Two tours, one topic: Water.

Protecting water quality requires that everyone take action and have an openness to learn across industries. The second annual PDPW and UW Discovery Farms Water Tours held in June, brought together people from different professions to highlight innovative ways farms, municipalities and businesses are supporting water quality. Tours were held in Marshfield and Rivers Falls and each tour included a stop that focused on a farmer-led watershed group in the area.

During a discussion at Eron Agronomics led by UW-Extension Agent Ken Schroeder and John Eron the Farmers of Mill Creek Watershed Council emphasized their focus on experimentation and partnerships. The group is working to reduce phosphorus loading of the Mill Creek by trying out a range of practices to determine what strategies work in their unique situation. For example, the group has acquired two no-till drills that can be modified for inter-seeding cover crops. Several participating farmers have started cover crop demonstration plots. In addition, like Rick Georgeson of the Petenwell and Castle Rock Stewards (PACRS) explained, a positive relationship has been built between the lake association and the farmers in the watershed through a series of events.

The stop at Eron Agronomics led one attendee to takeaway just how important relationships are. “Relationships, relationship, relationships. It was really inspiring to hear John’s story about the drill and getting cover crops planted. People talking to people, that is how work gets done.”

On the River Falls tour, Dan Sitz with the Pierce County Land Conservation Department reviewed the South Kinni Farmer-Led Watershed’s efforts, which include collaborating on a cover crop test plot and implementing a wide range of conservation practices.

Whether it’s a farm, cheese plant, city, or wastewater treatment plant, each sector is trying new innovations. Shared innovations don’t necessarily mean that each sector is implementing the same practice, it means that they are able to take ideas from each other to figure out what works best in each scenario.

The Water Tours made it clear that there is a growing need for tinkering and creativity. Just look at the Marshfield Wastewater Treatment Plant, which took a chance and switched from a traditional system to one with biological phosphorus removal that cost $48 in supplies and now saves them $140,000 a year.

The main lessons from this year’s Water Tours were clear; First, find groups with similar end goals. In the case of the Mill Creek Watershed, local lake groups, farmers, and a wastewater treatment plant all want to see a reduction in the amount of phosphorus in the stream.

Second, as Amber Radatz, co-director UW Discovery Farms explained, “It is not a choice whether we employ the tools that we know of or not. The choice is how you individualize it for yourself and whatever situation you are in. Whether you are a city, a farm, or industry. It is our choice how we adapt them to our personal situations and make them work.”

Lastly, think outside the box because as one attendee suggested, “there is no magic bullet. We saw a lot of people trying something really small. I hope that gives people inspiration to try something and learn from it.”

A closing statement from one attendee sums up the Water Tours well, “We are all in this together. My children and grandchildren are going to drink this water.” Start collaborating and innovating today, to ensure good water quality for the future. Every drop counts.

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