Eagle Grove Students Learn about Conservation Practices on the Farm

Eagle Grove, IA – On September 20th, the Earth Science class from the Eagle Grove High School took a field trip to a farm operated by Tim Smith. Smith, a White House Champion of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture, showed how he incorporates cover crops, strip tillage, and a bioreactor into his farm operation. Students also traveled 12 miles north of his farm to tour a wetland CREP site. Tim, along with Bruce Voigts and Tas Stephen from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in the Clarion USDA office, discussed how the benefits these practices add to soil health and water quality.

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Farmers Connect Conservation to Water Quality at Big Spring

Elkader, IA. – On August 10th, fifty farmers from the Upper Roberts and Silver Creek Watersheds enjoyed an evening of family fun at the Big Spring Trout Hatchery along the Turkey River near Elkader. The Second Annual Landowner Appreciation Day allowed farmers and their families to follow the path of water that drains from their land to where it reemerges at Big Spring.

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IWConf17 presentation applications are due (really) soon

If you’ve been putting off submitting an application to present at the 2017 Iowa Water Conference, put it off no longer – applications are due Sunday night (Aug 14) at 11:59 p.m. The IWConf17 planning committee will review in the weeks following as the “first cut” for determining the 2017 conference agenda.

(It’s okay if you wait until Sunday to submit. It’s not procrastination. You’re busy. It’s prioritization.)

Wondering if you should submit an application? Do you answer yes to any of the following questions?

-Do you have a story to tell about watershed successes?

-Are you looking for partners for a current or new project?

-Do you have the latest tool in your water management field with proven results?

-Have you figured out a way to engage new sectors of populations in water-related activities or conversations?

From the call for applications:

This year’s theme, “Watershed Management: Partnerships for Progress,” promotes water resource management from a watershed perspective, with a particular emphasis on the partnerships necessary to accomplish goals. Improving water management on a watershed scale is a complex undertaking due to the variety and sheer number of stakeholders. Watersheds do not adhere to political jurisdictions; they often cross borders of different cities of town, counties, and in some cases, states. The 11th Annual Iowa
Water Conference looks for presentations to tell stories of successes and lessons learned through forged partnerships while providing updates on the latest technical approaches to water management from a variety of perspectives.
One final thing to note – conference goers have requested to hear more stories of successful implementation- a translation of research/development into practice. They want to come away with an idea of how your presentation’s focus fits into their lives. The committee will be looking at applications through that lens this year.
Instructions for submitting are in the call for applications. As usual, if you have questions – let us know.

The Elixir of Life: An Invitation

Guest blog by Jodi Enos-Berlage, Biology Professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa

Water—one of the simplest molecules on earth, is the basis for all life, and this requirement is non-negotiable. The great mystery then, is how we humans have allowed this sacred molecule to become the most polluted substance on earth, and what we should do to solve this problem.

Six years ago, an ISU Extension representative called me to ask if I would be interested in leading a water quality monitoring effort in an impaired waterhshed in Northeast Iowa. I was a scientist and an educator who grew up on a farm. I had read about the many water quality problems in Iowa. In fact, I lived in this impaired watershed, and knew my farm might be contributing to the problem. I said yes.

What began as project to collect water quality data evolved into something much bigger—sharing data and forming relationships with local farmers, using that data to secure funding for water quality improvement practices, developing a three-week, water-focused laboratory in my microbiology course, six years of water quality research involving over 15 undergraduate students, eight presentations and publications, and finally, an amazing collaboration with a dancer, a musician, and a cinematographer at Luther College that resulted in Body of Water. I now invite you to experience this unique work.

Body of Water is an original, unique performance that intermixes dance, music and video components. Art and science are intentionally interwoven to create an end product more powerful than the sum of its parts. The overall goal was to reveal the sacredness of this essential molecule and elixir of life. No one in our group was aware of a precedent for this type of performance, so it was a real experiment.  While the videos, many of which I narrate, tell the story of the essentialness of water for life, its geographic connectivity, its chemistry and biology, and the major pollutants that impact both surface and groundwater, the dancers and musicians produce complementary and novel movements that provide the basis for emotional and human connection.  We spent hours interviewing various stakeholders about water–this informed the performance, and some of their visual and audio clips are included.  Local and state water issues, both agricultural and urban, are highlighted.  The reverence that Native American populations have consistently and powerfully exhibited for this precious resource also inspired the work.

