All Iowa LWV's are invited to send representatives to the LWV UMRR ILO Board Meeting at Wikiup Hill Learning Center outside of Cedar Rapids. (Actually, all LWV's are invited to send representatives, whether from Iowa or anywhere else. ) You can join us for our morning Board Meeting from 10 to noon, or join us for the afternoon speakers on what's up in Water in Iowa. This will be an informative session and provide a good chance for people to learn more about the Upper Mississippi watershed, it's myriad tributaries and the work of the ILO. Here's some more info:
1:00 – Presentation –Tony Nemmers, Natural Resource Technician for Linn County Conservation (Dana Kellogg’s assistant) involved in wetland, oxbow reconstruction, and other water quality projects, will be speaking. It really is amazing all that is being done in Linn County. It will be good to know since Linn County is asking its voters to vote for a $40 million dollar water and lands bond referendum.
2:00…Lightning Round We will have several other short reports in a lightning round from leagues in Eastern Iowa about water initiatives in their areas. We would also like to update what is happening with occurring flood in Cedar Rapids and the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties
3:00 Post meeting event - We have been invited to the Morgan Creek Park ribbon cutting ceremony and wetland tour for reconstruction of the oxbow. (It is distance away and may be just too wet.) More information on this event will be provided at the Board meeting.
There's a lot to do in Cedar Rapids, Iowa's second-largest city. It's the home of Grant Woods and has preserved it's Czech and Slovak culture. Plan to come for the weekend and top it off with LWV learning and discussion!
The October 3 meeting of the ILO Board was held at the Wikiup Hill Learning Center, near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In addition to all the usual Board stuff that happens, we heard speakers to share information on measures being undertaken in Linn County and elsewhere in Iowa to protect and improve water quality. Many Iowa Leagues sent members to this event.
The Cedar River begins in southern Minnesota, winding its way south through five of Iowa’s largest cities and some of the richest farmland on Earth. Urban impacts, excess fertilizers and hydrologic modification have changed the river, and developed areas face increased flood risks as wetlands that held water back are lost. Efforts are underway throughout the watershed to restore wetlands, reduce future flood damage and improve water quality. Read about some of these projects here.
At the UMRR’s Oct 3 meeting in Cedar Rapids, Tony Nemmers, Natural Resource Technician for Linn County Conservation spoke about wetland and oxbow reconstruction, and other water quality projects underway in Linn County. It really is amazing all that is being done in Linn County. Nemmers’ PowerPoint is available for viewing here, and includes many lovely projects that are improving water quality as well as storing water to reduce flood risks.
On November 8, Linn County’s voters were asked to approve a $40 million dollar water and lands bond referendum, which passed by a wide margin. Ryan Schlader from Linn County told our group about this referendum and what funds raised will be used for. Also at this meeting, Iowa LWV’s provided short reports in a lightning round from leagues in Eastern Iowa about water initiatives in their areas. It was good to have these local Leagues as part of our meeting!
Make your reservations now for discounted room rates at the Historic De Soto House Hotel in downtown Galena!
LWV of Jo Daviess County is leading the way in forging partnerships with Rotary Clubs in the Upper Mississippi River watershed. Rationale: The problem of nutrient pollution is widespread and systemic in the Upper Mississippi River Watershed, a watershed that encompasses all but very small areas of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Each of these four states is engaged in efforts to reduce total nitrogen and phosphorus in this watershed by 45%.
To reach this goal, hundreds of our communities and thousands of our citizens will need to engage in “spreading the word, growing collaboration, and focusing on action” to get the job done. LWV Jo Daviess is working with the Galena Rotary Club to develop a suggested model for how these two already organized, active, and trustworthy civic organizations can team up to help reach this goal. Partnerships between local LWV’s and Rotary clubs will be formed to spread the word about nutrient pollution and what we all can do to reduce impacts.
One element of this work will be sponsorship of watershed education events through use of the Watershed Game with community groups such as city councils, resort core boards and other civic groups. UMRR ILO member Leagues are urged to send a representative to training so they can run the Watershed Games on their own. Thanks to LWV Jo Daviess, training will be offered in lovely Galena, Illinois, on October 24, which is the first anniversary of the ILO’s official launch. What a fitting way to celebrate!
