Celebrating water

Published 1:08 am Sunday, July 13, 2014

A frog sticks its head from the water at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center as a water bug investigates. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

A frog sticks its head from the water at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center as a water bug investigates. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

The Jay C. Hormel Nature Center is making waves this month.

The nature center is replacing its annual Ecoblitz with the inaugural Water Festival, which will take place July 17-19.

While the Water Festival will feature many similar events as Ecoblitz, the focus will be on water rather than ecology.

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Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Director Larry Dolphin said organizers wanted to make the event more family friendly. Nature center leaders also found they did not have the right experts for some Ecoblitz activities.

ah.01.13.bDolphin described the Water Festival as a different approach focused on water, cleanup and what people can do to get cleaner, fresher water. The festival will focus on water quality in rivers and streams in Mower County.

“What happens on the land here in Minnesota has an impact to what happens in the river and what happens in the ocean,” Dolphin said.

One goal is to inform the public about ways to stop pollution, which can have adverse effects on towns downstream and harm animals, especially through things like plastic floating down waterways to the oceans and oil that is dumped down storm drains.

“We feel it’s extremely important to take a look at our water quality,” Dolphin said.

But pollution is not all from careless or unknowing people. The heavy rains in June caused runoff from fields and roadways, and Dolphin hopes to bring the situation to light and look into methods to reduce runoff, like buffers strips and grass waterways along drainage ditches and streams.

“We All Live Downstream” is one of the catch-phrases of the event, as a key concerns is the effect pollution can have on areas downstream.

“It’s all about understanding what we do and where we stand in the watershed impacts what’s downstream from us,” Dolphin said.

The festival will feature many hands-on activities, like pond scooping, canoeing and kayaking. July 18 will be a Clean Water Service Day, where organizers plan to clean up areas around Dobbins Creek and going down to East Side Lake.

Organizers plan to take a team out at 8:30 a.m. to place plates near storm drains with the words, “No Dumping/Drains to River,” along with an image of a large fish to show it’s illegal to dump anything in storm drains.

“It’s just a reminder to anybody that any dumping drains directly to the river,” Dolphin said.

Over the 25 years Dolphin has worked with the nature center, he has seen two people dumping oil into storm drains after dark.

“Obviously because they’re doing it at night they know that it’s not legal,” Dolphin said.

The 3-inch plates will be glued either on the steel of the storm drains or on the concrete next to them. Dolphin along with other volunteers have placed plates in the past.

Dolphin has high hopes for the festival and future water quality in Mower County.

“[I] want a fishery where we can fish and actually eat the fish and not worry about contamination,” Dolphin said.

That will come through a community effort to address things like the chemicals people use on their lawns, how crops are grown, pollution and how people think of groundwater.

“It’s all connected from wherever you stand on this planet,” Dolphin said. “We all have to become better stewards of the water so we have less of an impact.”

If the inaugural year goes well, organizers hope to do the Water Festival again next year. They promoted the festival during the Fourth of July parade, and they hope for a good turnout. Volunteers and staff are excited to change the program and try something new.

People who would like to volunteer or attend should contact the nature center to register at 507-437-7519. Attendees can earn a reusable steel water bottle if they participate in four different activities, and they can earn the water bottle and a T-shirt if they participate in eight different activities.

More details can be found at www.hormelnaturecenter.org/water-festival.html