Suburban “City Girl” Perspectives on Rainfall and Soil Conservation

NOTE: Today’s guest blog post was written by water resources student intern Kate Sanocki! Originally hailing from Hudson, Wisconsin, outside the Twin Cities, Kate will be starting her sophomore year in Biological Systems Engineering at Iowa State University.


From the time I was a toddler I preferred spending the majority of my time outdoors and loved observing nature, organisms and the ecosystems that comprised it. This passion drove me to become involved in the Young Naturalist Club. In our weekly meetings, we would complete various projects such as planting trees, building bird feeders or studying different species of plants in the area.

However, one project was particularly rewarding to me.  A steep hill located near our middle school parking lot presented a challenge during heavy rainfalls resulting in deep ruts, erosion and topsoil washing onto the impervious asphalt parking lot. Seeing a need to prevent future erosion, the Young Naturalist Club was given a $460 budget to help design and install a rain garden. We researched plants that would be able to withstand intense bouts of rainwater runoff but also prosper during dry times. This process allowed me to become very familiar with conservation practices that could be implemented in urban locations.

While I have a good level of understanding of urban conservation practices, as a suburban “city girl,” this internship with Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! has really opened my eyes to various agricultural practices. For example, while I traveled back and forth from Hudson, Wisconsin to Iowa State University last year as a college freshman, I never really looked beyond the fact that there were plants growing in the fields, let alone what type they were or even the type of conservation practices being implemented.

This summer internship has changed my whole perspective on agriculture! Last Friday when I was heading home for Memorial Day weekend, I found myself searching the numerous fields from the highway as I drove past and realized I was looking to see what type of tillage was lining the fields. I saw numerous tillage practices such as intense tillage, conservation tillage and no till. Most of Iowa’s cropland implements conservation tillage, while no till is used on about 25% of Iowa’s cropland.


A variety of tillage practices can be found across the Midwestern landscape… shown here from top to bottom are no tillage, strip tillage (a form of conservation tillage), and intense tillage.

Through my internship, I learned that tillage practices can greatly affect water quality, which is something I hadn’t really thought about before. I learned that leaving plant material on the field can dramatically reduce the amount of sediment runoff because it protects the soil like armor would. When a raindrop hits the ground it acts like a person cannon-balling into a pool; it strikes the ground and the impact causes soil to be knocked loose and carried away with the water.

RainfallSimulatorWBorderTo demonstrate this we travel around the state of Iowa and use a special machine called the Rainfall Simulator (part of the Conservation Station) where community members can see what happens to soil and water quality in various urban and rural settings.

While presenting a module on soil conservation to a group of 3rd graders at Swan Lake State Park, the class eagerly watched as the jars on the Rainfall Simulator started to fill up. A boy in the front row raised his hand and said the water coming from the no till plot seemed really clean compared to the water from the two tillage plots. In response, one of his peers blurted out that the plots containing no till and cover crops were clean because there wasn’t any soil moving out of the plots.

I was excited to see that the concept we had been teaching them had really sunk in. And their teacher, who had grown up on a farm, interjected and said, “I bet you guys are going to see a lot more of these practices on cropland in the future…” as she pointed to the no till and cover crop trays, “ we learn more about conservation, we’re getting smarter about conserving our resources.”

The quantity of information I have learned from this program just in the past three weeks is incredible. I look forward to continuing to learn and teach others about conservation. I am excited to see what the rest of the summer will bring. Who knows, maybe there really is some “country” in this “city girl.”

Kate Sanocki



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