The training is being held at the DeSoto House Hotel, Galena. September 23rd is the deadline for room reservations within the block reserved. The rate is $90/night available for the nights of the 23rd and 24th. Guests should call 815/777-0090 or 800/343-6562 to make their reservations and should reference the “Watershed Training” block of rooms to get the discounted rate. The cost of the training is only $25, to cover food costs. Please use this form to register for the training.
From Brown to Green: Planting Seasonally Bare Farmland for Productivity and Water Quality Benefits
Fields of brown soil typically appear after the fall harvest until green cropland appears in late spring. Brown, unproductive farmland lacks plants to reduce water runoff, soil erosion, and nutrient loss such as nitrogen. Excess runoff of water, soil and nutrients impair the quality of watersheds and the Mississippi River. Green farmland all year with dense carpets of cover crops and perennials can mitigate harmful impacts of bare soil and provide a crop.
The University of Minnesota (UMN) Extension sponsored a tour of perennial cover crop systems within a corn and soybean rotation. UMN and USDA Agricultural Research Staff answered questions at the UMN Rosemount Research and Outreach Center Field Day Tour on August 24, 2016. Attendees included farmers, agricultural business, government staff and the general public.
The tour addressed these topics:
UMN Researcher Dr. M. Scott Wells explained “Greening the brown period” using these methods:
Cover crop establishment in corn and soybeans using grasses or legumes with tolerance to shade and herbicide successfully holds more soil moisture than crops without cover crops.
Grasses tested were Hard Fescue and Chewings Fescue. Legumes tested were Kura Clover; Crown Vetch; and a legume mix of kura-, red-, white-, ladino, alsike clover, and birdsfoot trefoil.
“Winter Oilseeds as Cash Cover Crops in Corn and Soybean Rotations” considers use of Winter Camelina and Pennycress. These cold-tolerant winter annuals of the mustard family may be economically viable as oil for food and/or biodiesel, and as protein for food and/or animal feed. They have potential as a double or relay crop with corn and soybean. For more information see: http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/ag-professionals/cpm/2015/docs/2015-gesch.pdf
Herbicide diversification, rotation and the risk of carryover herbicide crop damage was also discussed. Many Extension weed scientists advise using a variety of herbicides due to the expansion of herbicide resistant weeds. This handout was provided and more information is available from UMN:
Soil and water retention on a 9% slope using living mulches significantly reduced soil erosion in runoff water, suppressed weeds, retained nitrates in the soil and improved productivity. The following pictures show measurement and results from alternating rows of conventional and mulched corn.
This agricultural tour successfully demonstrated conventional and new crops using experimental equipment and production systems to improve crop productivity, weed suppression, retained nitrates, and improved soil and water quality.
For more information, “The Forever Green Initiative: Developing New Perennial and Winter Annual Crops to Enhance Minnesota’s Soil and Water Resources” is summarized here: http://www.forevergreen.umn.edu
On August 1, the UMRR Board met at the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Visitor Center in Onalaska, Wisconsin (near La Crosse). We were joined by Megen Kabele from the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. This group works with farmers and other land owners to protect farmland from increasingly intense land uses through perpetual conservation easements that are negotiated with the land owners and then enforced by the Conservancy. The Mississippi Valley Conservancy (MVC), a regional, non-profit land trust, has permanently conserved 17,369 acres of blufflands, prairies, wetlands, and streams in and around the Mississippi, Kickapoo and Wisconsin Rivers since their founding in 1997. More than a million visitors to the area each year enjoy the scenic beauty of MVC nature preserves.
Megan told us that the MVC works with private landowners and local communities on voluntary conservation projects in nine counties along or near the Mississippi River: Buffalo, Trempealeau, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Vernon, Crawford, Richland and Grant Counties.
The Conservancy uses voluntary tools such as conservation easements, land acquisitions, and a landowner registry program to protect lands for their ecology, scenic beauty, outdoor recreation potential, and prime agricultural soils. MVC works hard to restore native natural communities by removing invasive species and conducting prescribed burns. Additionally, the Conservancy provides hand-on learning experiences in the outdoors for thousands of young people and works to foster a conservation ethic.
Megen is a native of Northeast Iowa, where she was raised on a small farm near the Wapsipinicon River. She studied Forest Management at Iowa State and later worked with the Forest Service on the Pike-San Isabel National Forest in Colorado. As a Lands Administrator for the Forest Service, Megen was involved with land use activities on National Forest, focusing on recreational and non-recreational activities that also included hard rock mining. Her background in realty actions include land exchange, purchase, donation, and due diligence.