Notably, the purpose of the performance was not to take any particular position, e.g., a regulatory or voluntary approach, mainly because no matter where someone might stand on this spectrum, it has a divisive effect.  Our goal was to create a performance that would unite, through an informational, and perhaps more importantly, emotional and spiritual experience. Based on the audience responses at the multiple sold out shows at Luther College, and at the subsequent Grinnell Summer Arts Festival, we are humbled by the outcome.  The audience we attracted at Luther was one of the most diverse ever in terms of a performance, and included members of agricultural, urban, and conservation groups, scientists and artists, educators and students, and community members and leaders. It is our sincere hope that the performance at ISU will attract a similarly diverse audience.

We are incredibly excited to be partnering with a group of Ames High School students—the Bluestem Institute—for the pre-performance, as the creative work of our young people provides the greatest inspiration. These students will be presenting the beautiful products of their year-long research and service learning project focused on water. We have much to learn from them.

Ultimately, we acknowledge Body of Water as a prayer to return to a right relationship with the earth—recognizing that our own success is not dependent our abilities to control or dominate, but on our abilities to harmonize and see ourselves as a part. In this spirit, we are freely contributing our energies to spread this message. There is no charge for admission and we hope you will be inspired to attend.

Body of Water will be presented as a part of Art of Water 2016 on March 23 at CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa

Water research presentations at the Iowa Water Conference

In addition to the many breakout presentations already scheduled at the Iowa Water Conference, we’ll also offer a venue for recent water research to be presented. The following eight presentations have been scheduled:

Wednesday, March 23

Plans to Make Satellite Soil Moisture Work in Iowa
Brian Hornbuckle, Iowa State University Department of Agronomy

New satellites are producing maps of current soil moisture conditions.  There are problems, however.  A NASA-led field experiment will be conducted in Central Iowa this coming summer to address these issues.   We will describe the experiment plan.

Effects of Some Phosphorus and Soil Conservation Management Practices on Dissolved and Total Phosphorus Loss with Surface Runoff
Antonio Mallarino & Mazaq U. Har, Iowa State University Department of Agronomy

Efforts are being developed at federal, state, and private levels to reduce the impact of agricultural practices on phosphorus (P) loss from fields and water quality impairment. This presentation will share results of recent and ongoing Iowa research that has been looking at how management practices such as the P rate and source as well as other conservation practices impact the amount and proportion of dissolved and particulate P loss with surface runoff.

Understanding the Diversity in Nutrient Management Practice Use in Midwestern Agriculture
Hanna Bates, Prairie Rivers of Iowa

Social science studies have shown that information access and social networks can affect nutrient management practice adoption. In this presentation, we ask: What is the relationship between different aspects of farmers’ social networks and the adoption of diverse nutrient management practices?  Using 2012 Rural Life Farm Poll data, this presentation attempts to answer that question and explore implications for outreach and technical support strategies to farmers.

How Efficiently do Corn- and Soybean-based Cropping Systems use Water? A Systems Modeling Analysis
Ranae Dietzel, Iowa State University Department of Agronomy

Agricultural systems are being challenged to decrease water use and increase production while climate becomes more variable and the world’s population grows. This work looked at systems-level definition of water use efficiency that addresses both production and environmental quality goals through incorporating all major system water losses. It provides a framework to concurrently evaluate production and environmental performance of cropping systems.

Thursday, March 24

Getting Into Soil and Water Virtually with PEWI
Lisa Schulte Moore, Iowa State University Natural Resource Ecology and Management

Soil and water conservation are top priorities for Iowans, but we are challenged in how to achieve it. Trying new things is costly, which stymies creativity. This presentation discusses an online tool, PEW, developed to help overcome this hurdle.

Comparing the water-use and water-use-efficiency of biomass sorghum and maize in the rain-fed, Midwest, US
Matt Roby, Iowa State University Department of Agronomy

Climate variability and a projected increase in demand for non-grain ethanol feedstock may necessitate expanding the production of more water-use-efficient and less drought sensitive crops for biofuel applications in the Midwest, US. This research highlights the importance of understanding the potential effects of expanding biomass sorghum production on the hydrologic cycle of the Midwestern US.

