IEC Announces 2020 Pro H2O Award Winners

posted on Friday, August 14, 2020 in Water and Land News

by Olivia Hicks, IEC Communication Intern

IEC is getting set to host Pro H2O online on September 10, delivering live music, local craft beers and food, and inspiring messages from staff and founders as we celebrate our 25th year. The party will also continue to recognize Iowans doing important work to protect and improve our state’s waterways with our awards program.

2020 Youth Innovation Award

The first award recipients are the Youth Innovation award winners - two Iowa City West High School students, Shreya Khullar and Caroline Mascardo. Khullar and Mascardo won the 2020 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contest “See a Bloom, Give It Room” with their stop-motion film on algal blooms. The contest encouraged high school students to create video projects that helped to inform the public about toxic algal blooms and their effects.  

See It Bloom, Give It Room Video

Khullar and Mascardo, rising juniors at Iowa City West, had little knowledge of algal blooms before the 2019-2020 school year. It was Khullar who approached her chemistry teacher, Carolyn Walling, expressing an interest in algal blooms. This interest not only led Walling to encourage her students to participate in the EPA contest, but also inspired Khullar’s science fair project: a bioreactor to filter nitrates, for which Khullar received the IowaBio Scholarship.  

Both Khullar and Mascardo noted the hard work and learning curve the two faced in the process of researching, collaging graphics, understanding lighting and filming, and editing. This learning curve was elevated by their limited deadline: the two filmed the entire stop-motion film in one day.  

Not only did the two students gain experience in video production and researching environmental issues, but they also learned the value of taking a chance and their hard work paying off. “It is nice to see that if you put yourself out there, it will pay off in the end,” said Shreya Khullar.  

Both award recipients attributed their interest in environmental issues to Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist who has inspired youth around the globe through school climate strikes. With climate issues gaining a more prevalent platform in school, on the news, and in everyday life, Mascardo said she has become more passionate about reducing her carbon footprint.  

“In the past year, with my personal impact on the environment and especially with Greta Thunberg’s school climate strikes, I have become more cognizant that everything I do has an impact on the environment, from what clothes I wear to how I dispose of my trash,” said Caroline Mascardo, who saw Thunberg at the Iowa City School Climate Strike last year.  

“When I went to the climate strike, I knew very little about the climate crisis and the role I had in mitigating my impact on the plant,” said Mascardo. “Overall, going to see Greta Thunberg made me realize how frightening and imminent the consequences of global warming are.”  

Lake MacBride Algae Bloom, 2019

Khullar also saw Thunberg’s age as an inspiration: “She’s so young and she can do so much.” 

Just as Khullar and Mascardo have their environmental inspirations, their teacher Carolyn Walling is hopeful for the future because of the pair and young people like them. “They are so knowledgeable, they listen and believe in science. This generation is really motivated to get things done, they don’t just sit around. I have a lot of hope. They aren’t just good at science, they are good people,” said Walling. 

In response to receiving an IEC award for their video project, Khullar and Mascardo shared how meaningful it is to have an impact on both the national and local level. The project also led the pair to reflect on Iowa’s water quality and recognize the importance of educating the public on environmental hazards. 

“In order for future generations to have access to clean water, we should be educating students right now and making an effort to improve things now,” said Mascardo. “As a society, we need to take greater action in preserving the planet. It can’t just be the younger generations working to save their futures; we all need to work together.”  

Shreya Khullar and Caroline Mascardo

2020 Business Innovation Award

IEC’s Pro H2O Business Innovation award will go to the Eastern Iowa Airport's water quality program Wings2Water. This innovative program encourages airport customers to donate to Wings2Water, which directly funds Linn and Johnson county water quality improvement projects.

WIngs to Water

The program recently became a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and is now working on several projects, including a 35-acre addition to Morgan Creek Park. The project will construct a network of wetlands to capture water runoff from area neighborhoods and improve water quality and flood prevention. Additional projects underway or planned include creating the Linn County Learning Farm, one of the only known prairie pothole wetlands in Linn County; Kent Park Lake habitat and recreation restoration; and a 780-acre prairie restoration project to reconnect the Cedar River to its original floodplain in Johnson County.  

"We wanted to partner with somebody in the county that was already doing work in the water quality space, but maybe they went through budget issues or pressures and are not able to get more work done. So, our initial thoughts were, let's partner with Linn County Conservation and Johnson County, two agencies that already have a long list of water quality projects. We wanted to help fund those," said Marty Lenss, Director of the Eastern Iowa Airport.  

Customers can donate via parking meter, on the Wings2Water website, or round-up their final purchase amount at the airport gift ship and can choose to donate either to Linn or Johnson County. The airport has raised nearly $100,000 in corporate and individual donations and $94 in cash via parking meters. 

Wings to Water Donations

While the projects are selected and managed by Linn and Johnson County, the airport recognizes its own impact on Iowa's waterways. The airport's efforts were largely influenced by Iowa's contribution to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.  

Airport watershed"One of the core values of the Eastern Iowa Airport is environmental stewardship. We have 3,000 acres [of land], with 2,000 acres in farm production. We sit on top of the Cedar River and Iowa River watershed. So, the [Airport] Commission really wanted to look at some proactive steps in water quality," said Lenss. "We started looking at our tenant farmers’ practices and started making changes there.” 

Tenant farming changes include no till, no fall fertilizer, and planting cover crops.  

Marty LenssLenss said he does not see these water quality issues as debatable. Providing accessible ways for customers to donate and, therefore, have a stake in the future of Iowa's water quality, is one way to engage Iowans in favor of water quality improvement.  

"Certainly the voters across the state have spoken and we all want to see more done with water quality and so we're giving everybody an opportunity to be what we call an impact investor," said Lenss.  

Lenss shared hope for both the future of Wings2Water and water quality in Iowa, including a desire to expand within the Mississippi watershed where there are approximately 185  commercial service airports. Expansion has already begun with the program’s recent partnership with 1% For The Planet, a non-profit encouraging and advising businesses and individuals to aid in environmental solutions.  

"I've always had a passion for the outdoors from a sportsman's point of view. Relocating to Iowa [from Minnesota], I heard a lot about the water quality and when we began to recreate some of the waterways around I could see things firsthand,” said Lenss. “My hope is, through some grassroots action, we can begin to make a difference and help Iowa achieve the goals that are set forth by the state. It's going to take all of us going in one direction on water quality.” 

As a relatively new program, Lenss emphasized the airport was honored to be recognized by the Iowa Environmental Council for the business award. “To be recognized with an award like this re-stokes the fire to keep going and do bigger things,” said Lenss.  

Pro H2OJoin IEC and our award winners at Pro H2O on September 10 from 7 – 8:30 p.m. for our virtual party. Tickets range from $10 to $50, with Cocktail tickets including beer and snacks from craft breweries around the state. Get more details and register at

  1. 25th anniversary
  2. beach advisories
  3. clean water
  4. climate change
  5. flooding
  6. harmful algal blooms
  7. microcystin
  8. nitrate pollution
  9. pro h2o
  10. public beaches
  11. toxic algae
  12. water quality
  13. water safety