Watershed Work through a Fresh Lens

In the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, host Jacqueline Comito traveled east to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area to chat with two energetic and engaging watershed project coordinators, Shane Wulf (Miller Creek) and Joshua Balk (Dry Run Creek). While both located in the heart of the Cedar Valley, and both affiliated with the Black Hawk Co. Soil and Water Conservation District, these guys are working to facilitate unique collaborations and promote conservation practices in two very different watersheds.

Miller Creek is largely an agricultural watershed, while Dry Run Creek has a significant urban component. And with each of those situations comes unique challenges, needs, and goals – ranging from cover crops and nutrient management in Miller Creek watershed (Shane) to helping facilitate practices that allow more water to infiltrate, like rain gardens and permeable pavers (Josh). However, regardless of the land use, relationship building is central to all watershed improvement projects!  In Episode 33 of the Conservation Chat podcast, Shane and Josh share some of their unique perspectives and creative collaborations from working in the water quality world these past few years.

Both have been very successful in building connections and facilitating healthy local community partnerships in their watersheds. Strong support from the local SWCD commissioners is key, too. In Miller Creek watershed, Shane has partnered with the City of Cedar Rapids (no, that’s not a typo!) and the Middle Cedar River Water Quality Improvement Project to invest dollars upstream in conservation practices such as cover crops. Currently, 15% of the Miller Creek watershed’s acres are in cover crops, substantially higher than the statewide average. In the Dry Run Creek watershed, Josh has worked closely with community partners like the City of Cedar Falls, University of Northern Iowa, Hawkeye Community College, and Green Iowa AmeriCorps to design and install practices like rain gardens – helping to improve water quality while students also build real life job skills! Both of these coordinators have also facilitated water quality monitoring in their watersheds, via the RetaiN and IOWATER programs, respectively.

Another really exciting collaborative project that both Shane and Josh have been involved in is Beauty Outside Our Doors: Conservation Stories of Black Hawk County. Working together with an Environmental Literature class at UNI, Shane and Josh helped to connect students with farmers and landowners throughout Black Hawk County to share the personal stories of the people and the land.

It is refreshing to hear about the many creative and collaborative approaches Shane and Josh are undertaking, and it is clear that these guys bring a great deal of passion to their work!

Josh comments, “Probably the most rewarding thing at the end of the day is just the lives you impact – the positive effect we have on our community. It’s absolutely wonderful, knowing that you’re benefitting the environment long term for the place you live in and care about.

Tune in to Episode 33 of the Conservation Chat to hear the full interview with Shane and Josh! You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Ann Staudt