The League of Women Voters’ structure and approach allow members to play an instrumental role in efforts to address complex issues. Organized at the local, state, regional, and national levels, League efforts and resources can be scaled up and down as appropriate. With a formal process for studying issues important to voters and coming to consensus before taking action, the League has become widely respected for its non-partisan, fact-based, educational approach. In Jo Daviess County, Illinois, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV-JDC) is creating a model that showcases how “The League Way” is working with residents in this rural area on the locally controversial, nationally important, and globally critical topic of water resource management. Here is a summary of this work to date:
• Following a divisive multi-year (2007-10) controversy (based in large measure on differing opinions on potential contamination of groundwater in the karst aquifer) over the siting of a large confined dairy feeding operation, the LWV-JDC organized a public forum bringing in representatives from the Illinois EPA, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and others to provide information on the siting process and the pressures impacting the dairy industry.
• In 2013, the LWV-JDC organized a public forum entitled “The Land and Water Beneath Us” at which scientists from the Illinois State Geological and Water Surveys shared information they currently had on the hydrogeology of the area, explained what scientific information was lacking, and proposed ways to obtain new information.
• From 2014-16, local League members organized and facilitated a countywide water resource management planning project. A diverse set of stakeholders were brought to the table to learn together about the area’s water resources, and to agree on a set of facts so that we could develop goals and objectives to maintain our resources effectively. We agreed to use evidence-based decision making to achieve science-based stewardship. We presented to and surveyed every local governing board (county, municipal, township, and resort community) at the start and at the finish of our planning effort. An Illinois EPA approved Quality Assurance Project Plan was completed for the survey effort. To date, the county, 9 municipalities, 5 townships and a resort community have approved this plan. This project, a 100% volunteer effort, received the “Community Engagement Award” at the 2016 National League Convention.
• One of the county plan action items was a focused sub-watershed plan to identify specific projects for water resource management. The sub-watershed surrounding the City of Galena was selected, and – using private donations and volunteer time for match – a 2016 $38,000 Illinois EPA Grant was obtained to cover technical assistance, printing costs, and planning consultant expenses for this 2-year planning project.
• The LWV-JDC initiated the formation of the Upper Mississippi River Region Inter-League Organization to work on water resource management at a larger scale. This 4-state entity was incorporated with 60 local League chapters participating in October, 2016.
• The League used private donations and a grant from the Galena Lions Club to purchase copies of “The Watershed Game” created by the University of Minnesota Extension, and to offer two training days for those wishing to be able to facilitate the game for local governing boards, service organizations, students, etc. Forty-seven individuals, including 30 in Jo Daviess County, were trained in October, 2016, and a second training scheduled for September, 2017, is funded with a grant from 1 Mississippi.
• The LWV-JDC partnered with the Galena Rotary Club to put on a day-long conference in January, 2017, entitled “Water: We’re All in the Same Boat” – bringing in speakers to share information about current water management issues and approaches, and providing breakout sessions with presenters sharing information about local projects. The League and Rotary is actively working to expand this organizational partnership for conferences and educational programming in other areas of the Upper Mississippi River Region.
• Using private donations and volunteer time as match, a 2016 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) grant for $7,000 was obtained to conduct spring sampling with scientists from the Illinois State Geological and Water Surveys. This sampling will help establish baseline water chemistry in the area’s shallow aquifer for future reference. The project also included the development of a model karst feature database to store information on springs, sinkholes and bedrock fractures to be used both locally and by the USFWS.
• Participated in the USFWS Fishers & Farmers Leadership Network workshops in 2016, and continue involvement – working with others in the network and maintaining a Leadership Network website for the Apple-Plum watershed.
• Using the Galena Watershed work, state EPA grant funds, along with financial contributions from the City of Galena, a local fertilizer plant, local not-for profits and private donors for match, a 2017 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Fishers & Farmers grant for $20,000 was obtained to support the formation of a farmer-led group in the Galena Watershed. Workshops, field days, river water sampling, and soil nitrate testing will be conducted.
And the work continues…