Iowa River Friends form to protect, improve watershed


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A new local group hopes to turn an impaired river into an admired river.

The Iowa River Friends is organizing its structure, and the members hope the group will come to fruition by mid-April. Its mission statement says it is dedicated to enjoying, protecting, and improving the Iowa River watershed.

“One of our beliefs is how can you want to care for something that you don’t love?” said Mel Schlachter, one of the founding members of the group. “And how can you love something that you don’t know? So we want to start getting people to love the river.”

Schlachter said getting people to enjoy and care about the river and the watershed is just as important as getting people to protect it.

Iowa City Environmental Advocates Chairman Del Holland said that in the past, events such as canoe races have been organized on the Iowa River.

These are the kinds of recreational activities the group would like to organize to get people engaged with the river again, he said.

“We want to make sure that we’re connecting to that river and recognizing the importance of it,” Holland said.

Because of contamination that drains from the watershed into the river, the Iowa River is considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be impaired in many places. This means that parts of the river are affected by pollution.

“[The] Iowa River is one of the many impaired rivers of the nation, and concerned citizens are rightfully self-organized for direct actions, observations, and, awareness raising,” said Marian Muste, a UI research engineer.

“Getting closer to the river will accelerate the understanding of the scale of impairment while building respect and appreciation for what they offer to the communities.”

Mary Beth Stevenson, an employee with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is helping the group get organized.

“When it comes to watershed improvement, there really is a lot of local responsibility that has to be realized,” she said. “Anything that happens on land affects what is happening in the rivers.

Everybody has a role to play. You just might not realize it if you live a mile or two from the river.”

The Iowa River watershed is 5,501 square miles.

Mary Skopec, the coordinator for the Iowa Water Program and an employee with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said while the group is local, the members hope to connect with similar groups up and down the watershed.

“Whatever improvements we try to make down here are going to be challenging unless people up in the watershed are making improvements,” she said. “We really need to work together.”

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