Giorgenti is new DNR Watershed Coordinator

By Scott Bestul

Megan Giorgenti’s job description is pretty simple: Fix Siewers Spring.
But as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) new Watershed Coordinator, Giorgenti knows that actually accomplishing that task is a complicated, years-long undertaking. 
Siewers Spring, the critical waterway that not only serves as a feeder stream to Trout Run Creek, but also supplies the cold water needed to run the Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish Hatchery, has been plagued by water quality problems for decades.  The normally clear-flowing spring turns brown and turbid after a significant rainfall, the run-off from sinkholes and farm fields filling the water with sediment that can literally shut down trout growth at the hatchery. 
Giorgenti’s mission is to reduce the sediment flow impacting Siewers Spring.  To accomplish that goal she’ll reach far beyond the banks of the stream itself, working with landowners in the entire watershed to mitigate runoff and insure the spring flows as clearly as possible. 
While her seven years experience with the DNR as a fisheries researcher equips her perfectly for the job, Giorgenti won’t be going it alone. “My first steps will be to learn as much as I can about the watershed- the physical landscape, the living landscape, the water quality issues, the people who make up the watershed,” she said. “Then I hope to identify a team of people who represent different aspects of the watershed; agency staff, landowners, producers, community members, recreationists, etc. The team would meet together and work with me to help define the vision, goals, and objectives for the watershed. 
“Once that work is complete, I’ll compile all that information into a watershed protection plan which will identify the water quality issues and outline some solutions for improvement. Once the watershed plan is in place, work with landowners and other conservation partners to improve the watershed. The project will provide cost share for conservation practices. ”
Giorgenti recognizes the difficulties before her.  “Understanding groundwater movement is a challenge,” she said. “It seems like such a foreign thing because we can’t see it. But in order to improve water quality and more specifically water clarity of Siewers Spring, we need to understand which land areas like sinkholes and losing stream segments are directly connected to the spring.”
Working with landowners will also take time and networking, according to Giorgenti. “Communicating with and getting to know everyone in the watershed is definitely a goal,” she said. “I’ll be trying to find the best ways to reach out and connect with the watershed community by mailings and newsletters, phone calls and in-person visits and some may prefer community meetings. I will likely try to do each of these to reach out and connect with the watershed community.”    
As the watershed plan comes together, Giorgenti expects benefits both large and small. “In addition to improving  the clarity of the water coming into the Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish Hatchery,  there will be less soil loss and erosion from the land, which is great for landowners,” she said. “Improved water clarity will help the health of the trout grown at the hatchery. Anglers who fish in Trout Run and people recreating in and around Trout Run and the Upper Iowa River will also be appreciative of cleaner, clearer water. In my mind, the project will improve everyone’s quality of life.” 
Giorgenti brings both scientific expertise and personal passion to the position. “I obtained a BS in Animal Ecology (Fisheries Option) from Iowa State University and then a MS in Natural Resource Management from South Dakota State University,” she said. “My interest in this field ultimately comes from wanting to learn about and conserve what I love the most- our natural resources! It also comes from wanting others to be happy. These outdoor spaces directly contribute to the quality of my life and I want others to benefit from outdoor spaces in the same way I have.” 
The Dubuque native developed a love of the outdoors early in life.  “Growing up, I formed a connection with the outdoors very easily because I spent a lot of time there,” she recalled. “My family did things like bike riding on the heritage trail (crushed limestone), swimming in the Mississippi River, creek stomping and fishing in coldwater streams, camping and picnicking at local parks, mushroom hunting and foraging in the woods, and exploring nearby caves. These family events were always a nice way for us to spend time together and appreciate life. These times were so enjoyable that I still do these same activities and I want others to be able to too!”

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