“A viable neighborhood is a community: and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common.”
~ Wendell Berry ~
—Citizens Science in the Works!
As we celebrate World Water Monitoring Day this entire month we start with a small community in Greene County, our second oldest county park in Iowa, Squirrel Hollow. Local residents have been enjoying this area for many years. Water pollution related to increased animal production in the Raccoon River watershed, along with extreme climate-related droughts the past two years have many local citizens concerned about their environment.
A “pig nursery” confinement operation is in the works about 11/2 mile from Squirrel Hollow. Because of the scale of the facility, the owners have not had to adhere to any regulations concerning environmental impacts in the watershed. Fecal waste from the facility along with objectionable odors are among the hazards that impact neighbors, wildlife, land and water.
Increasingly rural land is owned by non-operating land owners (NOLO’s) who live elsewhere and rent their land to other farmers and don’t have connections to the local community. What one neighbor does can impact an entire neighborhood. “Out of sight out of mind” as the saying goes. Would the owners seriously want this small confinement in their own backyard? Apparently the owner’s wife didn’t want it on their own property.
Solving Community Problems—
Many community members concerned about having this operation in their watershed have been meeting to discuss options of how to Save Squirrel Hollow. Although the neighbors are unable to stop construction, they are taking steps to hold the new owner accountable for future pollution and disruption. It is common knowledge that the Raccoon River is already extremely compromised with significant agricultural chemical and nutrient runoffs, soil loss from industrial farms, in addition to all the extreme weather events that further complicate the problems.
Education is key. We must continue to fight for the freedom of healthy soil, air, food and clean water for both public health and recreation. Network members have been watching the savebloodyrun.org situation in Clayton County over the past few months, and we are hoping that this example will encourage everyone to “call a halt” to the destruction of our waterways once and for all.
Save Squirrel Hollow—
The newly formed “Save Squirrel Hollow” committee has implemented the water monitoring protocols that have been established for the efforts of savebloodyrun.org. Part of their protocols include working with a group of concerned citizens to develop an Izaak Walton League’s SOS (Save Our Streams) citizens science water monitoring group. It’s important to get a good water quality baseline profile for every area of concern. This is especially important in advance of any confined animal operation going up. Baseline studies are extremely important so that communities will know exactly what the water quality looks like over time. Trends can be tracked as farming activities increase and climate change/weather shifts continue to cause extreme floods and droughts.
Many conservation-minded community members, like Chris Henning observe the land, the local streams and waterways. Because of the severe droughts there is very little water flowing in the tributary streams that drain into the Raccoon River. Because of the lack of rain it’s less likely that many of the pollutants such as nitrates will be present in water samples collected.
Save Our Streams—
To help get this started the Raccoon River Watershed Association’s (RRWA) outreach committee organized a community SOS (Save our Streams) water monitoring demonstration at Squirrel Hollow. This first introduction was led by IWL’s Save Our Streams water monitoring trainer Susan Heathcote on a beautiful Saturday morning, September 11th at Squirrel Hollow. IWL, RRWA and other community members gathered to observe and help during the process. Both chemical and biological macro- invertebrates assessments were completed.
National Agriculture Director visits Iowa communities—
IWL’s National Agriculture Director Duane Hovorka shared the League’s vision at the Des Moines Chapter House on Tuesday, September 14th. He spoke about the 100th year anniversary which will be recognized throughout 2022. Duane shared some general concepts, ideas and challenges associated with the national policy initiatives. He asked for direct feedback of what individuals in Iowa would like to see for the new farm bill. The Izaak Walton League is positioned to make contributions at the federal level. Hopefully these will have a positive impact in Iowa. As we continue to encourage conservation programs, including efforts with the Upper Mississippi River initiative.
During Duane’s September visit, we planned a few community gatherings. On Wednesday afternoon we traveled northwest of Des Moines to visit Panora Conservation Chapter member, Chris Henning, and a few other Greene County community members who care about the health of their watershed.
Back at Greene County with Duane—
I have had the opportunity to visit Chris’s farm a couple of times, last year right after the drought and derecho. It was fabulous to share this part of Iowa with Duane. Chris invited us into her charming old farmhouse renovated with lots of large windows overflowing with sunshine light as Chris shared her enthusiasm and love for the land and her community.
