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Iowa county conservation boards launch Cedar River Watershed Education Project

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 10/22/2012 2:57 PM

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa —"We Are All in This Together," is the theme of a watershed education project, which is a cooperative effort by the 23 county conservation boards in the Cedar River Watershed.

Vern Fish, executive director of Black Hawk County Conservation, and Dennis Goemaat, deputy director of Linn County Conservation, provided an overview of the project at the recent Cedar River Watershed Coalition meeting at Indian Creek Nature Center.

The project is funded by the Resource Enhancement and Protection and is supported by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The project consists of television and radio education spots, a PowerPoint presentation on watersheds, flooding and potential solutions that can be customized for community groups, and education programs which will be tailored by each of the counties in the watershed.

Goemaat said that after the devastating 2008 flood, county conservation boards talked about what they could do to prevent future flooding.

"We don't have a lot of money, but we do work well together and we have local contacts and good education programs," Goemaat said.

The education project grew out of these discussions.

"The Cedar River Watershed is huge, consisting of 7,830 square miles," Goemaat said. "There are six big sub-watersheds and countless smaller watersheds. We want people to gain an understanding that they can play a role in their watershed."

The education program provides information about how land use has changed and how that contributed to flooding. A big focus is on solutions. Information delves into restoring and building wetlands, creating rain gardens, using permeable paving, implementing strip-till farming, and planting native grass buffer strips along river and streams.

Both private and public wild lands along rivers and streams reduce silt and sand in stream bottoms. Wetland storage reduces silt that may enter streams and wetland plants and soils reduce the chemicals that may enter the stream.

Bottomland forests hold water back and use the nutrients in the overflowing waters, reducing chemicals that may enter the stream. Wetlands, prairies, and woodlands slow down the water, causing the sediment to settle out.

If wild lands are to be publicly owned — like those managed by county conservation coards — that, too, requires an investment of public funds, Goemaat said.

Fish, who appeared in the videos that ran on TV stations throughout the watershed, said that many people talk to him about how they saw him in the videos.

"We want to see this translate to practices on the ground," Fish said. "We have to get this in front of policy makers at the local, state and federal level."

The educational products developed for the Cedar River Watershed Education Project are available to anyone who wants to use them, Goemaat said. Watershed projects and cities and counties in the watershed can use the logos. A websitet includes solutions as well as links to other organizations.

To see the website, go to www.mycountyparks.com and click on Cedar River Watershed in the left column. Contact local county conservation boards about programs in specific counties.