TourWestUnion

Touring the Otter Creek Watershed

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Despite a rainy start to the day, nearly 60 people gathered for a bus tour of the Otter Creek Watershed in Northeast Iowa on June 8. Participants saw rural and urban conservation practices designed and installed to reduce flooding in the watershed.

The tour began and ended in West Union, Iowa, where downtown infrastructure has been upgraded to enhance stormwater management. This project includes more than four acres of permeable pavers for downtown streets and sidewalks placed over a bed of crushed stone. This system has the capacity to manage a hundred-year storm, with no discharge for rainfall events between 0.5–0.75 inches.

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Bill Bennett, Turkey River WMA Board member and Otter Creek Watershed Landowner

The first stop of the morning was a large on-road structure east of West Union, one of five built in the Otter Creek Watershed as part of the recently completed Iowa Watersheds Project. This baffle-type installation on a roadway culvert impounds water upstream of the roadway, slowing runoff. Fayette County Engineer Joel D. Fantz told the group that this type of structure is a win-win for taxpayers, landowners, and residents of the county.

Next up, participants saw two farm ponds, which can reduce flood damage by storing water during high runoff periods. Ponds hold back floodwaters temporarily and release the water at a slower rate, lowering peak flood discharge downstream and supporting soil conservation efforts. Landowner and Turkey River Watershed Management Authority (WMA) board vice-chair Bill Bennett told the crowd, “If we can capture the water where it falls, we’ll be much better off.”

Downtown Elgin, set at the confluence of Otter Creek and the Turkey River, recently completed a downtown revitalization project that incorporated permeable pavers into parking areas on either side of the city’s main street. Two riparian wetlands also provide storage for stormwater runoff.

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Rod Marlatt, Fayette CCB Director speaks about Rush Prairie Wildlife Sanctuary

After an amazing lunch at the Brick City Bar and Grill in Elgin (provided by Fehr Graham Engineering, Turkey River WMA, and the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District), it was back on the bus for a ride to the Rush Prairie Wildlife Sanctuary near West Union. The 234-acre sanctuary includes almost 90 acres of native prairie, more than 40 acres of buffer strips, and 103 acres of tillable land. It has never been tiled and contains one of the largest remaining prairie parcels in Fayette County. The property provides wildlife habitat, botanical diversity, and water-quality benefits to the watershed.

Sponsors for the Otter Creek Watershed Tour included: Iowa Flood Center, Turkey River WMA, Fayette County Conservation Board, Fayette County Board of Supervisors, Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District, Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, Fehr Graham Engineering & Environmental, and Brick City Bar and Grill.

More photos of the Otter Creek Watershed Tour can be viewed on the Iowa Watershed Approach Facebook page.

 

IFC Hydro Stations Provide Weather Data Farmers Need

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For farmers, timely information is vital. The Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa is deploying new hydrologic stations that provide real-time weather information that farmers can use. The stations measure rainfall, wind speed and direction, and soil moisture and temperature. A shallow groundwater well also provides information about the water table. And the IFC makes all the data publicly available on the internet.

Father and son Stewart and Jared Maas farm about 1,800 acres 25 miles west of Iowa City. Their home farm is the site of one of the new IFC hydrologic stations. “We try to do everything the right way,” Jared explains, and data collected by the IFC hydro station can help. As Stewart and Jared prepare for spring fieldwork, they can check the online sensor data to learn when the soil is ready to plant, the best time for field applications, and how to plan for changing weather conditions.

“It helps a lot,” Stewart says. One example is the application of fertilizer in the fall. Farmers are encouraged to wait until soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or colder to limit nitrogen loss. Stewart and Jared now have facts on which to base their decisions — a real advantage for big operations like theirs. For Stewart and Jared, the data provide peace of mind that they’re doing things “the right way.”

Stewart has been working with University of Iowa researchers for years. “The university has been really good to us here,” Stewart says. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the hydrology department.”

IIHR Research Engineer, Jim Niemeier, explains the data the hydro station collects

Besides providing vital information for agriculture, sensor data also support IFC activities for the $97M Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) statewide program focused on reducing flood risk in nine watersheds across Iowa. The Maas farm is in the Clear Creek Watershed, which is part of the IWA. John Rathbun, project coordinator for the Clear Creek Watershed, says that interest in the IWA is growing among landowners in the basin. “It’s really all about building relationships,” he explains. Participation in the IWA is entirely voluntary for landowners, and farmers get a 75% cost share if they choose to build a conservation practice such as a farm pond on their property.

With funding from the IWA, the IFC will deploy a network of 20 hydrologic stations this year. The new sensors represent an expansion of the IFC’s current network of nearly 50 similar rain gauge stations statewide. This growing network of hydrologic stations is helping the IFC reach its goal of 100 stations deployed in Iowa—one in each county. This network will help researchers and stakeholders better predict floods, assess droughts, and manage water resources. In addition, Iowa’s farmers can use the information to support their crop management systems and potentially boost yields.

The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) online tool provides real-time information on watersheds, precipitation, and stream levels for more than 1,000 Iowa communities. Data collected from the hydrologic stations can be accessed at ifis.iowafloodcenter.org/ifis/app.

“Farming doesn’t pay very well,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “It makes farming fun, getting involved in some of these things.”

Meet Kate Giannini, Communications Specialist for the IWA

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Kate Giannini, pictured with husband (Ryan Giannini), and two sons.

Kate Giannini, pictured with husband (Ryan Giannini), and two sons.

Kate Giannini, a Johnson County native, has been immersed in the conservation and natural resources field on agricultural and urban landscapes for eleven years.

