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Water Resource Management in Northwest Illinois, Northeast Iowa, Southwest Wisconsin

47 Trained to Facilitate Watershed Game

The League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County is following up on action items identified in the recently completed Jo Daviess County Water Resource Management Plan. On October 24th and 25th, John Bilotta and Cindy Hagley (University of Minnesota Extension) were invited to the DeSoto House Hotel in Galena to conduct 2 day-long sessions to train 47 individuals to become facilitators for “The Watershed Game”.

30 of the trainees were from within Jo Daviess County and have committed to playing the game with a group in the county within one year to raise awareness and literacy about watershed issues. Stream, Lake and classroom versions of the game were purchased and are available for the facilitators to check out from the county environmental health department.

The game provides a fun way to learn about watersheds, land use impacts on water quality, and strategic collaboration to achieve water quality goals. In addition to the Jo Daviess County facilitators, 17 individuals from other parts of the Upper Mississippi River Region received training (Madison, Ottumwa, Dubuque, and LaCrosse were among the communities represented).

These individuals were part of the Upper Mississippi River Region Inter-League Organization (LWV-UMRR ILO). Affectionately referred to as the “Ummer,” the inter-league, comprised of over 60 local Leagues in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, just celebrated its 1st anniversary, having formed in October of 2015. Nutrient pollution was chosen as a focus issue for the ILO  since each of the states has been challenged to reduce nitrate, nitrogen and phosphorus contributions to the Mississippi River. The Watershed Game is seen as a tool for raising awareness about these issues.

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In Jo Daviess County, an inclusive process is building awareness and momentum for water protection. (Story & photo: League Of Women Voters)

Award For Local, Collaborative Work

In June, the Jo Daviess County Water Resource Management Planning Committee completed the final draft of its water resource management plan. The League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County (LWV) also learned it received a national award as a result of the committee’s work.

More than 20 stakeholders from around the county, recruited and organized by the local League in collaboration with Jo Daviess County Soil and Water District, met every other month for over two years to develop a plan identifying and assessing issues related to surface water and groundwater in the county.

With science-based stewardship and evidence-based decision-making as guiding principles, the process documented consensus about the best way to manage water resources going forward.

At the 52nd national convention of the League of Women Voters held June 16-18, 2016 in Washington, D.C., the local League received the Effective Community Engagement Award for its water resource management plan project. The project was one of four finalists. League members from more than 800 local Leagues around the country voted online to award the honor.

Local issues identified during the two-year process fell into three broad categories: 1) storm water management; 2) groundwater management; and 3) water quality. Topography, soils, and geology of the county were found to create challenges in each of these areas.

The plan documents consensus on three broad goals with specific objectives and includes a multi-year action plan designed to achieve incremental, sustainable improvements to water resource management across the county.

The plan is now being presented to county township boards, city councils, resort core boards, county board and other organizations. These groups will be invited to collaborate and focus on possible actions to accomplish the goals and objectives in the multi-year action plan.

Find a link to the plan in the “current issues” tab of lwvjodaviess.org.

During development of Jo Daviess County's water plan, the League of Women Voters held 39 meetings with citizens in 23 townships. Goals: listening, learning, and finding common ground. (League Of Women Voters)

League of Women Voters-Jo Daviess County Bridges Divisions

Five years ago, the proposed siting of a 10,000-head of dairy cattle Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) —the largest in Illinois history—in Jo Daviess County ignited controversy and divided the community. After initially avoiding the volatile issue, members of the League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County (LWV) held a day-long seminar on the history of dairy farming in Jo Daviess County to help explain the issue’s background and the stakes for the community. The seminar and the interest it generated within the League evolved into an effort to better understand the relationship between the area’s agriculture and its environment.

The county lies within the Driftless Area in the Midwest, a region characterized by rock formations with cracks close to the surface that leave the groundwater susceptible to contamination, linking the local CAFO controversy to larger regional and national environmental conservation issues. The LWV of Jo Daviess County has partnered with community organizations, government agencies, and other local leagues to improve education about water quality issues and foster solutions to these problems. The League’s ever-expanding efforts have included a survey conducted with the help of University of Wisconsin-Platteville students and an ongoing exploration into forming an inter-League Organization (ILO) with the LWV of Dubuque (IA) and the LWV of La Crosse (WI).

The League’s non-partisan and unbiased nature made it uniquely suited to bridge the divisions within the Jo Daviess community and identify areas to do constructive work. Instead of combativeness or argument, the League focused on a strategy of “science-based stewardship” and brought experts together to further study and explain the issues. At the seminar on dairy history, League members “really sought to understand the perspectives of all the people involved,” Bonnie Cox, president of the LWV of Jo Daviess County said. Afterward, League members continued to meet with people and groups advocating on both sides, placing emphasis on listening and understanding the facts.

Bonnie Cox, president of the LWV of Jo Daviess County, compared the League’s approach when developing partnerships to the watershed they study—crossing county, state, and partisan lines. “I think it’s a real opportunity for the League to get involved in contentious issues, but identify common ground and to get things done,” she said.

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