Raccoon River Watershed Association convenes annual conference

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Jim Pease, professor emeritus of wildlife biology at Iowa State University and renowned expert on Iowa wildlife and animal ecology, gave the keynote address at the 2019 Raccoon River Watershed Association conference.

The Raccoon River Watershed Association convened its annual two-day conference Friday night, and the theme of this year’s event, “Local Foods,” was beautifully illustrated with a banquet composed of food all grown and produced in Iowa.

About 60 people attended the banquet at the Hotel Pattee.

The meal started with hors d’ oeuvres and salad greens, and the main entrees were a tomato-meat pasta, with Iowa grown beef, and a bow-tie pasta with cheese Alfredo sauce. The dairy products, cheese and ice cream were from Picket Fence Creamery near Woodward.

The tomatoes, bruschetta and salsa were grown and produced by Graddy’s Tomatoes from Carroll. John 15 Vinyard in Scranton served a delicious grape pie for dessert, which went very well with the local ice cream.

It was a delicious meal and wonderfully prepared by Harvey’s at the Hotel Pattee.

The after dinner speaker was supposed to be Art Cullen, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from the Storm Lake Times, who was expected to talk about his new book, “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper.” Sadly, Cullen had to cancel his appearance.

Jim Pease, professor emeritus of wildlife biology at Iowa State University, gave the after dinner speech in Cullen’s stead. Pease is a renowned expert on Iowa wildlife and animal ecology and for many years he was featured weekly on WOI Radio, talking about the wild critters in Iowa and their relations with humans.

Pease grew up in Burlington, Iowa, where he began paddling a canoe with his brother when he was 8 years old. He says that he has canoed more than 1,800 miles of Iowa’s streams and rivers. He is currently working with Iowa’s DNR Water Trails Program.

Pease’s presentation was entitled, “Reflections on Iowa’s Rivers and Their Future.” He stressed that Iowa’s rivers are very important for Iowa’s towns, and most of the state’s major cities began on the river system. He said the rivers have problems, but he is optimistic that the problems can be corrected.

He stated that in the 1920’s a huge amount of Iowa’s top soil was being lost to soil erosion. Today, instead of improving the soil erosion problem is worse- three times the amount of topsoil is being eroded today as it was in the 1920s. Also, the streams have chemical pollution, composed of nitrates and phosphates. These are chemicals that cause algae blooms in the summer and the problems with Des Moines drinking water.
The clean water act, that was passed in the 1970’s by the United States Congress, has helped reduce point source pollution from cities and industry. However, non point source pollution, which includes agriculture runoff, is still a major problem.
He talked about many issues that affect Iowa’s streams and gave some ideas as how the pollution problems can be solved. They can be solved, he said, but it will take a political commitment and a change in public attitude regarding rivers. And it will probably cost money to clean up Iowa’s Rivers. He said that he was hopeful, because Iowans have usually done the right thing and care about the environment.

The Saturday conference convened at 9 a.m. with a panel featuring some of Friday night’s specialty foods businesses from the Raccoon River watershed: John 15 Vineyard in Scranton, Graddy’s Tomatoes in Carroll and Early Morning Harvest in Linden.

There were several displays in the Hotel Pattee lobby on water quality and local food production, and Zack Jones, artist in residence at White Rock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, showed a number of his stunning nature paintings.

After a break for networking and visiting with exhibitors and presenters, entrepreneurs from Prudenterra, Iowa Cover Crops and Women Food and Ag Network’s Women Caring for the Land talked about ways to add diversity and conservation to the lands in the Raccoon watershed and beyond.

As always, the Saturday conference was free and made possible through a generous grant from the Des Moines Waterworks. Famous Iowan Aldo Leopold will be celebrated throughout the conference, which was an official Aldo Leopold Weekend event.

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