April 22, 2022

Over the last few years, I have had the honor of participating as staff for Iowa Project AWARE. I sift through all of the trash that volunteers find in the river — glass, plastic, metal, tires and the odd assortment of unusual items. I also have the pleasure of chatting with volunteers at the end of their day. Giddy, joyful even though they may be covered in mud and weary from paddling, they bubble over with talk of the float, fun on the river, new friendships made, and surprise at how some Iowans treat our waterways. Even veteran volunteers have new stories to share and they range from the beauty of a Great Blue Heron to the weight of a washing machine they pulled out of the river. This week-long event connects people to our waterways. They see both the beauty and the trash and for many, this dichotomy builds a passion to do something about it. Perhaps they just share with their neighbors or decide to volunteer again next year or go so far as to organize and host their own clean-up on another stretch of water. Whatever the outcome, they leave changed and ready to make a difference.


There are three primary reasons to protect our waterways. Many Iowa cities still draw drinking water from our creeks and streams. Protecting this resource is vital to human health. Additionally, water-based recreational activities are an economic driver in our state. According to Iowa State researchers, recreationists spent over a billion dollars in 2019 on lake recreation alone. As citizens of this planet, we have an ethical responsibility to protect the delicate balance that supports the uniqueness of all life.


The most important thing paddlers can do for our waterways is vote for conservation. In 2010 more than 60% of Iowans voted to create Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) fund. Since then, the Iowa Legislature has chosen not to raise the state sales tax, leaving the fund empty. This was TEN years ago. Voting for representation that will work to fulfill this promise is vital to the continued protection of our waterways.


The 2021 Iowa Project AWARE  included:

  • 49 River Miles
  • 319 Total Participants
  • 31,698 (15.8 tons) Trash & Recyclables Collected

You can register for the 2022 Iowa Project AWARE here.

About the Author: Liz Maas an ecologist who teaches Biology and Environmental Science at Kirkwood Community College at the Iowa City Campus. She and her husband Ryan are raising our two teenage daughters, fixing up a home built in 1904, and keeping busy with 3 dogs and a cat. Liz grew up in Iowa City on a horse farm and learned from an early age the joy of swimming and finding mussels in the Iowa River, pulling big catfish out of her family’s pond, and how we all rely on clean water. She studied Animal Ecology at Iowa State and is passionate about the natural world and desires to better understand its interconnections.