The Prairie Rivers of Iowa Watershed and Waterways Program just wrapped up its Nutrients in November Workshop Series! This three-workshop series provided educational programming on tools and conservation practices to help farmers and landowners improve the water quality in the Squaw Creek Watershed and other surrounding areas.

The first workshop was held on November 2nd in Boone and had ten people in attendance, This workshop was led by Dr. Lisa Schulte-Moore of the  Natural Resources Ecology and Management Department at Iowa State University along with PhD student Carrie Chennault. They presented on an online land use decision-making tool called People in Ecosystems/Watershed Integration (PEWI). PEWI is a simple spreadsheet tool designed to provide a scientific platform for teaching, discussing, and evaluating the trade-offs associated with agricultural land use and management. PEWI encourages users to think through the different ecosystem services that different agricultural practices and plant life provide in the watershed and their associated trade-offs. Users of the tool can experiment with placing a variety of conservation practices in the ground, such as prairie buffers, alongside corn and soybeans. The tool shows the soil and water quality impacts of the choices users make in the virtual landscape.

The second workshop was held on November 9th in Ames and had fifteen people in attendance. This workshop was led by Dr. Tom Isenhart of the Natural Resources Ecology and Management Department at Iowa State University. He spoke on a new, innovative edge-of-field conservation practice called saturated buffers. Dr. Isenhart outlined the structural components that make up a  saturated buffer, which is an interception of the tile outlet fixed with a flow control box that diverts the water perpendicular from the original tile into a distribution tile that flows into a prairie buffer strip. This diversion slows the water down and allows for denitrification and the uptake of nutrients by the root system of the buffer. Note: saturated buffers are a cost-share practice available through Prairie Rivers of Iowa!

The third workshop was held on November 17th in Gilbert and had eight people in attendance. This workshop was led by Jamie Benning of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She presented on a simple water quality test kit called RetaiN Iowa. This test kit is the result of the partnership between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Conservation Districts of Iowa to make nitrate testing more accessible to farmers and landowners. Benning explained the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and how that has Iowans thinking more about water quality. She also discussed the reason for creating a program like this one, which is to make testing nitrates in our water easy and accessible to all.

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Attendees learning to use the retaiN testing strips

The program is currently in the pilot phase, in which they are determining what works best for farmers. You can choose to participate in this phase and receive a FREE RetaiN nitrate testing kit to try out yourself. Contact Hanna Bates (hbates@prrcd.org). After receiving input from the pilot phase, the test kit will then be available for purchase next year so that farmers, landowners or other citizens in the community can start checking the nitrate levels on their land. For more information, visit http://retainiowa.com/.