Water quality is a resource concern addressed by the Copperas Creek Watershed Resource Plan. We know soil erosion and runoff are affecting water quality, but we lack concrete data on the impact. Water quality monitoring data can provide that concrete data— helping us to better understand the resource concerns and treat them more effectively. We also know that using practices like filter strips, cover crops, and no-till will help, but how much.? Again, water quality monitoring data can quantify the reduction in soil erosion and nutrient loss.
Water quality monitoring data will also provide proof that grant dollars are needed for cost-share on conservation practices in the watershed. The big watershed grants recognize the importance of monitoring. Developing and implementing a monitoring plan will improve our grant applications and chance of selection. Even if we are not selected, the data will help guide existing resources and technical assistance.
RISWCD reached out to the Augustana College Environmental Studies and Geography Departments to assist with designing and implementing a water quality monitoring program for the Copperas Creek Watershed. Our request was enthusiastically received by Dr. Reisner, Dr. Heine, and Dr. Fockler, who were excited to provide problem-based learning opportunities for their students. Many Augustana students hail from urban areas, so this opportunity to learn about rural agriculture was especially exciting.
A mutually beneficial partnership plan was outlined. RISWCD and NRCS staff took a class on a tour of Copperas Creek Watershed in early December (pictured right). The tour highlighted existing conservation practices in the watershed and the need for additional conservation practices. Students saw existing streambank stabilization, cover crops, filter strips, riparian buffers, no-till, and more. They also saw areas where conservation practices would be beneficial. Staff pointed out the high cost of these practices and the need for financial assistance.
The students are working in teams to develop monitoring plans. The student plans will be reviewed by RISWCD and the Copperas Creek Planning Committee, and used to develop a water quality monitoring plan for Copperas Creek Watershed. The final sample sites will be chosen with landowner approval and support.
Every Geography and Environmental Studies student must complete a senior inquiry on a topic of their choice prior to graduation. Students who take interest in the watershed can choose to partner with RISWCD and the Copperas Creek Planning Committee on their senior inquiry. These upper-level Augustana students will begin collecting samples Spring 2015. The samples will also be processed by the students in Augustana’s lab. The lab work will follow protocol, and will be completed under the guidance of lab staff to ensure results are valid and recognized as such. Through the summer, RISWCD will hire two interns to continue the monitoring program. The interns will be mostly funded through an Illinois Board of Higher Education Emerging Professionals grant coordinated by Augustana.
As new students adopt Copperas Creek Watershed for their senior inquiry, we will be able to continue the partnership into future years. The projects will grow and change to reflect where we are in the implementation of the Copperas Creek Watershed Resource Plan. Augustana champions these types of partnerships—they even have staff to assist partners with grant writing when the grant provides learning opportunities for their students.
The Copperas Creek Watershed Project provides students with a great learning opportunity, career development opportunity, and the opportunity to make a real difference. This partnership will also help shape and educate the next generation of conservationists. We are excited about the opportunity to share our love for and understanding of rural conservation! We hope you are too!