MOLINE, Ill. — When it comes to water quality, Rich Stewart of the Rock Island Soil and Water Conservation District knows it’s not just a concern for farmers and rural residents.

“It’s bringing in the urban side, too. It’s not always the farmers who are having the problems,” Stewart said.

To that end, Stewart and the Rock Island SWCD will host the Quad Cities Stormwater Conference on Feb. 12 at Jumer’s Casino and Hotel in Rock Island. This is the sixth year for the conference, which focuses on stormwater management for municipal contractors and engineers, as well as municipal government officials.

“We bring in over 100 contractors and engineering firms and we talk to them about topics like erosion and sediment control,” Stewart said.

The conference covers rules and regulations on both sides of the Mississippi River.

“A lot of our contractors work on both sides of the river, so we’ll bring in people from Iowa to talk about what they need on the Iowa side and then we’ll talk about what the Illinois people need on the Illinois side so the contractors know what the requirements are,” Stewart said.

Getting the conference together has come at the end of one busy year for Stewart and the start of another.

The Rock Island SWCD completed the work funded by its first grant for the Copperas Creek Watershed and will be waiting to hear, hopefully in March, whether a second grant through the Illinois EPA will be approved.

“We identified about 14 different landowners and about $316,000 worth of work was completed at a 60 percent match from the EPA and then 40 percent from the landowners,” Stewart said.

Copperas Creek, whose watershed covers some 47,000 acres, drains directly into the Mississippi River. A priority of the projects was to reduce erosion from the creek and thus improve water quality.

“There were about 14 landowners applying different practices, primarily streambank stabilization practices,” Stewart said.

About 2,600 feet of streambank stabilization was constructed, along with water and sediment control basins, grass waterways, grade stabilization structures, diversions and filter strips.

In addition to shoring up the streambank, preventing more erosion and improving water quality, the RISWCD projects also provide learning opportunities for the local contractors who work on the projects.

“Some of these contractors have never done streambank stabilization projects. A lot of them had done grass waterways and grade stabilization structures, all that kind of stuff, so these were new practices and the contractors picked up some of these new techniques,” Stewart said.

In addition to working with rural landowners and farmers, the RISWCD is one of several SWCDs that have contracts with the Illinois EPA to do construction site inspections.

“We do construction inspections for the erosion and sediment control plans,” Stewart said.

Stewart said one big challenge has been to deal with smaller staffs at SWCDs across the state.

“Now we are in a position of trying to get things done. Now they are giving us money to do things and we are struggling to get the staff hired and get them technically trained in time,” Stewart said.

State budget cuts a few years ago were particularly hard on Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the state.

“Some of our districts have lost a lot of their technical staff in the last few years. We went from 250, 300 employees to almost 150. When we lost that funding, a lot of people found positions someplace else,” Stewart said.

Even with 35 years as a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation District in Henry County, prior to coming on board with the RISWCD, Stewart remains enthusiastic and excited about the job.

“The fact that I can work as an SWCD employee with a watershed project has been really neat and the fact that I can work on construction site activities, that was something unique. Putting on a hard hat and steel-toed boots and walking onto a construction site was something kind of different for a farm boy,” he said.

Jeannine Otto can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 211, or jotto@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Otto.

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