Seasonal forecasting of discharge for the Raccoon River at Van Meter, Iowa
Gabriele Villarini, University of Iowa IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering

The state of Iowa is regularly afflicted by severe natural hazards such as the 2008/2013 floods and the 2012 drought. To improve preparedness for these catastrophic events and allow Iowans to make more informed decisions about the most suitable water management strategies, we have developed a framework for medium to long range probabilistic seasonal streamflow forecasting for the Raccoon River at Van Meter, a 8900-km2 catchment located in central-western Iowa.

Assessment of Flood Mitigation Strategies for the City of Kalona, Iowa
David Koser, University of Iowa IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering

In order to reduce flooding, communitites often try to control runoff with a storm sewer network, detention basins, low impact developments, and upstream storage to reduce stream overflow. A couple 1D/2D hydraulic model using XPSWMM was created for the town of Kalona, IA, to test different strategies for flood reduction.

The Eighth [Business] Day of Christmas: Current Technology

On the eighth[business] day of Christmas, the Iowa Water Center gave to me…descriptions for the breakout session Current Technology.

The following presentations will take place at the Iowa Water Conference in Ames on the morning of Thursday, March 24, 2016. Registration for the conference will open in January.

Introducing Iowa StreamStats version 4, a redesign of the U.S. Geological Survey application for estimating low-flow frequencies, flow durations, and flood frequencies for stream sites in Iowa
David Eash, Hydrologist, US Geological Survey

The USGS Iowa StreamStats version 4 application provides a redesigned user interface, streamlined core functionality, map interaction that is more intuitive for users, and improved communication with users for the estimation of 30 streamflow statistics for stream sites in Iowa.

Improving Water Quality through Precision Business Planning
David Muth, Jr., Senior Vice President, AgSolver, Inc.

There is currently a perception that economic and environmental performance are competing objectives. The reality is that once we understand how business performance is actually varying within our fields we can find opportunities to improve economic and environmental performance simultaneously.

Over land, water, air and cyberspace — Using new resources in watershed planning
Gregory Pierce, Water Resource Engineer, RDG Planning + Design

Learn how new technologies have changed the study of watersheds and how they were applied in preparing the Walnut Creek Watershed Plan in the rapidly changing 53,000 acre watershed in Central Iowa.

Using technology to fill information gaps on BMP benefits between on-the-ground implementation and large scale planning efforts
Drew Kessler, Scientist, Houston Engineering, Inc.

This presentation will demonstrate how emerging technologies are being used to fill the information gaps between regional, state, and watershed plans, and the benefits of specific on-the-ground conservation projects and practices.


Iowa Water Center seeks partners for community arts event

We’ve got something brewing over here at the Iowa Water Center, and we’re pretty excited about it.

This year is the tenth anniversary of the Iowa Water Conference (in its current form), so we thought we’d make it kind of special. The conference agenda (which will be released soon!) is particularly spectacular this year, but we can always do more.

The idea started off that we’d have Luther professors Jodi Enos-Berlage and Jane Hawley bring their Body of Water performance to Ames for conference goers to attend on the first night of the conference. This multimedia approach to water education seemed like a provocative addition to our two-day event, and we’ve had requests for several years to bring back an evening reception/activity for those attending from out of town. A lovely idea!

But then, we learned about a project that local Ames High School students are working on that also combines art and water education. The students within The Bluestem Institute at AHS are creating photo collages combined with text from interviews to define water quality terms from a technical, social and cultural perspective. They’ll be presenting during the Iowa Water Conference, but the work they’re doing is something to behold, so we didn’t want to limit it to conference attendees.

LIGHTBULB. Gallery session before the Body of Water performance. A community event, adjacent to the Iowa Water Conference, but not solely for paid attendees. Invite the community, far and wide.  These unique approaches to water outreach and education need to reach as many people as possible. Our state has some incredibly innovative environmental education efforts (Water Rocks!, anyone?), and it’s our job to display, disseminate, expose and otherwise facilitate learning. We at the Iowa Water Center are on a mission to better the state of water in the state of Iowa. Education and outreach are a big part of that.

