In a word: overwhelming.

Post written by Melissa Miller, Associate Director for the Iowa Water Center

As I reflect on the 2019 Iowa Water Conference, the first word that comes to mind is overwhelming.

Overwhelming numbers – of people attending, sponsors and exhibitors, and speakers.

Overwhelming breadth of topics and information presented.

Overwhelming energy, optimism, new ideas.

Overwhelming support from you, the Iowa water community.

This is the seventh Iowa Water Conference I’ve coordinated, and I have to say that this one took me by surprise. I felt differently going into it, knowing how much effort the conference planning committee put into developing a well-rounded program and knowing beforehand that we were expecting the biggest conference crowd in the 13 years of the Iowa Water Conference. What was surprising – overwhelming – was the feeling that our water community is more vibrant, more invigorated, more ready to act than ever.

What we’ve always known to be true – that all water has value and a systems approach to watershed management is the only way we will build a sustainable water future – has been neatly articulated by the US Water Alliance as the One Water Approach, presented by Radhika Fox. It’s messaging we can all use in our work to bring new partners on board and develop relationships that didn’t previously exist.

What we’ve faced repeatedly in our work – that we must engage the citizens in our watersheds, but that’s easier said than done – is receiving new life in the form of interactive exhibits and personal storytelling like We Are Water Minnesota; in the crazy, exciting, and realistic flood resiliency tournament used in the East and West Nishnabotna watersheds; in the message that the ideals of citizenship are perhaps even more important in our watershed communities. It’s a reminder that all communication starts with meeting someone where they are and valuing their personal, lived experience before trying to share your message.

What remains to be learned – there is new research, new methods, new discoveries happening constantly with water – is best discovered in a shared learning environment, making the conference more than just a place for information overload. It’s a place where we make and renew friendships and partnerships with those who are working toward the same goals as we are and processing that information together.

I really shouldn’t be surprised that bringing together 550 passionate, intelligent, diverse, and hardworking individuals would be overwhelming (even for me, the most extroverted of all extroverts). It’s just that there are so many highlights from this year’s conference – those mentioned above, and at least 100 others I could mention – that I don’t know yet how to top it next year.

I’ll leave you with an invitation – please share with us what would make this conference overwhelming (in a positive way) – every year. On April 17, we will gather in Ankeny to brainstorm and plan for 2020, and everything is on the table (venue, dates, branding, themes, speakers, logistics, etc.). If you want to be a part of that meeting, contact us. If you have suggestions for the conference, contact us. If you want to keep this energy going throughout the year and need some resources, contact us. Stay in touch – and we’ll see you in 2020.

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Melissa Miller is the associate director of the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Community and Public Health and MS degree in Community Development with an emphasis in Natural Resource Management, both from Iowa State University.