Thanks to Carolyn Mahlum-Jenkins, after the meeting, we were given a tour of the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center research facility in La Crosse. This center is working cooperatively with the US Army Corps of Engineers on Upper Mississippi River restoration. Thanks to Randy Hines for giving us the tour!
The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is a wonderful facility and well worth a visit if you are in the area. There are hiking trails, restored prairies and sweeping vistas and lots of birds, especially in the spring and fall. Another great place to hike nearby is the McGilvray Seven Bridges Road through the Van Loon Scientific and Natural Area.
La Crosse is a city that is embracing its waterfront. Visitors can take paddle boat tours on the Mississippi and see visiting vessels as well as wonderful river environments. Sunset from Granddad’s Bluff is not to be missed when you are in town to enjoy the Upper Mississippi!
The UMRR’s Board meetings have all the usual Board meeting stuff; minutes, treasurer’s reports, new business and all that. But they also feature a guest speaker that provides a focus on the area we are meeting in and what’s happening there to further the mission of the ILO. Local LWV League members and representatives from potential partner organizations are invited to attend this part of the meeting.
In June, Dr. Donald Wyse from U of M spoke on developments in cover crops based on his work at the University of Minnesota. Here’s the website for Forever Green, which has a full version of Dr. Wyse’s presentation.
Dr. Wyse is leading an initiative called Forever Green, which is working to identify and perfect cover crops to keep Minnesota’s farm fields covered to reduce erosion and loss of nutrients. Significant change to cropping practices is needed for Minnesota to meet proposed water quality goals. Dr. Wyse advocates that winter annual and perennial crops need to be integrated into Minnesota’s agricultural landscapes. Adding winter crops to the corn/soybean rotation ill bolster the rural and agricultural economy with high value, commercially marketable food, feed and fuel products. Dr. Wyse told us that a cropping system that includes cover crops can:
• Diversify economic opportunities for Minnesota’s farmers, through the production of new sources of food, feed, and high-value biomaterials, without interfering with current annual production systems.
• Provide ecosystem services such as clean water, healthy soil, pollinator forage and habitat.
• Enable abundant production despite climate variability and new pest and disease pressures.
• Enhance rural communities by creating new industries based on renewable agricultural resources and employment opportunities.
Cover crops and reduced tillage can help agricultural soils improve in health and tilth. Kristin Brennan, USDA Soil Health coordinator for Minnesota, brought a demonstration of how healthy soils work with water. Soil (don’t say “dirt”) is a living ecosystem rich in biodiversity. As the USDA’s soil health website says:
Soil health, also referred to as soil quality, is defined as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. This definition speaks to the importance of managing soils so they are sustainable for future generations. To do this, we need to remember that soil contains living organisms that when provided the basic necessities of life - food, shelter, and water - perform functions required to produce food and fiber.
Only "living" things can have health, so viewing soil as a living ecosystem reflects a fundamental shift in the way we care for our nation's soils. Soil isn’t an inert growing medium, but rather is teaming with billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that are the foundation of an elegant symbiotic ecosystem. Soil is an ecosystem that can be managed to provide nutrients for plant growth, absorb and hold rainwater for use during dryer periods, filter and buffer potential pollutants from leaving our fields, serve as a firm foundation for agricultural activities, and provide habitat for soil microbes to flourish and diversify to keep the ecosystem running smoothly.
Dr. Donald Wyse examines Kernza, or perennial wheat grass.
From Dr. Wyse’s presentation – brown areas are open soil which is subject to erosion and nutrient loss. These areas are open most of the year, with crops only actively covering them in June-October.
Kristin Brennan, left, oversees audience volunteers Mary Jo Truchon from LWV ABC in Anoka, Minnesota and Elizabeth Baker-Knutilla from LWV Park Rapids in poring water through test soils to compare water movement. Baker-Knutilla is also the Minnesota representative from to the UMRR Board.
The June meeting was held at the Mississippi River Watershed organization’s offices in Minneapolis. Members of several local Leagues joined the meeting for Dr. Wyse and Ms. Brennan. Also present were John Sisser, Ag Coordinator for the Izaak Walton League’s Midwest office and Bart Biernat, Water Coordinator for Anoka County, Minnesota. We had plenty of time for visiting and discussion after the talks, a great way to share ideas and build community