Students, alumni challenge Iowa State for dropping Project Aware sponsorship

The DNR project raises awareness about water quality issues in Iowa


A group of Iowa State University students, faculty and alumni are petitioning the college to reinstate its sponsorship of a state-run environmental project that focuses on water quality and stewardship of Iowa’s rivers, some of which have been rated among the most polluted in the nation.

The group said in a petition signed by nearly 70 people that it was “distraught” to learn the school had ended its sponsorship of the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s Watershed Awareness River Expedition, better known as Project AWARE.

“With ISU’s Land Grant roots and statewide mission, Project AWARE is clearly closely aligned with our objectives in environmental education and stewardship,” the petition states.

The project exposes 300-400 participants to an annual weeklong float on an Iowa river and all that comes with it: pollution and garbage, as well as recreation and beauty.

The volunteers learn about the watershed and remove trash along the way.

This year, Project AWARE runs July 12-19 on Big Sioux River, in southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa.

Iowa State University Recreation Services sponsored Project Aware from its inception in 2003 with in-kind contributions of boats and racks, and later scaled-back support to provide the supplies at a discounted rate.

After 2012, the school stopped sponsoring the event all together. In 2013, Project AWARE, which is supported by monetary and in-kind contributions, paid ISU $3,984 for 32 canoes and four canoe trailers.

Iowa State scaled back its support for Project AWARE after the budget model for the recreation unit changed to a self-funded auxiliary in 2009, said Michael Giles, recreation services director, to whom the petition is addressed.

Other than universitywide sponsorships, such as the Iowa Games and Special Olympics Iowa, the recreation unit no longer sponsors any causes, he said. With all the requests for support the unit receives, it’s only fair to have a consistent policy, he said.

“We don’t provide sponsorships for any non-university entity,” Giles said. “It’s not solely directed toward Project AWARE, which is an important project. We just wanted to be consistent across the department.”

Diane Birt, an ISU professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, said she volunteered along with 342 others for Project AWARE in 2013 when it covered a 90-mile stretch of the Des Moines River.

She said she was surprised to see the list of sponsors included University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Upper Iowa University, but not Iowa State, which she knew had a long history with the event.

That prompted Birt to start the petition. She said she’s since contacted Giles, and plans to appeal to a higher level.

“It may not fit in the mission of recreation services, but it fits into the mission of Iowa State,” she said.

Lynette Seigley, who coordinates the project for Iowa DNR, said the project will live on either way, but she hopes ISU can return as a sponsor.

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