When I was a teacher, I often got as excited (or more so!) than my students about the topics we covered. One such topic was the Chesapeake Bay. Although our Social Studies textbook only had a one-page blurb about the Bay’s water quality struggles, I saw many opportunities to dig deeper. My students and I created a multi-disciplinary unit centered on watersheds and studied it for weeks. After learning about the Chesapeake Bay, we learned about our local watershed, as well. The kids created non-fiction books about animals living in the bay, wrote haiku about beaches and fishing, and created art depicting the watershed in our local area. We created a model of a watershed and then “polluted it,” then we tried to devise a way to clean up the pollutants. Finally, we visited a local pond in collaboration with our county’s Soil and Water Conservation District.

What did my students (and I) learn from the watershed unit? We learned that many things we do, from washing cars in the driveway to fertilizing our lawns to properly disposing of chemicals, affect water quality in Iowa and beyond. We learned that there is no single group responsible for water quality and that a combination of factors are at play. We learned that what happens in Iowa affects us locally, but because we are part of the larger Mississippi River watershed, our actions have far reaching repercussions; as far as the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

I’m no longer a teacher, but watersheds and water quality are still on my mind. As a farmer and active member of Iowa’s agriculture community, water quality has come up over and over, and to be honest, I’m glad that I learned about watersheds alongside my students. The unit we created together has given me an added insight into one of the biggest issues facing Iowa’s farmers today: water quality.

In the words of our governor, our state capital of Des Moines has “declared war on rural Iowa.” The Des Moines Water Works Board, which oversees the city’s drinking water systems, has decided to sue three rural Iowa counties because of high nitrate levels in the waters coming from those districts. And they are pointing the finger at agriculture.

My gut told me that the lawsuit was misguided, and my research verified it. Water quality in Iowa is an important issue and farmers have a lot of work to do, but they have made great improvements. A spirit of cooperation and funding for conservation programs will speed up those improvements. A lawsuit will NOT.

The entire article is on my blog: On the Banks of Squaw Creek.  Read it here.