Wouldn’t it be great if we all got to come to work every day and pursue the things that matter most to us? Our team in the Office of Location and Environment is a group of individuals working toward the common goals of advancing transportation while preserving and protecting Iowa’s ecosystems.
Looking after the environment isn’t just an Iowa DOT activity for many of our employees. Several of these dedicated people spend their free time volunteering for programs and projects that make a difference in the world around us. Not to pick on just one of these folks, but here’s the story of how Mark Sloppy, environmental specialist senior, spent a weekend in September.
Sloppy said, “We all do some environmental projects outside of work. So when someone finds out about a project, they send an email to see if anyone would like to participate. MaryKay Solberg is connected to a group that focuses on the protection of mussels. When she found out about a project in Cedar Falls where my fiancé lives, she forwarded it to me.”
There is a 6-mile stretch of the Cedar River in Cedar Falls and Waterloo that is a popular summer recreation spot. The city of Waterloo puts up an inflatable bladder dam to increase the depth of the river in the area every spring and deflates it in the fall. “The bladder dam is used for increasing the recreational opportunities in the area,” said Sloppy, “But when it is deflated in the fall, it has shown a negative effect on some of the aquatic life in the river ecosystem.”
Mussels on the riverbed are some of the creatures impacted by the sudden decrease in water. Sloppy said, “Dropping the water so quickly strands the slow-moving mussels on sandbars. They can’t move fast enough. When they are stranded they either dry out or are eaten by predators.”
So what’s the big deal if these mussels don’t survive? “Mussels serve as a filter for the river. This area isn’t the most pristine, so pollution is a big problem. Each adult mussel can filter up to 8 gallons of water each day, and there are thousands of mussels. If they don’t survive, the water remains unfiltered. The health of the river and the quality of the water depend on a healthy mussel bed.”
When the bladder dam was deflated this fall, Sloppy joined a crew of area folks to identify and relocate the mussels to a place where they have a chance to survive. The team was a mix of experienced environmentalists like Sloppy and students and community members who just wanted to help.
“We were a pleasantly surprised with what we found,” said Sloppy. “We expected to find a few different types of mussels. In all, we found 15 different species, one of them is considered endangered.”
So what happens next year? Is it going to be up to a group of volunteers to save the mussels again? Sloppy said, “Some of the area people are working with the city to come up with a plan to lower the bladder dam more slowly, allowing the mussels to move with the flow of the water. That will hopefully be a solution that can work for everyone.”