A majority of that time was spent in a partnership position between the Johnson County Planning Department and the Johnson County Soil & Water Conservation District.

During that time, Kate gained valuable experience with NRCS conservation planning, best management practice (BMP) implementation, project management, watershed assessment, monitoring, and planning.

She has experience collaborating with many different types of partners, public agencies, NGO’s, private individuals and companies on best ways to implement conservation economically, improve soil health and water quality, and reduce flooding.

Kate is excited to meet and learn from the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) partners and project coordinators and integrate her technical skills and community outreach knowledge to the IWA.

In her free time she enjoys being outside, traveling, hunting, kayaking, and spending time with her two young boys (Easton & Nolan) and husband, Ryan.

Kate and her family reside in Washington County, where she also serves as an elected Soil Commissioner.

 

Get to Know Marius Agua

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By Mikael Mulugeta

After two years as project manager for an NGO project in the Philippines, Marius Agua will serve as the project coordinator for the North Raccoon River Watershed Management Coalition (NRRWMC).

In this new role, Agua will work with the NRRWMC to facilitate watershed planning activities, manage the implementation of flood resiliency conservation projects, and share information with the public across the watershed to ensure the program’s effectiveness. He will help identify suitable locations to implement conservation practices designed to retain water and reduce flooding, as well as assist landowners as they work to reduce soil and nutrient loss.

Originally from Calapan City, Philippines, Agua received a BS in agricultural engineering from the University of the Philippines, an MS in soil science and water management from Wageningen Agricultural University, and a PhD in agricultural engineering from the University of the Philippines.

We caught up with Agua to discuss his new position.

Q: Where did you work before you took this position?

A: From 2016-2017, I was the project manager of an NGO project called “Strengthening Grassroots Advocacy to Protect Critical Watershed from the Mindoro Nickel Project” in Mindoro, Philippines. The Goldman Environmental Award funded the project.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your role with NRRWMC?

A: As project coordinator, I hope to orchestrate and contribute to the formulation of the North Raccoon River Watershed management plan by working with the different partners in the NRRWMC and the stakeholders in the watershed area.

Secondly, I hope to be instrumental in fulfilling the goals of the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA).

Q: How did you hear about the opening and what was appealing about the position?

A: I found the position announcement online and I wanted to be productive and contribute something meaningful. Furthermore, my academic background and training, my experience in research and project engagement/consultancy, and my advocacy for environmental protection fit the position and the values of the IWA.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell the NRRWMC and IWA partners?

A: First, I would like to thank the NRRWMC for giving me the opportunity to serve and contribute to the IWA program. I am excited to work with the coalition, with the different IWA partners, and with farmers and landowners. I am determined to work and win together!

Q: What are some hobbies of yours?

A: Lap swimming and table tennis.

Q: What do you enjoy reading?

A: I like to read the news and articles about health, water, politics, the environment, and the projects in my home province in Oriental Mindoro, Philippines. I also read books that reference topics related to my job and about water science and environmental issues.

Q: What is your favorite food?

A: I am lucky to have taste buds that are easy to please. However, my favorites include native Filipino dishes. I am a fan of vegetables and Asian food in general.

Get to Know Matthew Frana

By Mikael Mulugeta

 

Following six years of experience with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa native Matthew Frana will serve as the project coordinator for the Upper Iowa River Watershed (UIRW).

In this new role, Frana will work with the UIRW to facilitate watershed planning activities, manage the implementation of flood resiliency conservation projects, and share information with the public across the watershed to ensure the program’s effectiveness. He will help identify suitable locations to install conservation practices designed to retain water and reduce flooding, as well as assist landowners as they work to reduce soil and nutrient loss while enhancing wildlife habitat.

Originally from Conover, Iowa, Frana received a BA in general studies and a master’s in ecosystem management from the University of Northern Iowa.

We caught up with Frana to discuss his new position.

 

Q: Where did you work before you took this position?

A: I spent three years as a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Osage, Iowa. Before that I spent about three years as a wetland specialist for the NRCS, split between Muscatine and Boone, Iowa. I also worked with the Americorps/DNR as a habitat specialist out of West Union, Iowa, and as a biological technician for the National Park Service at Effigy Mounds in Harpers Ferry, Iowa.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your role with UIRW?

A: Mainly to help address the goals of the Iowa Watershed Approach, which are to reduce flood risk, improve water quality, increase flood resilience, engage stakeholders, and improve the quality of life and health of people within the watershed, while developing a program that can be replicated throughout the Midwest and nation. By doing so, I hope to contribute to a community of people who takes great pride in this part of the state by assisting with the process of improving resilience and sustainability.

Q: How did you hear about the opening and what was appealing about the position?

A: A friend of mine told me about it. I actually grew up in the watershed, and spend a lot of time kayaking, fishing, hiking, and camping in it. I’m looking forward to giving back to an area that I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from by promoting efforts to protect and enhance it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to tell the Upper Iowa River WMA and IWA partners?

A: I’m looking forward to meeting everyone involved and seeing how we can all come together to accomplish the goals laid out by the IWA.

Q: What’s a hobby of yours?

A: Magnets.

Q: What is the last book you read?

A: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig.

Q: What’s your favorite movie?

A: Lethal Weapon 6

Q: What’s your favorite food?

A: Rum ham.

Q: Where would you like to go that you’ve never been?

A: Machu Picchu, Peru.

Q: What’s your hidden talent?

A: I’ve always enjoyed dabbling in art through various media, but really enjoy messing around with photography.