VIROQUA - A joint meeting of the Tainter Creek, Bad Axe River, Coon Creek Community, and Rush Creek watershed councils was held at the Eagle’s Club in Viroqua on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Residents and council members heard from several local figures, as well as a policy director from the River Alliance of Wisconsin.
Around 40 people were in attendance. Meeting-goers began with coffee and fellowship, then enjoyed supper from a ‘burger bar,’ which included toppings, sides, and desserts. When everyone had finished eating, Nancy Wedwick opened the meeting by going over the night’s agenda.
All attendees introduced themselves, their organizations, and the watersheds they were from. Meeting-goers were largely local, including NRCS and Crawford and Vernon County employees. Two new Vernon employees, Samer Kharbush and Sam Bibby, introduced themselves to the group for the first time. Some folks from Iowa, Madison, and other branching watersheds were present at the meeting as well.
After introductions, Chuck Bolstad spoke about the Tainter Creek Grazing and Water Quality Project. He shared the success of the project with warm optimism.
“We’re like proud stage parents now,” Bolstad said of the implementors.
TCGWQP is partnered with the Wallace Foundation and involved with Valley Stewardship Network, as well as Crawford and Vernon County Land and Water Departments.
The three-year-old project focuses on regenerative agriculture and managed, intentional grazing with the purpose of studying positive effects on water quality as a result of these practices.
“There is real power in small farmers practicing regenerative agriculture,” Bolstad said.
The program collects and uses real data such as water testing to conduct research. Bolstad emphasized the fact that carbon sequestration into the soil for the reduction of the CO2 being released into the atmosphere is a top priority for those working to combat climate change.
Following Bolstad’s presentation, Brandon Larson from Vernon County Emergency Management introduced a five-year, multi-hazard mitigation plan put into place by FEMA. The plan’s goal is to address climate change by distributing grants for natural disaster-related action and conducting surveys. Larson gave details and specifics of the plan, which he is introducing to several organizations around the area to spread awareness to local landowners.
The closing speaker of the night was Michael Tiboris, a Clear Water Farms Director with the River Alliance of Wisconsin. He began by praising the watershed groups.
“I’d just like to start by congratulating the Tainter Creek group and all of you who are contributing to this growing movement… sometimes it only takes a handful of creative, dedicated people to keep an effort moving forward.”
Tiboris described the origins and efforts of the River Alliance. The 30-year-old program began with a focus on aquatic recreation and dam removal. Their mission has expanded to empowering people to protect and restore water through a network of close to 300 producer-led groups. The River Alliance works with these groups, which are typically local organizations similar to the watershed councils and founded by ‘handfuls’ of people, to improve functioning, resilience, and efficiency in a range of ways.
Tiboris highlighted the importance of carrying on and passing down the mission of water restoration.
“You want to build an organization that hands the mission from group to group, party to party, down the line… we know that’s how watershed protection happens.”
After Tiboris outlined the River Alliance and the efforts made by groups across the state, Nancy Wedwick took the floor and encouraged everyone to break into discussion groups.The room was split into discussion of conservation areas including event planning, education and outreach, and perennials and cover crops. Discussion ran until eight o’clock at night, when Tucker Gretebeck whistled for the meeting’s conclusion. Many people stayed afterward to visit and continue conversations through the evening.