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2017 Spring Meeting Recap

Posted on April 19th, 2017

March 31, 2017: Improving the Upper Cedar Watershed – Challenges & Successes

On Friday, March 31, 2017, over 50 supporters from across the Cedar River Watershed convened in Osage to learn about the leadership of local farmers and conservationists in the Upper Cedar Watershed. The meeting blended science, policy, sociology, economics, and even a little country music, to highlight several successful projects and initiatives. We are grateful to the Mitchell County Conservation Board for the use of their facility, Mitchell Soil & Water Conservation District for providing snacks and coffee, Iowa Corn Growers for providing lunch, and each of the speakers for taking time out of their busy spring schedules.

The meeting began with a welcome from the Coalition’s co-chairs, State Senator Rob Hogg and Vern Fish (who recently retired from serving as Executive Director of the Black Hawk Soil & Water Conservation District). Next on the agenda was a panel presentation on Upper Cedar Watershed improvement activities. The Upper Cedar is a hot spot for urban and rural conservation activities aimed at both water quality improvement and flood risk reduction, and the goal of the panel presentation was to highlight some of these efforts. Dennis Carney gave an update on the Upper Cedar Watershed Management Authority, and their efforts to bring together local governments, landowners, and other stakeholders to collaboratively address watershed concerns. Two farmers from the Rock Creek watershed – Wayne Fredericks and Dean Sponheim – inspired the audience with stories of their personal conservation journeys, and shared their advice to conservationists. The panel also included Steve Diers, the City Administrator with the City of Charles City, to describe the City’s investments in green infrastructure within the city boundaries as well as further upstream in the rural areas of the Upper Cedar Watershed. Justin Hanson of the Mower County SWCD, on the other side of the IA – MN border, provided information about the Cedar River Watershed District and the urgent need to address flooding concerns that threaten community infrastructure in Austin, MN.

Dr. Rick Cruse, Director of the Iowa Water Center at Iowa State University, was next on the agenda to provide a sobering look at the impact soil erosion has on farm fields, from both an environmental and an economic standpoint. Dr. Cruse reminded the group that erosion does not just affect hilly areas, but needs to be considered in all farming operations.

For those farmers and conservationists who wanted to understand more about nitrate losses from farm tile outlets, Ben Gleason, Sustainable Program Manager at Iowa Corn Growers, distributed Retain toolkits that contain test strips for on-site nitrate testing. For more information about this program, visit

Following lunch, the conversation focused on Iowa’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Judith Krebsbach, the CREP coordinator at Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, gave an overview of the CREP program. As of 2014, 72 CREP wetlands had been completed with another 23 in the works. Dr. Chris Jones, a researcher at the University of Iowa (IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering) followed up with information about continuous water monitoring data at the Slough Creek CREP wetland, near Orchard in the Upper Cedar watershed.

Meeting participants then had the chance to visit the Slough Creek wetland, which is the second-largest CREP wetland in the state. As if to demonstrate that CREP wetlands provide not just nutrient removal benefits but also important wildlife habitat, a cloud of snow geese greeted the visitors upon arrival. The Slough Creek wetland is on the property of the Stricker family, and several family members were present to share their first-hand experiences working with the CREP program and other partners.

The Upper Cedar Watershed demonstrates that through partnerships among farmers, agricultural groups, conservationists, and urban watershed neighbors, it is possible to achieve our goals of reduced flood risk and improved water quality. Each of us has the opportunity to take ownership of our own piece of the watershed puzzle, whether it be to implement practices on our residential or agricultural property, participate in a watershed improvement project, or simply as taxpayers – many water quality projects would not be possible without the strong backing of state and federal cost-share programs.

Agenda: 3-31-17 Agenda

Press Release: MediaRelease 3-31-17