April 15, 2021

Slifka Recognized with 2021 Circle of Excellence IAWA Iowa Watershed Award

Slifka Recognized with Circle of Excellence

IAWA Iowa Watershed Award

AMES, IOWA – Hunter Slifka, watershed project coordinator for the Turkey River Headwaters & Chihak Creek, was honored with the Circle of Excellence award by the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) during the fourth annual IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards program.

Slifka is honored alongside five other watershed coordinators who are also receiving 2021 IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards. The recipients were announced at the 2021 Iowa Water Conference.

“In these challenging times, it’s important to recognize these unsung heroes who continue to make great progress implementing conservation practices that improve water quality,” says Sean McMahon, IAWA Executive Director. “These watershed coordinators have worked during a global pandemic to help meet local community goals while also simultaneously advancing the objectives of the statewide Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.”

Teaming up to bring conservation programs to farmers during a pandemic

Slifka can take pride in many accomplishments in a county that leads the state in seeking conservation dollars for its farmers as well as having a big share of acres protected by cover crops or perennial vegetation. Of all of his accomplishments in 2020, he was proudest of teamwork with his coworkers.

In the past year, the Howard County Soil and Water Conservation District office where Slifka normally works was down to two staffers to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19. “It’s been very challenging,” he says.

Last spring, the USDA provided a short window for farmers to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). As a team, he and his coworkers were able to obligate over $1 million in EQIP funds, the most in the state, according to Slifka. Sometimes that meant driving an hour and a half to a farm to get a producer’s signature.

Those EQIP funds help pay for planting cover crops and stabilizing stream banks against erosion, with much of that going to the 62,000-acre Turkey River watershed. The rest goes to about 14,000 acres of the Silver Creek watershed in Howard County.

The programs, building on top of earlier work in the watershed, are improving trout streams that feed into the Turkey River. The streams have long been stocked with trout but brown trout are now reproducing naturally in some of them.

“We’ve really, in the last five years, had exponential growth in cover crops,” Slifka says. When he started working as a technician part time during college, there were just a few fields with cover crops.

Today, there are about 25,000 acres of cover crops planted, protecting the soil after harvest and before planting. They reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that would otherwise flow into the watershed. Last year alone, 6,100 new acres of cover crops were seeded in the watershed.

Slifka works with nearly 150 active producers in the watershed who are putting in other practices such as grassed waterways. State and federal government funds aren’t the only support the project has. Funding also comes from Trout Unlimited, the Iowa Coldwater Conservancy, the Izaak Walton League, and Turkey River Pheasants Forever.

Slifka grew up in Cresco, the seat of Howard County, and he’s active in the community — as a volunteer firefighter, a wrestling coach, and the banquet chairman for the local Pheasants Forever chapter.

After graduating high school in 2014, the avid fisherman, hunter, and hiker thought that he might want to work for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), but he was recruited to volunteer over the summer at the Howard County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do once I tried it out,” he says. After graduating from Upper Iowa University with a degree in conservation management, he went to work full time for the conservation district and became watershed coordinator in 2018.

To help maintain momentum for this work, Slifka will receive funding through the IAWA Iowa Watershed Award to apply to the Turkey River Headwaters & Chihak Creek Project as well as funding for his own professional development.

The IAWA Iowa Watershed Awards program was developed by IAWA in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Conservation Districts of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa DNR.

The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) is increasing the pace and scale of farmer-led efforts to improve water quality in Iowa. Founded in 2014 by Iowa Corn, the Iowa Soybean Association, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, IAWA is building public-private partnerships focused on implementing water quality solutions. Iowa farmers are actively engaged in various conservation efforts that improve water quality. Learn more at www.iowaagwateralliance.com.