021  How they have incorporated several thousand acres of land under conservation programs–the largest percentage in Iowa.

This is the video link “The Accidental Conservationist”: Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Wayne Fredericks— February 2, 2021  How an Iowa Farmer is Improving Natural Capital while Increasing Profits with Conservationist and Farmer, Wayne Fredericks from Mitchell County, Iowa.

— Izaak Walton League’s Outdoor America articles on line. 

—About water quality monitoring and research, check out The University of Iowa’s Chris Jones blog who has published several articles on where Iowa stands with regards to soil health and water quality.

—Wait no longer to watch, re-watch and share PFI’s full-length film, “Livestock on the Land“. Please help us get this to as many viewers as possible – farmers, eaters, citizens and policymakers.

Iowa Farmers Union Events, check out their amazing weekly webinars…

Iowa Environmental Council’s Event page is packed with fabulous opportunities to learn more from their organization and others.