Chatting about conservation and clean water with Laura Krouse

Laura Krouse is passionate about clean water. Perhaps passionate is even an understatement!

Growing up along Otter Creek in northern Linn County, IA, Laura gained firsthand experience of truly clean water at a young age …

“I think the fact that I grew up by a very clean stream, and I know what a very clean stream can be like, how beautiful it is and how much biodiversity it can support, and how you don’t see dirt in it – that really inspires me.”

This experience from her youth was clearly instrumental in forming Laura’s deep appreciation and respect for clean water and what can be done on the land to protect it. Today, Laura operates Abbe Hills Farm, a 72 acre farming operation near Mt. Vernon, Iowa, where she raises a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, alfalfa, oats, and other small grains. Conservation practices on her farm include contouring, cover crops of all kinds, crop rotations, native prairie, and a restored wetland. Laura is also a long-time Linn Co. SWCD commissioner.

In early 2015, motivated by the “really huge goals” of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (reducing nitrogen and phosphorus export loads by 45%), Laura contacted ILF/WR! program director Jacqueline Comito with a big idea. The heart of this big idea was to launch a public campaign that encourages everyone across the state – urban residents, rural residents, business owners, farmers, young and old alike – to do 1 New Thing for Water. As Laura put it best, the only way we get there is if everyone jumps in and does something!  And thus, the #1NewThingForWater campaign was born.

Tune in to the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast series as host Jacqueline Comito visits with Laura Krouse about the 1 New Thing for Water campaign, thoughts on motivating others to do their part as we collectively strive towards cleaner water and the reduced soil + nutrient export, the ever-growing need to work with women landowners on conservation issues (and allocate resources accordingly), and Laura’s wish list for conservation across the state of Iowa. You can tune in on the Conservation Chat websiteILF website, or iTunes.

In terms of motivating others towards clean water and improved conservation, Laura is also especially passionate in reaching out to youth. As she puts it, “Kids are easy to motivate!” Laura actually helped us out a few years back, hosting several episodes of the Adventures of the Conservation Pack video series on her farm. For an entertaining (and educational) tour of Abbe Hills Farm, check out Episode 5, Episode 7, Episode 9, and Episode 10 in the Conservation Pack series.

Ann Staudt

Making a splash with youth water(shed) education

1NewThingForWater(WR!)Here at Water Rocks!, our #1newthingforwater for 2016 is to help every student across the state of Iowa learn what a watershed is, how it functions, and why watersheds matter.

We utilize a wide variety of different games, lessons, and hands-on, interactive activities to help young people grasp the concept of watersheds and why they matter. Each activity has a clear educational lesson to it, while also being FUN! Let’s follow the Water Rocks! team to a few different school events to see how it’s done.

We All Live in a Watershed is our most widely utilized classroom module – here you can see it in action with 6th grade students at Adel-De Soto-Minburn!  At the beginning of the lesson, we introduce the concept of a watershed. We use lots of repetition – reading the definition out loud, repeating after me, and having each student build their own individual watershed in their hand. We all “make it rain” and they get to see up close and personal how water always moves downhill, following the slope of the land, draining to one common water body.


Students are then “gifted” their own parcel of land in a watershed, along with an imaginary $5 million to build whatever they would like on their piece of land. The sky’s the limit … some students build houses and mansions, others opt for business operations… crop and/or livestock farms, restaurants (Casey’s, Pizza Ranch, and the “golden arches” are very popular!), malls… as well as parks and recreational areas (soccer fields, baseball/softball diamonds, etc.).  Once in a while, we even have special creatures like narwhals and unicorns make an appearance!  It’s a blast to see the students’ creativity come to light as they develop their pieces of land in really unique ways!


Students love drawing on their pieces of land and seeing how the whole watershed comes together once all of the puzzle pieces are up on the watershed map. Then comes the big question – thinking about the concept of a watershed, how does our new land use affect the water in the river?!  Together, we spend a good amount of time discussing the many water quality challenges we have in Iowa, addressing different types of pollutants that can end up in our water bodies in both urban and rural landscapes.

