Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

Nothing beats a sticker! Except perhaps to see the macroinvertebrate itself, squirming around under your macro lens! We’ll have some of both at the Winona Farmers Market on Saturday, Sept. 17. You also will be able to use chemical test strips to measure nitrate, phosphorous, and chloride in Lake Winona and Cedar Creek waters, learn a lot about the Driftless region’s unique and difficult karst topography, the latest on the Rush Creek fish kill, and ways to participate in national monitoring programs right here at home. Photo by Emma van Schaik

Hands-on Sept. 17


We bring fresh-caught macro-invertebrates, nitrate test strips, fish kill updates, and karst displays to the Winona Farmers Market on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. This will be a return-by-demand event after a successful outreach venture last summer. Our goal is to help shoppers get their hands wet, literally and figuratively in the world of local water. To be clear, it’s challenged, more in some places than others. UMRI coordinates stream teams of volunteers who monitor Driftless Area sites every spring and fall. The data – which macroinvertebrates have survived, what are nitrate and phosphorous levels compared to the same time in past years, how have the temperature and water clarity changed from season to season, and more – give us a read on how public waters are responding to land use, weather, and disaster events such as the recent fish kill in Rush Creek near Lewiston, MN. The market runs from 7:30 to noon and of course is open to all.


SOS in person at last


On a related note, we will be hosting an in-person Save Our Streams (SOS) training soon. Please – come by the market booth to learn more and to let us know you are interested. Limited space will be filled on a first-come basis. If you won’t be at the market, please contact Caroline van Schaik (

The SOS program is a national effort by the Izaak Walton League; data collected by volunteers according to standard protocols are used at the federal level to inform water policy and practice. Training on the protocols is offered online and soon, streamside. The latter had been suspended due to Covid restrictions.


Stream team members are intrepid in their quest for good data on local waters, and getting a beautiful day to be outside is a significant perk! While training is optional, volunteers like knowing the particulars of the protocols. A Driftless Area workshop is in the planning stages – please let Caroline van Schaik know if this interests you. Spaces will be limited to allow a safe streamside experience.


And a Conservation Victory


The Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden includes $19.5 billion in appropriations over the next five years for USDA conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers adopt better conservation systems. In contrast to most of the current Farm Bill, these new funds might actually reward and encourage land stewards who already are doing good work. It is a sign of hope that at least some in Congress recognize the invaluable role of working farmlands to address the environment. Wetland restoration, rural energy, forestry, and related areas also have allocations. Funds are separate from and in addition to existing Farm Bill programs. According to IWLA’s Agriculture Program Director Duane Hovorka, there is considerable flexibility in how this new funding gets spent by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Please contact him with ideas on where USDA should focus the most attention/funding. Here is the full IWLA press release.



UMRI’s “Thinking Like a Watershed” series has gone fishin’!


Not wishing to compete with long summer days – and who would want to! – we hosted our final 2022 “Thinking Like a Watershed” episode on June 7. Go outside! We will see you in January for stories to inspire a winter’s night, as told by ourselves and good partners on this road to a better landscape. The linked recording of the June 7 presentation – by the head of a 7th generation farm creatively grappling with urban sprawl – is below, as are links to all past programs. Take a listen, take some hope, and let us know if you would like us to consider a certain someone or topic in programs to come. And if you are new to the series, we use these words to describe what shapes it: This monthly series is a project of the Upper Mississippi River Initiative (UMRI) of the Izaak Walton League of America, with co-hosts Chris Henning of the Panora Conservation Chapter and Des Moines Chapter Communication Director, Bud Hartley. We feature guests for 30-40 minute presentations that shed daylight on good works done in the name of the Mississippi and its uplands. In this way we uplift our shared goals for a cleaner river, a cared for environment, and kinder communities. Recorded programs are available shortly after they air live.


Links to recent “Thinking” presentations


 “Your Locally Grown Alternative (Farm)”:  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ LaVon Griffieon- Tuesday June 7, 2022 How the 7th generation of a Century Farm family takes on urbanization, food security, and soil and livestock health… with farmstead matriarch, LaVon Griffieon


“Stream TEAM Science is (slowly) shifting policy!” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Tuesday, May 3, 2022
How E. coli & DNA data changed Mower Co. septic system practices…
A discussion with leaders Larry Dolphin, Bill Buckley, Mark Owens, lifelong members of the Izaak Walton League (IWLA), and Josh Balk, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)


“The 2023 Farm Bill after 100 Years of Conservation!”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Duane Hovorka- April 12th, 2022
How the Izaak Walton League has influenced federal agriculture policy and what WE can do for next year’s Farm Bill…with Duane Hovorka, Agriculture Program Director, Izaak Walton League of America


“Championing the Upper Mississippi River Region” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Mary Ellen Miller— March 8th, 2022
How a life-long conservationist became an advocate for the Mississippi…a League president discusses conservation & change with Mary Ellen Miller, President, League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region


“The POWER of 1 Mississippi & 20,000 River Citizens” Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Kelly McGinnis— February 22nd, 2022 How 58 organizations team up to drive policy—“Can the river count on you?” A call to action…


Photo by: David Thoreson

Save Bloody Run Goes to Court”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Steve Veysey— January 4th, 2022  An update from a Dedicated Water Policy Scientist who has turned Radical to Save Bloody Run.

—“Heartland Heroines”  Thinking Like a Watershed ~ Robin Moore & Denise O’Brien— June 1, 2021  How two savvy conservationists empower working farm landowners to put their inner land ethic to work.

—“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.

—“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.

“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.

“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.