70 Years of Conservation

Allison Welch
Mike Delaney

Mike Delaney, an Iowan and an Izaak Walton League member, is passionate about combatting nitrate pollution in his local waterways. He has been monitoring and advocating for change for over 20 years, and he cannot be slowed down.

Growing up on a lake in northeastern Indiana, Mike was closely connected to the environment his whole life. He spent hours with his older brothers “tromping in the woods and walking the shoreline.” His Boy Scout master was passionate about conservation and outdoor education and became a mentor to Mike.

As I listened to Mike’s description of his childhood full of swimming, fishing, snake-catching and spending time outdoors, I couldn’t help noticing the stark contrast with his remarks about the land he lives on now. Mike advises people not to swim or recreate in his local waterways due to concerns about pollution and bacteria. It seemed as though Mike himself didn’t notice the heartbreaking difference between a childhood full of nature and an adulthood full of concern. When I asked him how he stays motivated, he responded, “There’s no other option.”

I took Mike’s advice and focused on his story as an inspiring tale rather than a sad and worrisome narrative. Mike has devoted his life to the quality of the waterways around him. In the early 2000s, he noticed the degradation of the river in his Iowa back yard, the Raccoon River. This led him and a few friends to start the Raccoon River Watershed Alliance (RRWA) in 2005.

Since its inception, RRWA has been sampling nitrate from Iowa streams. Nitrate pollution is a serious concern in Iowa because it originates from fertilizers used heavily in farming. As this fertilizer runs off into waterways, it causes an overgrowth of algae, which in turn decreases water quality.

In February 2023, the Izaak Walton League launched Nitrate Watch, a community science program that helps volunteers monitor nitrate pollution in their local waterways and use that data to advocate for change. When the RRWA team learned of Nitrate Watch, they joined right away and added their historic nitrate data to the Clean Water Hub, Nitrate Watch’s database.

Mike is still actively involved in these monitoring efforts. He organizes chemical monitoring initiatives with RRWA to sample monthly, and he’s a member of the League’s Des Moines and Panora Conservation chapters. Along with monitoring, Mike has “a lot of fun” spreading the word about nitrate pollution and stream quality on Facebook and through other channels. Lastly, Mike uses his resources and connections to bring together other water quality and conservation groups. Through this, he is raising awareness about important programs like Nitrate Watch.

Mike does everything he can to ensure that his children and grandchildren can live in a safe and beautiful environment. At 77 years old, Mike has spent two decades monitoring nitrate pollution and advocating for safer waterways - and he has no plans to stop.

Get started with Nitrate Watch

Top photo: Mike Delaney sits by a stream.

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