Each student is then given a cup of water that represents the water that sheds off of their piece of land. They are tasked with identifying one or more type(s) of pollution that could be picked up and carried away with the water, as a result of what they built on their land, and a fake version of that pollutant is added to their cup of water.


We then use a gallon jug to represent the common water body (river) where all of that water eventually drains. So students one by one pour their cups of water into the river!  As you can imagine, the water gets cloudier, dirtier, and more polluted with each cup of water that is added – it’s a very visual representation of the cumulative effect of all of our actions.



The reaction from the students is priceless – there’s the definite “gross” factor, but this exercise is rooted in exactly what’s happening in the environment around us as pollutants shed to our rivers, lakes, and streams.

One of the 6th Graders at ADM had me falling over laughing with this comment:
“Eww, that’s nasty! That looks like when I puked back when I was 6 years old!”

Finally, we wrap up by talking about action items and how we are all responsible for doing better – discussing good conservation practices (both urban and agricultural) that can be implemented to help water quality. We also address water consumption (quantity) as well – there are lots of ideas that 6th graders can readily implement, like reusable water bottles, turning off the water while brushing teeth, shorter showers, etc.

We All Live in a Watershed is not the only mechanism we have in place for teaching about watersheds, nonpoint source pollution, and water quality…

The Watershed Game (aka Enviroscape) is a super hands-on, visual representation of the watershed concept. After discussing where different pollutants can come from on the landscape, students at Meeker Elementary Science Night in Ames each grab a water bottle as they become a cloud and help to make it rain! As the rain falls, the “mock” pollutants are carried away with the rain drops, making their way to the streams and eventually the common lake. Again, it’s a fun and highly visual activity to help learners young and old better grasp what a watershed is and how it works! This activity is a big hit at county fairs, farmers markets, and other family events!


We’ve also developed an urban-focused module called What’s In Your (STORM)water?. This module utilizes a game show theme throughout, with groups of students competing against their classmates – think “The Price Is Right” meets water quality!  In the photos below, 3rd grade students at South Union Elementary (Des Moines) learned many new vocabulary words including stormwater, runoff, and infiltration, while also competing in game show games like “Ducks in a Row” and “Duck, Duck, Pollute,” featuring the famous Stormwater Sombrero!


While these events highlighted above all happen to be in central Iowa, we have participated in community/youth outreach events across all 99 counties and always map out our requests each year to ensure we’re “sharing the love” across all corners of the state! Check out our 2016 Schedule of Events page for a snapshot of where we are traveling in February and March.

Would you like to invite the Water Rocks!/Iowa Learning Farms team to your area to visit a school, youth outdoor classroom, summer camp, public library, county fair, or farmers market?  Read more about our Classroom Visits and Conservation Station trailers on our website – thanks to our partners, we are able to continue to offer these educational opportunities free of charge! Requests for April – November 2016 are currently being accepted. When you’re ready to put in a request, hop on over to the Request a Visit page on our website.

Ann Staudt

Iowa Watershed Successes


The Iowa DNR’s annual publication Working for Clean Water tells the story of groups, individuals, researchers, and organizations who have been working in partnerships across the state in an effort to positively impact water quality for all Iowans. Each year the DNR chooses to highlight particular “watershed successes” and the most recent edition features both Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!

DNRCleanWater_Stories-02The efforts of our farmer partners Rick Juchems and Dick Sloan are profiled, each telling their conservation stories. Both tell of how they began to embrace conservation practices, why they continue using them on their land, and how they each contribute to ongoing education and conversation regarding conservation practices in farming.

Teacher Elisha Kubalsky is featured telling her story of how participating in the Water Rocks! Teacher Summit enhanced the way she teaches her middle school students in Davenport about the importance of water quality. Kubalsky highlights the need for students to understand water as a resource given they all live in such close proximity to the Mississippi River.

To read these stories and more visit the DNR website to download the 2015 Working for Clean Water.

