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Iowater flows in with Faulconer presentation

Abraham Mhaidli ‘17, Rebecca Wong ‘17 and Lucas Verrastro ‘17 smile after a successful presentation. Photo by Shadman Asif.
Abraham Mhaidli ‘17, Rebecca Wong ‘17 and Lucas Verrastro ‘17 smile after a successful presentation. Photo by Shadman Asif.
Abraham Mhaidli ‘17, Rebecca Wong ‘17 and Lucas Verrastro ‘17 smile after a successful presentation. Photo by Shadman Asif.

Rebecca Wong ’17 and Lucas Verrastro ’17, the co-leaders of Iowater, held a presentation in Faulconer Gallery on Wednesday night, highlighting the poor conditions of Iowa’s water sources to students and community members.

“So Iowa has the forty-eighth best water quality in America—or the second worst,” Wong said to a crowd of 20 in Faulconer Gallery. “A 2012 study tested 100 streams in Iowa and found that 60 percent of them were in ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ conditions.”

Iowater is a student club connected to a program of the same name run by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Their presentation on Wednesday was arranged in conjunction with Faulconer’s current exhibition, titled “Water,” by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. Wong and Verrastro fittingly explained about water quality conservation and awareness amidst looming meter-wide portraits of Burtynsky’s various water landscapes.  

“Iowater is a program that trains citizens to monitor the water quality of nearby lakes and streams,” Verrastro said. “They upload the data to an online database to keep track of water quality health. The whole point is to encourage people to engage with their communities and to foster respect for our aquatic resources.”

The Grinnell contingency of Iowater was formed last year by then-fourth-year Tayler Chicoine ’14. Over the course of the year, the group put up storm drain labels around Grinnell to remind people to not dump contaminants into the drains. They also partnered with GORP to organize water cleanups at Little Bear Creek and Arbor Lake. 

Wong said that agriculture plays a large role in Iowa’s low water quality ranking. Because many farmers use herbicides and pesticides judiciously and summer rains can be torrential the chemicals inevitably end up running off corn and soybean fields into creeks and streams that flow into rivers. After traveling down the Mississippi, the chemicals are deposited in the Gulf of Mexico, where they contribute to a growing dead zone the size of New Jersey.

The presentation also explained the various efforts of Iowater in studying the levels of these contaminants.

“We look for phosphate and nitrate levels—things that run off from agriculture that can create algal blooms in our lakes and streams,” Wong said. “We also measure pH levels and test for bacteria like e. coli.”

This year Iowater has several new projects planned, including developing a program to enlist Grinnell Middle School students to help with water quality measurements. Also on the schedule is holding workshops on growing rain gardens and bringing more speakers to campus. 

“We also hope to collaborate with Iowa State University,” Verrastro said. “We don’t know the details yet, but last year a couple of our members met with the Iowa State University Soil and Water Conservation Club and talked about doing a project together.” 

A final possibility is to work on the political side of water conservation. “A lot of the problems associated with water quality involve legislators,” Verrastro said. “So we are looking to do some activism, as well.” 

Students who are interested in getting involved with Iowater should email [iowater].


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