Iowa Water Love Stories

posted by Alicia Vasto on Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Happy Valentine's Day from the Iowa Environmental Council! We're celebrating this year by sharing stories about our love for Iowa's waters.

Angelisa Belden - Communications Director

A young boy, left, and young girl, right, in life jackets while boatingTo me, water = love.  Fishing, floating, canoeing, boating – these activities were always done as a family or with friends, and to me are packed with memories of time spent with ones we loved. Growing up, it was driving to Prairie du Chien on a Sunday to pick up burgers from Pete’s Hamburgers, then enjoying them at the park by the busy, swift moving river or heading up to Pikes Peak for a picnic. You’ll still find us doing this several times a summer.

It was nearly every summer afternoon in high school, lazily floating in inner tubes down the Turkey River between Clermont and Elgin with my best friends; nowadays, it’s getting out the canoes when my brother and I are home in the summer with our kids to canoe that same route (no floating in the Turkey anymore - the water quality isn't good) It’s boating adventures with my parents on the Mississippi. It’s memories of beach days with my besties at the Res or Lake MacBride during my years at the University of Iowa. Today it’s getting my kids out to find new places in Central Iowa to enjoy, like packing a friend’s boat on Black Hawk Lake or hitting the beach at the wonderfully restored Easter Lake. Water is tied up in so many of my favorite memories and will always be a part of my family’s future.  

Jordan Bles - Director of Fundraising and Development

Man in shorts and young girl in pink dress wade in waterfallI love how much my daughter loves water, and getting to play with her in it. Whether from starting swim lessons at an early age or watching her fearlessly wade up to a waterfall in Decorah, I love watching the formative memories already beginning to take hold. What I don’t love, though, is how worried I am about the impact of Iowa’s water on her health. I want her love of water to develop without abandon – but I know that can’t be the case here. It brings my heart joy to read Water Protectors with her, and hear her proclaim that she wants to be, and is, a water protector. I just wish we could all do more to step up and help her. 

Kerri Johannsen - Energy Program Director

Panoramic view of farm field with red barn and leafless treesEvery spring as the snow started to melt, a rising creek would appear in the cow pasture that was my front yard. The temperature wasn’t a barrier and whether it was March first or June first, my sisters and I would be knee-deep in the water, wading through the cold rush and the tall grass. I remember the smell of the melt and the wet dirt and the feel of the water sloshing over the sides of my rubber boots, soaking my socks and the legs of my jeans. I remember this as a feeling of pure joy, belonging to the outdoors, being part of the spring surging of new life everywhere I looked and the water was the first sign.   

Jordan Oster - Energy Outreach and Advocacy Manager 

Walnut Creek is a narrow stream that runs through the geographically narrow city of Clive. Growing up, this tributary of the Raccoon River was a place for my early exploration of nature. Making my way down the pitched dirt bank and dipping bare feet into the cold water, I would spot small fish, tadpoles and water bugs dance, dodge and dive in the slow current. Timidly stepping on stones underfoot, I moved into deeper water and its sandy bottom. The creek and surrounding Greenbelt Park stand as a small natural refuge in an urban setting which fostered my wonderment for ecosystems big and small. Water is essential for life – and worth loving.  

Mike Schmidt - Staff Attorney

Boy in white t-shirt and shorts next to a streamMy early memories of playing outside include visits to Aldrich Creek in Ida County, where I would build rock dams to make it easier to catch minnows, chubs, crayfish, frogs, and macroinvertebrates (though I just called them bugs). Going to the creek was a highlight of every trip to my aunt and uncle’s farm and taught me about the wildlife native to Iowa. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was also a lesson in water quality. I learned that big storms between visits altered the creek’s cross-section. I saw how different geomorphology transformed the character of the creek from a wide pool to a swift, narrow channel downstream. I heard how the activities on farms upstream would affect the clarity and quality of the water where I tried to fish. The creek provided endless entertainment and many lessons in conservation. 

Alicia Vasto - Water Program Director

Concrete ramp extends from the left into the Raccoon River, lined with treesI grew up two blocks from the North Raccoon River in Adel. I’d characterize my love for the river as complicated. One of my earliest memories is of the flood of 1993. I remember my parents piling our furniture and belongings up like an island in the center of the dining room to protect them, seeing our neighbors build a wall out of sandbags to hold back the waters, and playing on our swing set and slide in the new splash pad that was our backyard (followed by a vigorous bath with buckets of reserved clean water). Growing up, I explored the riverbanks with my friends, learned how to paddle, and alternately floated and dragged an innertube through the shallow waters during a float.

As an adult working on water issues in Iowa, I learned much more about the Raccoon and the truth of what I thought I knew about it as a kid. I always thought the river looked bad, and I was scared of what was hidden in the murky waters. When I was young, I thought that might be a giant fish or a whirlpool that could pull me under. When I got older and one of my friends cut her foot during a float, I was worried she would get an infection. Now I worry that the river’s high nitrate levels could impact my health and the health of my family and friends. I have fond memories of the river but I was always concerned about it, and rightfully so. I would love to see the Raccoon improve to the point that I could enjoy visiting it and recreating there in the future. I’d love to see it become a river restoration success story for our state, and I’d love to share hometown pride for the river I grew up on.  

Kristen Weaverling - Energy Communications Manager

Round iron cistern overflows with water, green foliage behindGrowing up, my family would visit my grandparents who lived in Osage. During those trips, we’d often visit Spring Park, located just south of the city — named aptly after the park’s natural spring, which bubbles up into an iron cistern. The riverside park sits alongside a peaceful stretch of the Cedar River where I have fond memories of sipping cool water from the spring, camping, hiking, skipping rocks, and learning how to fish. The park holds many special memories for my family. It’s my hope that places like this are protected so they can be treasured by future generations too.

What's your water love story? Share it with us at  

  1. clean water
  2. recreation
  3. water quality
  4. water recreation

About The Author

Alicia joined the Council in 2019. She grew up in Adel, Iowa. She previously worked as the director of the Iowa Conservation Education Coalition, where she supported environmental educators and advanced environmental literacy. Alicia holds a Master of Environmental Management degree from Duke Uni ... read more