We also always love hearing of your own watershed successes, if you have a story you’d like to have featured on our blog, feel free to reach out and share it with us! Remember you can always share your 2016 #1newthingforwater pledge and progress with us on Twitter too!


Conservation Partnership Day Recap

We hope you followed along on Twitter yesterday as we covered the events at Conservation Partnership Day. We had a great time talking with state legislators, our partners, and plenty of folks wanting to learn more about what they can do to help conserve water and improve water quality in our state. There was lots of interest in Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! and how these programs act as boots on the ground when it comes to conservation education and outreach.PartnershipDayRecap-03With the enthusiasm we saw yesterday we can’t wait to see what we can all accomplish together in 2016 as we continue to work towards a common goal.

We also had a great amount of interest in our #1NewThingForWater campaign. Lots of people stopped by to see what others pledged and add their own to the map. Pledges ranged from implementing conservation practices such as cover crops and no-till on farms, to making an effort to reduce water runoff from construction sites, as well as others who promised to seek out additional funding to support conservation and water quality programs. PartnershipDayRecap-04


Governor Terry Branstad and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey even joined and made their own pledges for what they will do for water in 2016!

It’s never too late to join in the effort for conservation. Be sure to share your pledge with us on Twitter and Facebook using #1NewThingForWater!

Paola SepulvedaPartnershipDayRecap-05

Kicking off 2016 with #1NewThingForWater

Last year, Laura Krouse of Abbe Hills Farm challenged us to take leadership on a campaign to encourage all Iowans to do one new thing for water that year. Here at Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!, we thought it was a great idea and launched the #1NewThingForWater campaign. Numerous farmers, urban folks and students participated.

Here are a few of the #1newthingforwater pledges that were shared over the course of 2015…



It was a good beginning but there is so much more work to do! Cleaner water comes down to individual choices. Those choices can be larger in scale like those faced by farmers and agricultural landowners, or smaller in scale like those faced by an urban 6th grade student pledging to take shorter showers (let’s put it in perspective — that is a large commitment for a 6th grader!).

Several years ago, I read this compelling book by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz. Early in the book, he writes about changing the world and his insight has stayed with me. In the beginning of the book, he questions whether we can actually change the world. He concludes that we can, but only if we realize that we are the problem:

“The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even certain politicians; the problem is the same that it has always been. I am the problem. I think every conscious person…has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself.”

Whenever I want to think that something is someone else’s problem to solve or fix, I remember what Miller wrote. I try to see how I am the problem and then I try to do what I can do. My #1newthingforwater in 2016 is to get more native grasses in my yard, particularly where the soil is eroding.




What is your one new thing this year?

There are plenty of suggestions out there of what you can do: shaping and seeding a wider waterway, avoiding fall tillage, planting a native tree, increasing the amount of residue left in the field, waiting until it thaws to spread manure, seeding down a headland, cutting lawn fertilizer usage in half, putting native plantings in your yard, picking up pet waste, keeping pollutants out of stormwater.  As Laura urged us last year, you decide what you can do and then get it accomplished in 2016!

1NewThingForWaterLogo(angle)Now is the time to make your pledge to water – post to Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #1newthingforwater, or send us your pledge via email and we’ll share it with the world. Let’s get an avalanche of commitment across the state. Let’s get every county and every city involved. From farmers to school children, there is something everyone can do!

When you have done your new thing this year, share it. Post it to Facebook, Twitter (using hashtag #1newthingforwater) and other social media accounts. Tell your friends and neighbors. Show others what you are doing and encourage them to do something as well. Get everyone you know involved in the challenge. Let’s not leave it to others to do.

As Pierre Teilhard De Chardin wrote…


Jacqueline Comito

Guest Post: River Restoration

Rosalyn Lehman, executive director of Iowa Rivers Revival, is our guest blogger.
She offers solutions to restoring stream banks on Iowa’s rivers and streams.
Watch her Oct. 21 webinar live at 1 p.m. by logging on at:

You can watch the recorded webinar after Oct. 21 by clicking the link
on the ILF webinar archive page.

