Cedar Valley Water Watchers
Cedar Valley Water Watchers is a locally-led, volunteer water monitoring program. Created in response to Iowa DNR funding cuts and the discontinuing of a large portion of the IOWATER program back in 2016. Cedar Valley Water Watchers will work as an integrated network of nonprofit professionals, local and state government agencies, and community members and other volunteers. Land and Water Stewards (LWS) AmeriCorps will act as the primary contact and implementing organization. Members of the LWS AmeriCorps team will also supplement data from community volunteers with other local and state data gathered specifically as part of their AmeriCorps service.
The mission of Cedar Valley Water Watchers is to protect water resources and the people who use them. The program aims to create and maintain a focused network of local volunteers to provide consistent surface water monitoring, accurate information on water quality, and educational opportunities throughout Black Hawk County, Iowa.
The mental and physical benefits of being outside are staggering, which is why it's so important to have readily available outdoor recreation space at a University, where stress can be overwhelming. In 2018, Land and Water put together a collective map of UNI's free, outdoor trails. They are located all over campus, and offer short hikes along prairie, creeks, and forested areas. We are in the process of getting signs installed in these areas to help trail goers navigate their way, and hopefully to raise awareness about this underutilized resources here at the University of Northern Iowa! Several outreach events accompanied the awareness campaign, to engage the UNI student body with the trail system. These events included walking shelter dogs, a kite flying contest as well as a candlelit walk. We hope to expand upon and recreate these events in the future to continue introducing UNI students to the campus trail system.
During the month of June, 5 rain gardens were installed and 51 rain barrels were painted and sold in a silent bidding session. The 5 rain gardens were installed in Cedar Rapids; 4 households participated along with Mount Mercy University. Each participant received free planning, design, and installation courtesy of Land & Water Stewards AmeriCorps, as well as a huge discount from the City of Cedar Rapids cost share program. We are currently planning and designing 9 more rain gardens to be installed in the fall. In conjunction with 51+ shops and restaurants on College Hill and Main Street in Cedar Falls, 51 rain barrels were painted during two community events on College Hill and at Overman Park near Main Street. The two events consisted of upwards of 70 outside volunteers painting the barrels as well as many businesses donating various supplies, money, and snacks. The painted barrels were placed in front of participating stores for a total of two weeks to be silently bid on and raised around $2,000 in funds to be put towards future Land & Water Projects. The highest bidder, at the end of the two weeks, went home with a locally painted barrel. Over the following two months the recipients who wanted to participate got their barrel converted into a rain barrel and installed for free by Land & Water Stewards Summer Squad members. Rain gardens and rain barrels both reduce runoff, either by capturing water and allowing it to infiltrate or capturing water for the purpose of reusing. Reducing runoff is vital to the health of our streams, rivers, and drinking water.
Turf to Prairie
Created in conjunction with Good Neighbor Iowa, Turf to Prairie is a cost analysis aimed at providing estimations for implementation costs as well as annual maintenance savings for native prairie plantings. The project's aim is revitalizing native Iowa prairie while decreasing the amount of large, essentially unused, turf spaces. The benefits of converting to native prairie are numerous.
The mowing, watering, fertilizing, and chemical applications that go along with turf maintenance can be detrimental to the natural environment as well as your wallet. Native prairie plantings require far less time and annual financial inputs to maintain following initial establishment costs and provide greater ecological benefits than turf. The cumulative impact of frequent lawnmower usage on air pollution, fossil fuel consumption and water usage, can be quite massive when considering total acreage of managed lawns across the nation. The water utilized to keep lawns green could otherwise be used to support wildlife, food production and/or drinking water. Converting areas of turf to native grasses and wildflowers could have a significant, and measurable, positive ecological effect as well as save money for land-owners.
The greatest takeaways of turf to native prairie conversions may be their potential to boost public education and awareness. Unfortunately a majority of people today may have never seen or interacted with prairie in their lives. Creating greater proximity of prairie to people can go a long way in raising awareness and participation in prairie conservation.