June 2013

Water: A common thread to life!

Compiled by Marla Mertz, Marion County Conservation

Just as as rivers and streams intertwine with all living things, our waters lead to one great ocean...

What lies in our water, in our soil, and in our air affects us now and in the future. Birds, as well as other wildlife, play an important environmental role. They are are all indicator species.

The Des Moines River watershed and its placement within the Mississippi Flyway allows opportunity for all of us to become more aware of our global and local environment and how our watershed connection affects all things. Birds that breed in North America (including Iowa) that spend their winters south of U.S. border in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean are known as neotropical migrants. Short-distance migrants winter south of their nesting grounds, but stay mainly in the U.S. and Mexico. They rely on a healthy land base, and clean water. Follow your connection to the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa ranks 50th as the most-altered U.S. state. Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat quality and the concerns of our water threaten the quality of our life, as well as the quality of our wildlife.

What can YOU do?



    • Little Things Can Make a Huge Impact

    • Good water quality follows responsible land practices

Rain barrel

A rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Usually a rain barrel is made of a 55 gallon drum, a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, a screen to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items. A rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout. They are also readily available at most hardware and garden supply stores.

A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Saving water not only helps protect the environment, it saves you money and energy. Diverting water from storm drains also decreases the impact of runoff to streams.

Click for information and directions to make your own rain barrel - Rain Barrels Part I.

Rain garden

From Marion County ISU Extension "Green Scene" newsletter, Karen Ackley

Rain gardens are one of the hottest new trends in gardening this year. Central College (Pella, IA) has added one to its campus and in 2010 Knoxville’s city and water utility crews began installing one on the east edge of town in preparation for turning the property into a small park and welcome sign area.

Why the big push for these specialized gardens? Think improved water quality for our city, state, and country. As cities and suburbs grow and replace forests and agricultural land, storm water runoff from parking lots, paved roads, roof tops, and other hard surfaces increases dramatically. The runoff not only increases flooding, but perhaps more significantly, carries pollutants such as motor oil, chemicals, and trash into waterways such as Competine Creek, Lake Red Rock, the Mississippi, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. Slowing down the water and trapping it so that it must go down through the soil helps filter out those pollutants, much the way terraces and tiles work to slow down and direct water in corn and bean fields.

The garden at the east end of Knoxville, Iowa, is a specialized rain garden technically called a bio-retention cell. Because the natural soil in the area has been altered and compacted, a drain tile was installed in a gravel bed to ensure that the water from heavy rains moves through the gravel and sand. When a heavy rain occurs, the overflow of water will enter an inlet at the west end of the garden.

This inlet is currently sticking up out of the ground but it will soon be cut down to nearly ground level and covered with a trap to prevent trash from entering. It is connected to the underground tile which runs west to east, sloping downward and ultimately connecting to the storm sewer. Water is slowly released via the drain tile, mimicking the way groundwater releases as it moves in natural soils.

How can that really help? Won’t the water from the two streets still race to the nearest waterway? Yes, but not as much and that’s another point; every little bit helps. In addition, a cut-out in the street curb will channel storm water from the street into a second garden planned below the first. In the spring, native plants will be installed to help retain the water and cause it to filter down through the soil.

No matter where you live, adding a rain garden to your yard can help manage storm water runoff and better protect the water quality of our streams and lakes. Keep in mind that a rain garden is not a boggy area; rather it needs to be located where the water can easily flow. It should be located away from building foundations, utilities, and septic systems.

Learn more about rain gardens:

River clean-ups

Local citizen-advocacy groups and conservation organizations have sponsored river clean-up activities during the summer for many years!

    • Cedar River Festival and Clean-up - The mission of the Group is to educate the community about celebrating and preserving the beauty of the Cedar River as a local natural resource. This is the longest-running clean-up project in the state that celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2012. The clean-up, focused on the Cedar River in Black Hawk County, and festival is usually held the last full weekend in July with the clean-up on Saturday. Email for more info at crfgroup@gmail.com or find them on Facebook.

    • Project AWARE - which stands for A Watershed Awareness River Expedition, involves hundreds of volunteers who spend their vacations working as aquatic garbage collectors - cleaning up, learning about, and exploring Iowa's rivers. Project AWARE is coordinated through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The river clean-up location changes each year. During the July 2012 event, 387 volunteers muscled over 60 tons of trash from just 85 miles of the Iowa River. Over fifty tons consisted of scrap metal and tires, all of which could be recycled.

    • Check the events page from MyCountyParks.com and try a keyword search for "river cleanup"