Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

SOS training in southeast Minnesota will take place this fall or early next spring. Eased Covid restrictions allow us to resume the stream side portion of becoming SOS certified but in the meantime, some components remain online. Certification is not required to join a stream team but it makes for a richer experience and it does permit one to enter team data on the national Clean Water Hub. By the way, anyone can browse the Hub to see what other streams look like all over the United States. Photo by Caroline van Schaik

But first!


Top of page for deadlines, with details below. Read on for how to act on your priorities:
➢ Fall water sampling at eight Driftless sites in southeast Minnesota starting now. No experience required; enthusiasm mandatory!
➢ Stream side training for stream monitoring, in southeast Minnesota soon.
➢ Conservation program for farmland owners who don’t drive their own tractors, in Iowa this early winter.


Stream side sampling, SOS-style


Our Driftless stream teams are gearing up for fall sampling. Please contact Caroline van Schaik if you would like to get your hands wet, literally, in the world of water chemistry and biology, data collection, and a lovely way to be outdoors and contributing to an ongoing understanding of our public waters. Plus, this is a good way to prepare for an in-person training on Save Our Streams protocol (SOS. Read on for details.


SOS training in-person
On a related note, we will be hosting an in-person Save Our Streams (SOS) training between now and next spring. Please contact Caroline van Schaik if this interests you. Our stream side program will take place on public waters in southeast Minnesota with certified trainer Dr. Jenny Biederman.  Sampling with us this fall is a good way to get a sense of the volunteer program. The national website is worth a browse as well.

The SOS program, begun 51 years ago, is a national effort by the Izaak Walton League to engage all sorts of people in collecting data across the US according to standard protocols. Data are uploaded to a searchable hub and are used at the federal level to inform water policy and practice. In-person training had been suspended due to Covid, so the ability to meet again is thrilling.


“Why Conservation?” for non-farming farmland owners


A short workshop on inserting conservation practices into your farmland agreement will be held in Iowa in late fall. It will be specifically aimed at farmland owners who don’t themselves work their land, and women especially are encouraged to join us. The Ambassadors program of the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN) is a partner. Please contact Caroline van Schaik for details.



Hands-on at the Winona Farmers Market


Members of stream teams and the Will Dilg Izaak Walton League staffed a water education booth at the Winona Farmers Market and found a willing audience of many ages. While squirming macro invertebrates captured the attention of the younger set, grown ups discussed issues ranging from winter salt to boat houses to dairy expansions.  Photo by Barry Drazkowski


As advertised, we brought fresh-caught macro-invertebrates, nitrate test strips, fish kill updates, and karst displays to the Winona Farmers Market on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. This was a return-by-demand event to help shoppers of all ages connect more substantially to public waters. We met a lot of people who wanted to talk! As volunteer and Ikes chapter president Barry Drazkowski noted, “We had a constant flow of folks till we were told to shut down at noon.  Had folks interested in a broad range of issues, like water quality, drinking water, ground water, the Mississippi, watersheds, sand, mining, and other stuff. The inverts were the big draw for the kids and younger folks.  I think it was a big success.” And so it was! While UMRI staff coordinate stream teams of volunteers who monitor Driftless Area sites, these one-on-one conversations get to a different segment of equally interested water users who act via their city councils, neighborhoods, classrooms, and many other venues. The farmers market once again provided a captive audience for connecting winter salt, fishing, the Driftless aesthetic, and urban lives.

Bluffland karst topography defines the flow of ground water – and the soil and contaminants that travel with water – in our Driftless Region. Because of the unique, and uniquely porous nature of this surface- to- bedrock relation, the decisions we make about land use directly affect the quality of our drinking water, fish habitat, and whether we can swim in local streams and rivers. This poster, one of three researched and produced by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and partners, illustrates one of the three karst landscapes that shape southeast Minnesota. Note the QR code for a short video. There are additional visuals.

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.