Project AWARE 2010 025

How can I fix my eroding streambank?

Protecting the condition of Iowa’s soil and streams are essential for a thriving economy, healthy environment, and quality of life experiences. Natural river restoration practices are an affordable and practical solution for addressing streambank erosion across Iowa.

Eroding streambanks can mean the loss of crop buffer areas, productive farmland, and local infrastructure (i.e. bridges, roads, trails), as well as a major contributor of sediment and nutrients to our water. Standard engineering practices for keeping streambanks in place often calls for extensive armoring using riprap revetments or other expensive approaches with questionable long-term results. “Softscape” restoration approaches can enhance streambank stability at a fraction of the cost. Understanding river dynamics can lead to much more cost-effective, sustainable, and natural results while protecting land and infrastructure, improving water quality, reducing flood effects and enhancing fish and wildlife.

Natural river restoration is complex and starts with asking what a river would do naturally. Iowa Rivers Revival advocates for an Iowa River Restoration Program that would provide guidelines, criteria, cost-share, training, and the expertise necessary for protecting Iowa’s landscape, streambanks and river ways. Currently, Iowa lacks these resources to offer natural river restoration opportunities to landowners and communities across the state.

Natural river restoration provides many benefits to landowners and the surrounding community. It:

  • Offers affordable and sustainable options to reduce streambank erosion.
  • Keeps productive cropland and stream buffers in place.
  • Protects local infrastructure such as bridges and roads from erosion and flooding, and reduces taxpayer expense to repair, replace and maintain.
  • Improves water quality by reducing sediment and nutrient loads into the stream.
  • Reduces flooding and flood effects.
  • Enhances aquatic and riparian wildlife habitat and ecosystem.
  • Improves river recreation, fishing, and hunting – boosting local economies and providing public health and quality of life.
Interstate 94 protection-before

Streambank before “softscape” restoration.

Interstate 94 Protection- After

The same streambank after restoration.

Iowa Rivers Revival is a non-profit, statewide organization dedicated to river education and advocacy. IRR is working with Iowa’s towns, policy leaders and river lovers to restore our waterways as beautiful, safe places to for residents and visitors to enjoy, work and recreate.

Helpful links:
River restoration background:
River restoration fact sheet:
River basics fact sheet:
Des Moines Register op-ed (March 1, 2013):  A Call to Iowa to Revive Our Rivers


Contact: Rosalyn Lehman, executive director, Iowa Rivers Revival,; 515.724.4093

Featured Video: A Conservation Carol

We’ve been hearing all about Christmas in July recently, with news of Prime Day and retailers competing with “deals bigger than Black Friday.”

Here at Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!, we have our own version of Christmas in July to showcase.  It’s a new video titled A Conservation Carol, our own unique spin on the old classic “A Christmas Carol.”

A Conservation Carol begins with a young watershed coordinator visiting his uncle’s place over the holidays.  The watershed coordinator is trying to convince his Uncle John, who happens to farm in the watershed, to consider some additional conservation practices on his land.

Uncle John is resistant, responding, “I’ve already done a lot of things.”

“I know, and your strip tillage fields have reduced your erosion. But there are still areas with significant sediment delivery to the creek.”

As he departs, the watershed coordinator leaves his uncle with this parting thought:  “Don’t be a Scrooge. If you’re not going to do it for me, do it for the kids!”

Uncle John replies, reluctantly, “I’ll sleep on it.”

Uncle John hunkers down for a good night’s sleep, and this is when the real excitement begins!

Instead of sugar plums dancing in his head, Farmer John has soil, nutrients, and an irrepressibly exuberant cloud dancing in his dreams.

How will Uncle John respond?  Tune in to A Conservation Carol to find out.

Taking a humorous, light-hearted approach, this short video encourages farmers to do one additional thing on their land to improve their soil health, reduce erosion and improve water quality. We are all called to do #1newthingforwater this year – it takes all of us doing our part. It is a reminder that we can all improve what we are doing when it comes to conservation and the health of our land. And not just for us, but to leave our land and waters in better shape for the next generation.

