Vol. 6, No. 4
Apr. 2014

Project AWARE to tackle interstate river cleanup

Project AWARE — A Watershed Awareness River Expedition — will offer its first interstate river cleanup when the annual event launches this summer on the Big Sioux River.

These canoeists and event staff were part of the 223 members of the Project AWARE team that cleaned up the East and West Nishnabotna Rivers during 2010.

The 12th annual Project AWARE, organized by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will be held from July 12 - 19 in partnership with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

"It's the first time we're partnering with another state and doing a border river," said Lynette Seigley, Project AWARE coordinator for the Iowa DNR.

Seigley said portions of the week-long event will be in South Dakota and some will be in Iowa, beginning July 12 with a meet and greet at Iowa’s Lake Pahoja. Participants will paddle 91 miles of the Big Sioux, starting July 13 from Gitchie Manitou in Iowa and ending on July 19 at an overnight stay at the Hillview Recreation Area near Hinton.

Seigley noted that Project AWARE is a unique event. "There really isn't another event like Project AWARE in the country," she said.

This summer's event will be the 10th for Seth Zimmermann, a limnologist at the State Hygienic Laboratory, which is one of the sponsors of Project AWARE.

"It's a great project," Zimmermann said. "You do a lot of good; the volunteers are spectacular and you remove thousands of pounds of garbage from the river in a week. It's easy to want to come back."

Since its inception in 2003, some 2,882 volunteers have removed more than a half-million pounds of scrap metal, abandoned appliances and other trash illegally dumped or dragged into Iowa rivers by floodwaters, including more than 3,600 tires. Of the 553,199 pounds of trash, 400,609 pounds have been recycled.

Last year, 343 people paddled the Des Moines River, removing trash during the day and camping at night.

Zimmermann said participants, at any skill level, can volunteer the whole week, just one day or whatever fits their schedule. Canoes are provided and beginners are teamed with seasoned paddlers. His son first participated as a toddler and some volunteers have been in their 80s, he noted.

Educational sessions each night cover topics such as native bats, turtles and composting; and residents of communities along the route are invited to attend.

Zimmermann, one of five staff members from the State Hygienic Lab who will participate this summer, said having South Dakota join in Project AWARE will be exciting.

"It's a little more complex in some fashion, but we've got a lot of buy-in from South Dakota," he said.

    Objectives of Project AWARE include:
  • Increase awareness about, and community involvement in, water quality issues that impact the health of Iowa's aquatic resources.
  • Engage Iowa's citizen volunteers in a project that challenges them to become stewards of the river and produces a tangible, quantitative result.
  • Demonstrate the commitment of Iowa's citizens by giving of themselves and their valuable time to make a difference - one stretch of river, one piece of trash at a time.

Registration deadline is June 20. Participants pay only for food during the event. For more details, see the Project AWARE website.