You would expect to find the office for a non-profit group called 'Save the Dunes' located right next to the shore of Lake Michigan, as close to the historic, almost incomprehensible dunes piled up by nature over centuries, as possible, right? Granted, their office isn't too far away, but it's not at the dunes themselves. And Jennifer Nebe, who is director of water quality programs for the group, spends more of her time elsewhere than at the dunes themselves.
Why? Because what happens miles away from the dunes, in watersheds that feed into streams that dump either into Lake Michigan or into tributaries that lead toward the lake, affect water quality as much or more so than what happens right on the Lake Shore. The number one pollutant is sediment, and it finds its way into streams way before it gets to state and national landmarks.
The same is likely true in your watershed where you farm. Wherever your water winds up after it leaves your farm, it's part of a watershed of one form or another. And the key to keeping your watershed clean is also preventing soil from moving. When soil moves, bad things happen- soil becomes dirt out of place, and nutrients that should be adding to crop yields instead wind up in streams, causing problems by encouraging plant growth where it's not wanted.
In fact, Nebe works with local soil and water conservation districts in her area. She spends much of her time in the summer monitoring water quality by pulling water samples- in creeks miles away from the Lake Shore. She's helping establish a baseline, so that as farmers and other landowners cost-share on practices designed to reduce sedimentation of creeks and streams, and as other practices go into place to directly reduce the amount of E. coli bacteria in the water, she can measure water parameters again, and determine if these actions have helped reach the goal.
What Nebe does isn't that much different from what Heather Siesel and Christime Goldstein do some 200 miles away, working for a watershed project in south-central Indiana. They also visit landowners and work up cost-share programs to help keep both sediment and bacteria out of streams. The watersheds they try to protect and improve may not wind up at places as historic or awe-inspiring as the Indiana Dunes at Lake Michigan, but their work is just as important.