But, we can’t do it alone. We want this evening event to be well-attended and free of charge to patrons. So we’re asking for partners – be it financial sponsors, connectors, marketers – whatever you can do to help make this happen, we want to talk to you. If you are interested in learning more or helping us brainstorm, contact us. We can’t wait to talk with you!

Iowa’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts – Good conference, good people

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we headed down to Prairie Meadows in Altoona for the 2015 Iowa Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners 69th Annual Conference. The Iowa Water Center has exhibited at the last three conferences, and we must say, it gets better every year. Clare Lindahl and her staff at Conservation Districts of Iowa work incredibly hard to put together a fun, informative conference with some big names in the business – the luncheon speaker on Tuesday was Kirk Hanlin, Assistant Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and on Wednesday, Iowa’s own Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Our limited budget doesn’t allow us to exhibit at a lot of conferences each year, but we make sure to include this conference at the top of our list. We always see good friends, like Jamie Benning, who masterfully connects people and watersheds to Extension programming as the Water Quality Program Manager for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and Jackie Comito with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! (who, by the way, was honored this past spring as a recipient of the National Wetlands Award).  We were happy to see we were positioned next to our perennial neighbor at this conference, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. It gives us a chance to catch up with our colleagues – these are busy times in the Iowa water landscape, so we don’t always have the time to keep up with each other like we’d like to!

Another reason we keep coming back is the quality conversations we have with attendees of the conference. Our booth is boring compared to some others – we don’t hand out pens, or candy, or keychains – in fact, this year, we just had our display, Iowa Water Conference Save-the-Date postcards, and copies of our white paper of Water Resources Priorities from the 2015 Iowa Water Conference session. But the district commissioners don’t care that they won’t pick up a water bottle or a stress ball from us. They want to know who we are, what we do, what we’re working on, and how they can use us as a resource. These are elected officials who will go back home after two days of soaking up information and will use it to better soil and water conservation management in their district. There are 500 soil and water conservation district commissioners, and they want to talk to you (yes, you!) about what can be done in YOUR district for soil and water. Find contact information for your commissioners and have a conversation about conservation.

PRACTICES: A tale of grassed waterways

Guest post by John Gilbert of Gibralter Farms, an Iowa Century Farm raising dairy, pigs and crops in the South Fork [Iowa River] Watershed in Hardin County.

The folks of Gehrke Construction, Eldora, and the Hardin County office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently finished shaping  what is now Gibralter Farms’ longest waterway.

About 1900 feet in length (three-eighth of a mile), the channel is designed to safely move water that runs off the surface of about 80 acres down 40 feet in elevation to where it can spread out in grass pastures before entering The Southfork, a tributary of the Iowa River.  (The channel will be seeded to sod-forming grass in the spring;  cross-channel fabric checks protect it until then.)  Part of the route has been a waterway for a long time, but recent years of heavier rains have re-enforced the need to control the water all the way across our crop fields.

This is the fourth waterway across this farm moving surface water from the uplands to the north to grass and wetland areas buffering The Southfork, all rebuilt since 2008.  Public money has helped cover half the cost on all but one reconstruction, and could be slightly more than $4,500 on this project.

In addition to the cash assistance, NRCS personnel provided engineering design and layout at no additional cost.  Even after spending 14 years as a commissioner for the Hardin County Soil and Water Conservation District, I’m challenged to explain just what the public gets for their investment in projects like ours.  Obviously, it facilitates getting it done, as it would be harder to budget the whole cost into any year’s expenses, but could be covered by cutting back on other improvements.  Cost share projects are designed to help keep soil from washing, and to protect water quality, and this project will have some benefit for both.

In the final analysis, the benefit is really more one of the public having some involvement in protecting the land, which really is a commonly held resource…one on which we all rely.  Recent trends in farming — with fewer owner-operators and more ownership physically and generationally removed from the land — have eroded (pun intended) the understanding that good soil stewardship is a responsibility that goes with the privilege of using the land.

Farms are not like Vegas; what happens here doesn’t stay here.  What we do as farmers affects us all.  That’s why we’re glad to get this project done.

Most people might not see bulldozed dirt as art, but a well shaped waterway is a thing of beauty.  One more thing to be thankful for.