A Conservation Carol was honored with two 2015 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, being recognized in the categories of Direction (Short Form) and Editing (Short Form).

Check out A Conservation Carol, along with our many other videos, on YouTube, TeacherTube, and the Water Rocks! website.

Ann Staudt

Chatting with Sarah Carlson

In the latest Conservation Chat podcast, Jacqueline Comito sits down to talk cover crops with Midwest Cover Crop Coordinator and Practical Farmers of Iowa agronomist Sarah Carlson. Driven by her own powerful curiosity, Carlson is willing to ponder some tough questions – and arrive at some interesting insights!

The discussion begins with challenge of how to incorporate not just the early adopters but also the rest of Iowan farms in the cover crop movement.  Carlson and Comito also talk about farm legacy and the issues revolving around passing down farm ownership.  And, last but not least, Comito gets Carlson to weigh in on the burning question: what style of music best fits cover crops?

You can listen to the conversation here and watch Sarah Carlson’s recent webinar here!

Dog Blog: Scoping out urban conservation practices

Join J-Dog and me on our walk as we take a look at several urban conservation practices happening in the neighborhood!

Leashed up, ready to rock and roll!

Last week, I shared my #1newthingforwater for 2015 – working with my HOA to repair several areas on the property that have experienced significant amounts of erosion, and working to get new vegetation established there. Let’s take a look at where things are at now…

We're starting to get some growth here on this slope

We’re starting to get some nice growth here –  this slope used to be completely barren!

Close-up shot

Close-up shot of new grass establishment


We have many different walking routes through the neighborhood, but one of our favorites runs along College Creek.  Iowa State University and the City of Ames partnered on the College Creek Restoration Project several years back (read more on the City of Ames Smart Watersheds page – you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get there).  Take a look at College Creek today!

A combination of trees, shrubs,

A combination of trees, shrubs, native grasses, and forbs are being used to protect College Creek from sediment and nutrient loads from the surrounding area.  In addition to stream bank stabilization, these buffers also add great beauty to the neighborhood.


Five adjacent homeowners agreed to participate in a

Five adjacent homeowners agreed to participate in a stormwater garden research/demonstration project with Iowa State University and the City of Ames.  Established in 2008, these backyard gardens help to intercept and slow the flow of water that would otherwise run directly into College Creek.

Time for a little break… as the song says, Everybody Poops!


“Dogs are poopin’ on their walks; geese are poopin’ at the beach.  All these things impact our water, that’s the reason for this speech!” – Lyrics from Everybody Poops



Scoop the poop

Scoop the poop! Did you know… 1 gram of dog waste contains 23 million fecal bacteria!

OK, time to finish up the walk…  we’ll leave you with one final view of the College Creek restoration project.


Very tempting to go for a little swim!

A beautiful walk on a beautiful evening… thanks for joining us.

Ann Staudt

My #1NewThingForWater

Back in January 2015, program director Jackie Comito kicked off the #1NewThingForWater campaign, encouraging each and every Iowan to adopt one NEW thing that they will do for water in 2015.

The “1 New Thing for Water” campaign was inspired by ILF farmer-partner Laura Krouse.  Everyone in Iowa has a responsibility toward helping make cleaner water and healthier lands. It will take all of us – urban and rural, young and old – doing something!

So, back in January when the campaign launched, all of us on staff were instructed to come up with our own #1NewThingForWater and share it with the world.  Well, it’s now May… late May… the very end of May, to be specific… and you have yet to hear from me.

BUT that’s not to say I haven’t been thinking on it and working on it!

My #1NewThingForWater involves working with my HOA to address urban/residential erosion issues on our property.  Included below are several before/after photographs to illustrate the work that’s been done (with a guest appearance by Conservation Dog Jackie)…   It’s still a work in progress, but these recent spring rains should help get the new grass seed growing nicely.

How are you coming with your #1NewThingForWater for 2015?  We’d love to hear from you!  Send us an email, a photograph, or share on social media using #1NewThingForWater–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Ann Staudt