Rainscaping with Youth in the Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed

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Youth visiting a raingarden

By: Margot Dick, IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering Communications Assistant

When Angie Auel asked the fifth graders of Fairbank Elementary School about water retention issues in their community, they told her about their basketball court. Whenever rain or snow falls on the court, they said, the space floods, leaving them without a place to play. Auel, with the help of the kids, created a plan to build a rain garden next to the basketball court to capture the runoff and keep the court dry.

Angela Auel, Upper Wapsi project coordinator

Angela Auel, Upper Wapsipinicon River project coordinator

Auel is the project manager for the Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed (also called the Upper Wapsi), which encompasses a large stretch of northeastern Iowa. The Upper Wapsi is one of the nine Iowa watersheds that are part of the Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA), a project focused on flood management and resilience.

As an IWA watershed coordinator for the Upper Wapsi Watershed, Auel works closely with the community. Lately, she has focused on educating fifth graders on stormwater management, including students in Readlyn, Iowa. The City of Readlyn is in the process of building a wetland south of town to help contain stormwater runoff and improve water quality as it flows toward the Wapsi River. A teacher at Readlyn elementary received a grant of nearly $5,000 for wetland plants, which the students will plant once school is back in session.

Education is far from the only job Auel does, though she stresses the importance of keeping people involved with the health of the watershed.

“Once the [grant] money is gone, we still want people to be considering what is going on in our watershed, how we can help slow down the water, and not just push it downstream as fast as we can,” she says.

Citizens of Winthrop, another community within the Upper Waspi Watershed, recently received a grant to help install permeable pavers into their streets, a project that Auel will be helping them with. Currently, water runs off rooftops and onto gravel below. The runoff erodes the gravel into the river and on downstream. Runoff can erode river banks, carry dangerous toxins and litter into the rivers, and contaminate drinking water. Permeable pavers offer a solution to runoff by directing the water back into the soil before it can reach the river. The pavers are porous, allowing water to run through the street and into crushed gravel below, which filters the water as it flows into the ground. Water that infiltrates the ground rather than flowing directly into the river is filtered by the soil, removing chemicals that may have been picked up along the way, especially from rooftops.

From a group of fifth graders to the residents of an entire watershed, Angie Auel is constantly teaching people about the health and safety of the water around them.

For more information please contact Angie Auel at angieauel@indytel.com