River issues run through music festival
The Hinterland Music Festival established a cause in its first year — highlighting concerns about the health of Iowa rivers. That hit home Wednesday when it was forced to move its location near the banks of the Raccoon River at Water Works Park in Des Moines because of high water and flooding.
"We aren't giving rivers the room they need," said Rosalyn Lehman, executive director of the Iowa Rivers Revival, whose organization was picked to highlight river issues during the roots and Americana music festival this weekend.
Lehman said rivers need room to expand and recede during increasing extreme weather events.
Earlier this summer, the River Bank Bash, also planned for Water Works Park, was canceled because of excess moisture.
River awareness was a natural fit because of the festival's location before its move to St. Charles. Des Moines Water Works has sued three Iowa counties for contributing what it believes are high nitrate levels to the city's water supply, often through the same extensive farm tile systems and field runoff that ends up in the river after significant rains.
The lawsuit has caused a division in Iowa, and among state lawmakers.
"When I heard one of my legislative colleagues suggest that rural Iowans should boycott Des Moines, presumably even boycotting the State Fair, I thought just the opposite," said Chuck Isenhart, a Dubuque Democrat in the Iowa House and ranking member of the Environmental Protection Commission. "How can we bring all Iowans who care about clean water together at the same time and the same place to create common cause around a permanent campaign to care for our water and other natural resources?"
He thought of the Clearwater Festival, the country's oldest music and environmental festival. That festival was launched more than 40 years ago by the late Pete Seeger, who believed music could inspire environmental stewardship, and it did — sparking attempts to clean up the Hudson River. Then he heard of Hinterland, and pitched the idea for an environmental message.
Festival organizer Sam Summers liked the idea. He hopes concert-goers will spend some time thinking about the rivers that run through our city and how they can be improved, but said he doesn't want to "have it forced down your throat" like at some festivals. "None of our causes have political affiliation."
The River Village is expected to still be a festival centerpiece in its new location and will include collaborative art, hands-on activities and interactive displays on water quality, river recreation and safety from Iowa Rivers Revival, a nonprofit organization whose mission is education and advocacy for Iowa's rivers and streams.
"I've been doing this since 2007 and I've seen the momentum for rivers grow tremendously," Lehman said. "We have studies that show river use has increased, we have more outfitters, and you see more funding going to amazing projects like whitewater parks. You see people want to be out there on rivers."
But now the river won't be anywhere in sight.
"River flooding and related impacts have become chronic conditions in Iowa," Isenhart said.