Listening, learning and working together: Building community while tackling difficult issues


It’s been interesting to talk to people and learn how they’re spending their time these days. I’ve been doing some much-needed sorting and filing and it’s given me a nice overview of the League’s water resource management efforts during this past decade. One thing that stands out is the many contacts and collaborations that continue to characterize this work. When it comes to water (and other things, of course!), we’re clearly all in the same boat. Happily, people and entities–at all levels–are rowing together towards thoughtful water resource management in Jo Daviess County.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that local support and involvement has been extraordinary. Individuals going above and beyond–like Judy Gratton chairing the Galena Watershed Planning Committee, Charlie Marsden taking scientists out to sample in his boat, Roger Redington helping to set up the Galena-area farmer led group, Carmen Ferguson and Deb Pausz championing The Watershed Game, Padgham Larson dedicating her college senior capstone project to local water resource education and many others. Landowners (too many to name!) have allowed scientists to visit with them on their properties to collect water samples and characterize landscape features. County departments (health, highway, planning & development), municipalities and townships have participated in planning and project efforts. Many have provided financial support (Galena Rotary Club, Galena Lions Club, Grace Episcopal Church, East Dubuque Nitrogen Fertilizers, private donors like John Cooke, and others). Local involvement has been wonderfully plentiful!

The University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute scientists at the Geological Survey, Water Survey and Science & Technology Center continue to be invaluable allies, using their professional time to assist with sampling and analysis and the characterization of our hydrogeology.

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The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is funding projects and providing guidance. The University of Illinois Extension has been a regular partner in all aspects of planning and project development. The University of Minnesota Extension provided the Watershed Game and associated training and continues to work with us towards new versions of the game that expand its potential use. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Pioneer Farm have been partners and resources for water quality monitoring and for supporting projects that allow farmers to experiment with soil health practices.

At the federal level, the U.S. EPA supported local water quality monitoring through their Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Alliance for Coastal Technologies (ACT), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported the formation of the Galena-area farmer-led group and the development of a Jo Daviess County karst feature database.

In addition to a common interest in water issues, these various individuals and entities are coming together in a cyclical process of shared learning and experience, collaborative action, and results assessment. Water use and water quality issues can be controversial.

Approaching this complex and difficult topic together in a way that builds community doesn’t just increase the possibility of successful long-term water resource management. It also offers endless social dividends that will serve us well–as we row, row, row our boat through uncharted waters.