At a press conference last week, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey introduced five new Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship employees. They are focused on conservation of soil and water in urban areas - as part of an expanded program aimed at improving water quality.
The new urban conservation effort complements the state's long-time conservation programs aimed at helping farmers and agricultural landowners protect soil and water resources. In Iowa, ag-related conservation programs are carried out by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship's Soil Conservation Division, in cooperation with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Urban runoff needs attention
"Urban conservation is something we haven't done a lot about in Iowa, as our state is mostly farm fields," notes Northey. "But as more urban development has taken place in recent years, it's obvious that we need to pay more attention to reducing the amount of runoff from cities, towns and the expanding suburbs. Urban runoff water from rainfall carries pollutants with it as it enters our state's rivers, lakes and streams."
In urban areas, there is a lot of storm water runoff from streets, parking lots, and rooftops, notes Northey, more than you may realize. That water runs directly into streams, rivers and lakes carrying with it the oil, antifreeze and various other pollutants that wash off of roadways, parking lots and pavement.
Also in urban areas, there is construction, excavation and development occurring as houses, streets and buildings are being built. That excavation, unless proper protection measures are taken, results in soil erosion and sediment running off into rivers, lakes and streams.
New methods can reduce runoff
"Unfortunately in the past, management of storm water in our urban areas has only focused on preventing flooding, not protecting water quality," he notes. "Now, new technologies and conservation strategies allow us to do both.
"We can put these methods to work to absorb water and reduce runoff," says Northey. "These five new employees that we have hired in recent months will work with people at the local level across Iowa and help communities install new systems and retrofit existing infrastructure in a way that will move the water off our streets while keeping soil and pollutants out of our waterways."
At the press conference, Northey also recognized the Dickinson County Soil and Water Conservation District in northwest Iowa for receiving the Urban, Community and Coastal Resources Excellence Award from the National Association Conservation Districts. The Dickinson SWCD earned the national recognition for its urban conservation work. The award was presented at the 2008 annual meeting of NACD held earlier this month.
Curbing pollution takes teamwork
"Winning this award is significant," says Northey. "It wasn't New York City, or Chicago or Miami that won this award. It is Dickinson County in northwest Iowa. That shows what good work we can do here to protect our natural resources.
"Iowa has a lot of farmland, and we in agriculture need to continue our efforts to curb soil erosion and protect water quality," he adds. "We both have a lot more to do - both rural and urban people. We need to work together and quit blaming each other for water quality problems. Storm water management in urban areas needs attention. We both have more work to do."
The new urban conservation field staff members in Iowa are based in Polk, Pottawattamie, Johnson and Dickinson counties.
New staff will serve the entire state
The five urban conservationists will provide information and technical assistance on soil and water conservation methods in towns and cities to land development professionals, city officials, government agencies and private landowners.
While located in rapidly developing communities, the conservationists will provide expertise to communities across the state. And, should any new funds become available, additional staff could be hired to focus on additional communities. Five people spread over the whole state is a lot of area to serve, but it is a start.
"Our goal is to have urban and rural areas working together to protect our soil and improve water quality in Iowa," says Northey. "The Iowa Department of Agriculture has years of experience working with farmers and I believe this is just the beginning of increased efforts to assist urban areas on this issue."
Heading up the state's new urban conservation program at IDALS is Wayne Petersen, who recently retired after working many years for NRCS in Iowa. Hired by IDALS in early February, he will lead the team of four urban conservationists IDALS hired last fall. Petersen is the fifth member of the team.
New urban conservation team
Wayne Petersen is based out of the Wallace Building in Des Moines to help oversee IDALS urban conservation efforts. He'll help develop a comprehensive statewide program that incorporates water quality protection into traditional storm water management strategies that have only addressed flood control in the past.
Previously Petersen worked for the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for nearly 32 years, including 11 years as the Urban Conservationist for Iowa. He has a Bachelors Degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University and is a Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control.
Richard Maaske is the new urban conservationist in Pottawattamie County. From 1999 to 2007 Maaske worked as an urban conservation specialist in the Loess Hills area of the state. In this capacity he worked with local governments, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, NRCS, Iowa Department of Agriculture's Division of Soil Conservation and private citizens.
He held numerous workshops for developers, acreage owners, real estate agents, architects, planners and engineers to make them aware of the benefits of using conservation measures in development plans. He has worked with county officials in Pottawattamie and Mills county helping them to develop land use plans, adopting zoning ordinances that allow for low impact development infrastructure.
Amy Bouska is based in Johnson County and will serve Eastern Iowa. She has 16 years of experience working with the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, most recently working as a Project Coordinator for the Lake Macbride Watershed project, which is a 940 acre lake project in the Iowa City area.
Previously she was project coordinator for the Johnson County Urban Water Quality Project. She received her undergraduate degree in Political Science and Geography and a Masters of Science in Urban and Regional Planning, both from the University of Iowa.
Jennifer Welch is the new urban conservationist for central Iowa and is based in Polk County. Previously, she worked for seven years as an urban conservationist with Urban Resources & Borderland Alliance Network, or URBAN, serving four Soil and Water Conservation Districts in central Iowa.
In that position she worked to improve water quality and natural resource conservation in urban and developing areas by providing education, information and technical assistance to governmental units, the development community and citizens in central Iowa.
Welch is co-founder of the Iowa Storm Water Education Program, or ISWEP, a membership organization providing storm water educational resources and leadership to communities across Iowa. She is a Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control and previously worked as a soil conservationist and special projects coordinator for NRCS. She has an undergraduate degree in agronomy and graduate degree in water resources from Iowa State University.
Steve Anderson is the urban conservationist for Dickinson County. He has extensive professional and volunteer experience working in the Iowa Great Lakes area to protect water quality and promote low-impact development.
Most recently he was the coordinator of the Dickinson County Clean Water Alliance. In this position he worked with over 40 conservation groups in Iowa and Minnesota to protect water quality. He graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in environmental science.
"These new staff members bring to our department years of urban conservation experience and a deep passion and desire to protect water quality in our state," says Northey.