Making Waves in Water Quality in Illinois

A little over a year ago, the University of Illinois-Extension hired two new Watershed Outreach Associates – Jennifer Woodyard and Haley Haverback-Gruber – to work with priority watersheds to help meet Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) goals.

Jennifer Woodyard works in two hydrologic unit code (HUC) 8 watersheds that were designated as phosphorus priorities in the NLRS, the Embarras River and Little Wabash River Watersheds, located in east central and southeastern Illinois, respectfully. Both the Embarras and Little Wabash watersheds were identified as significant contributors to the amount of total phosphorus leaving Illinois. Woodyard spends part of her time working directly with farmers to implement best management practices (BMPs) to reduce nutrient loss and collaborates with a vast array of groups in the watersheds who are interested in writing watershed plans to give focus and direction to BMP implementation on the landscape.

Farmers and extension professionals at a meeting discussing nutrient reduction

A stakeholder meeting held in the Embarras River Watershed this past June.

Over the past year in the Embarras River Watershed, Woodyard had the opportunity to work with a previously very successful watershed group that had gone by the wayside since completing an Illinois EPA approved watershed plan in 2011. Her aim was and is to aid in updating the watershed plan so it can continue to be used to help identify water quality issues and solutions in the watershed. A group of stakeholders, including Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Illinois Farm Bureau, Extension, farmers, municipalities, county boards, and more, rallied together during spring and summer of 2019 to raise thousands of dollars in match support to apply for a Section 319(h) grant through Illinois EPA to update the plan.

According to Woodyard, facilitating discussions and coordinating the effort has been a rewarding experience. As the group waits to hear about the funding decision from the Illinois EPA, they are planning to meet with farmers in each county of the watershed to identify needs and opportunities the plan update could address. It is an exciting time for watershed work in Illinois!

Woodyard’s counterpart, Haley Haverback-Gruber, works within two HUC 8 watersheds, the Lower Rock and the Henderson/Flint, both of which were identified as nitrogen priority watersheds according to the Illinois NRLS. Historically, watershed planning efforts have been limited within the two basins. Haverback-Gruber has spent much of her first year with the University of Illinois Extension engaging with watershed stakeholders to discuss the potential benefits of watershed planning and receiving input from watershed leaders. She has focused the majority of her initial efforts in the Lower Rock where she participated in the formation of the Lower Rock River Watershed Planning Group, comprised of Soil and Water Conservation District and Extension staff within the watershed. The group was able to identify resource concerns and express farmer interest within various sub-watersheds within the Lower Rock.

Stakeholders discussing watershed management in Mill Creek, Illinois.

Landowners and operators in Mill Creek discuss watershed resource concerns at an initial stakeholder meeting.

Through the Lower Rock River Watershed Planning group, Mill Creek, a HUC 12 within the basin, was identified as a watershed to participate in plan development. The Rock Island County Soil and Water Conservation (SWCD) and Illinois Extension invited all landowners and operators within Mill Creek to participate in an initial stakeholder meeting. Here the group prioritized resource concerns and put together a steering committee to facilitate planning efforts moving forward. Illinois Extension and the Rock Island County SWCD intend to apply for a 604b grant through Illinois EPA this December to secure the funds to write a watershed plan. Moving forward, Haverback-Gruber hopes to expand her planning efforts into other HUC 12 watersheds where there is stakeholder buy-in and interest.

Haley Haverback-Gruber, University of Illinois Extension

Haley Haverback-Gruber headshotHaley Haverback-Gruber has served the University of Illinois Extension as a Watershed Outreach Associate for one year. Haley is based out of the Henry-Stark office in Galva, IL. Haley received a bachelor’s of Science from the University of Illinois in Agricultural Leadership Education with a minor in Food and Agribusiness management. She is currently an online graduate student in Agriculture Education Communications and Leadership at Oklahoma State University. Haley resides with her husband on their family farm in Annawan, IL. In her free time, Haley enjoys attending livestock shows.


Jennifer Woodyard, University of Illinois Extension

Jennifer Woodyard headshotJennifer Woodyard has been a Watershed Outreach Associate with University of Illinois Extension for almost a year and a half, based out of Effingham, Illinois. She holds a BS in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a minor in Crop and Soil Management from the University of Illinois, and a MS in Agronomy from Purdue University. She is a Certified Crop Adviser with a 4R Nutrient Management Specialty certification through the American Society of Agronomy. In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys spending time outdoors with family and friends, or curling up with a good book.

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