We pulled up the chairs and gathered around her kitchen table as she laid out county maps. Chris pointed out the waterways/stream connections of the land and the history of her farms. She also went over details of how the watershed has shifted over the years with floods and droughts. Chris explained how her conservation farming efforts have benefited the soils and nearby streams over the past few decades.
Snaps from our Tour—
After studying the local maps, we jumped into Chris’s truck, and she drove us around to several areas in the watershed, including nearby farms and stream connections. When we arrived at Squirrel Hollow, the local wildlife photographer, Peg Gannon, was documenting one of the young eagles in a treetop. She photographs and monitors the eagles for the Department of Natural Resources, and she knows each individual eagle, making this a fun experience for all of us. Peg described the shifts in the watershed that she’s been observing and tracking for many years. She pointed out this fragile area that runs for about 4 miles long, including Squirrel Hollow. She has noticed lots of wildlife that is no longer observed in other areas along the Raccoon River corridor. Peg, Chris and several other community members believe that this habitat needs to be protected.
Conversations with Farmer Scott—
After a few hours of site seeing and discussions, we joined Scott Weaver, one of Greene County’s younger farmers, at Jefferson’s local Casa De Oro Mexican restaurant. Scott grew up in Greene County and farms with his 77 year old father. His farm is about a 1/2 mile from where the new pig confinement is under construction. Scott is one of the concerned community members who is working with Chris and others to build awareness.
Scott shared with us that he and his father are traditional farmers. He mentioned that it is difficult adapting new agriculture and conservation practices and purchasing new equipment. I asked if they would consider an incentivized conservation program that would guarantee additional income, and he said he didn’t think his father would be interested at all. Scott shared with us the challenges and the benefits of living in a small rural town. It was great to hear from him firsthand, explaining that it’s not easy to change farming practices and established cultures. Scott recognizes that bad farming practices impact the watershed. He loves to fish and cares about water quality. He has noticed several changes over the past couple of decades. In the past, Scott and his father have raised pigs in a natural setting. They are aware of the environmental hazards, and they both opposes any industrial operations in the watershed.
Back on Delaney’s Prairie,
We didn’t let Duane rest for long Thursday. Duane, Cindy and I joined Mike Delaney and Ray Harden at Delaney‘s Prairie in Minburn for a prairie walk and a fish fry lunch. Ray is a longtime active community member, conservation/environmental educator, writer, and a former Dallas County Soil and Water Commissioner.
We discussed Iowa conservation efforts in the watershed and what’s happening in Dallas County. Ray was delighted to share fish that he recently caught in the Minnesota boundary waters. As Mike pointed out his restored prairie plants, Mike’s dog Eddie, Duane, Cindy and I enjoyed the beautiful walk while capturing views of the low-flowing Raccoon River. The fish fry lunch was beyond fabulous and the rustic cabin atmosphere made an extra special experience during Duane’s Iowa visit.
Just a few hours later, we attended the Iowa Environmental Council’s H20 gathering downtown. Duane was able to meet up with some familiar faces as well as some new people in Iowa’s conservation circles. Over the next few days, Duane spent time in Illinois working with local chapters to gather, share and exchange agriculture conservation efforts around the local and national policy initiatives.
Linn County— Cedar River Initiative
Before Duane departed the heartland, we gathered at the Linn County chapter house in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, September 22nd with IWL’s Linn County President Dale Braun and some community members that have been working on the Cedar River initiative. Former Iowa Outreach Agriculture Coordinator, Tim Wagner joined us and we also met his replacement, Emily Rodriguez, who is based in Champaign, Illinois.
Many of them have met during a gathering in January 2020 and several times “virtually” during the COVID pandemic. Duane led the discussions of what the community needs were and how the new Farm Bill and or IWILL would benefit the community. During the brainstorming discussions every one contributed different priorities and topics, including water quality, soil health, wildlife, recreation, and air and climate. Top on the lists was the need and want for clean water for both public health and recreation. How we get there is another story. It seems so simple but why is it so complicated? Our discussions were helpful in providing Duane direct feedback from this Iowa community as he continues to gather information, ideas and concepts for the new Farm Bill at the policy level.
A few more snapshots—
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.
“Defenders of Soil, Air, Woods, Waters & Wildlife”
Continue to Stay Safe and Stay Engaged…
Stay tuned for more “Thinking Like a Watershed” program details…
“Thinking Like a Watershed”—
Links to recent presentations are here:
—This is the video link: “Heartland Heroines” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Robin Moore & Denise O’Brien— June 1, 2021
—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.
—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.