July 2, 2015

SOIL Fund Project Underway in Africa’s Newest Nation

By Will Mahoney, Jane Wegesa, and Elise Pinners

In 2011, the southern part of Sudan declared independence from Sudan and became the Republic of South Sudan. Since then, the northern part of this new nation has been racked by tribal conflicts. However, the province of Eastern Equatoria in the southeastern part of the country bordering Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia is far removed from the conflicts and has managed to stay relatively peaceful. Apart from some banditry and cattle rustling, it is on course for economic and social development.

lishment of a large vetiver nursery at the Bagita Girls’ Primary School

Earlier this year, the SOIL Fund received a pre-application from an IECA Region 2 member, Elise Pinners, for support of an erosion control project in the Eastern Equatoria town of Narus. Elise works with PLUS-Kenya, a Nairobi-based non-governmental organization that helps East African communities practice sustainable land use. In particular, they show people how to use deep-rooted, hardy vetiver plants to prevent erosion of cultivated land.

Elise’s Kenyan colleague, Jane Wegesa, had visited Narus and found there were no vegetables in the local market. She learned that the staff of the Bagita Girls’ Primary School (a boarding academy in Narus for girls from the area) was trying to develop vegetable gardens. However, when locations near the school were cleared of vegetation for gardening plots, topsoil was easily washed away by the intense rainfall during the wet season.

In addition, streams near the school were developing gullies. Jane found that the school administration, teachers, and students were very interested in embarking on a soil conservation project to provide food security and improved livelihoods for the community. It was hoped that the students could in turn show their parents how to prevent erosion, conserve valuable topsoil, and start gardens at their homes.

In April 2015, the SOIL Fund committee approved a grant of up to $4,700 (US dollars) for the purchase and transport of 20,000 vetiver plants to Narus as well as training and supervision. Jane would provide hands-on instruction in the establishment of a vetiver nursery at the Bagita School and the rehabilitation of gullies. Getting the plants to Narus was a serious challenge. The nearest source of vetiver seedlings (called “slips”) was in the city of Rongo in southwestern Kenya. To get them to Narus, they first had to be transported more than 800 km (500 miles) north by pickup truck to the town of to Lokichoggio in northwestern Kenya. There the plants would be transferred to a pickup truck from the school, which would take them the final 46 km (28 miles) across the border to Narus. Not only would this be a long trip, it was complicated by poor roads (which turned to mud in the rainy season when the trip would take place), rivers that had to be forded, and the presence of bandits along the road. The bandits would not be interested in 20,000 plants but might rob the driver and steal his truck.

To ensure safe passage of the truck and cargo, the SOIL Fund paid for an armed security guard to ride on the truck. On May 14, the SOIL Fund received news that Jane had arrived successfully in Lokichoggio with the vetiver. She was met by the driver from the school. However, they were having to wait in Lokichoggio because a river they would have to ford was too swollen to cross. The following day, the river flow subsided enough for them to make the crossing, they made it through customs at the Kenya-South Sudan border, and arrived in Narus with the plants.

On May 16, the SOIL Fund learned that a vetiver nursery had been established at the school and mitigation was carried out on at least one gully with vetiver hedges planted and half-moons constructed above it. Elise reported that the school was “jealously looking after their nursery” and unwilling to share any of the vetiver plants with others in the near future until the plants are well established and have multiplied.

What to Expect at the Environmental Connection 2016 Conference?

IECA heads south in 2016—so grab your cowboy hat and boots! Environmental Connection 2016 will take place February 16–19, 2016, in San Antonio, Texas. IECA is looking forward to a great round-up of new presentations, including some of these hot topics:

Accounting for Pollutant Sources in Watersheds/ Where Are They Coming From?
  • Green Infrastructure Practices
  • Rainwater Harvesting for Flood Control and Water Table Replenishment
  • EPA Waters of The US Rule Making
  • Stormwater Compliance and Meeting Project Budgets
  • Innovative Training Approaches/State and Local Certification Programs—Are They Effective?
  • The Challenges and Strategies for Transportation Agency MS4s
  • MS4 Compliance Strategies for Municipal Good Housekeeping
  • Meeting MS4 Permit Requirements with Limited Resources
  • Use of Drones for Inspections/Surveys, and Associated Legal Issues
  • Successful Implementations of System for Electronically Tracking Environmental Commitment
  • For more information about IECA’s annual conference, visit More information about technical sessions, field tours, networking events, and more will be featured in next month’s issue

    Member Spotlight: 10 Minutes With Jonathan Koepke

    Each issue, IECA honors one outstanding member who has shown dedication to not only the organization, but to the erosion and sediment control industry. We honor this member to show gratitude and support for all their accomplishments. This issue, it’s our pleasure to feature an outstanding member, Jonathan Koepke, CPESC, LEED-AP.

    Koepke has been in the industry for 14 years. This respected visionary has a passion for conservation and working to improve practicality and consistency in our industry.

    Q: Why are you in the industry?
    I have always had a passion for the outdoors and for conservation. My grandfather was a farmer in southwestern Illinois and he taught me a great deal as a young boy about soil, erosion, and conservation practices. That was my first introduction into erosion and sediment control. I took that passion for nature and my interest in conservation into my career. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment knowing that I work in a career that protects natural resources and water resources. I’m proud to know that when I go in to work each day I help protect and restore the environment.

    Q: How did you get started in your field of practice?
    I took an internship over a summer after my first year of graduate school with the Kane-DuPage County Soil and Water Conservation District [SWCD]. From that experience, I gained a full-time position with them as a Resource Analyst reviewing SWPPPs and inspected construction sites for compliance with NPDES Phase II requirements. I spent a lot of time reviewing plans and in the field through a lot of large and complicated projects, which accelerated my learning curve, and also was the start of my introduction to IECA as an educational and professional development resource.

    After five years at the SWCD, I was recruited to work at ENCAP and begin an Erosion and Sediment Control Division with the company. From that time, I have worked into my current position as vice president and general manager for the company.

    Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your life outside work?
     I grew up in New Lenox, Illinois, which is a small suburb south of Chicago. I currently live in Oswego, Illinois, and work in DeKalb, Illinois. I have lived and worked in the Chicago-land area my whole life. My wife, Elizabeth, and I have two daughters Olivia, 7, and Harper, 3. I enjoy travel, home-brewing, music, hockey, soccer, hunting, fishing, and spending time with my kids and family.

    Q: What drives you to succeed professionally?
    I want to be a leader in the industry and to build our company and our employees to be seen as one of the best who do what we do. It’s also a driver to me to inspire others in this industry to improve and to push them to do really good work. I am proud of what we do and how we do it, and I want others to see what we do as valuable and that we do it well.

    Q: Tell us about your work experience. A: I’m very hands-on when it comes to our work. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and to jump in a machine or plant wetland plugs. I’m not a company executive that works from behind a desk. I do need to do that sometimes, but I like to have a hand in helping direct and execute our larger and more critical projects. I put 40,000 miles on my truck every year because I like and need to put my eyes on as many of our projects as possible and nearly all of them are within a 200-mile radius of Chicago.

    Q: What is something people don’t know about you?
     I was recruited to play professional soccer in Germany while in high school but stayed here to go to college. I also am an avid home-brewer and one day dream of opening a microbrewery.

    Q: Tell us about your IECA member experience.
     I have been a member for nine years. I am currently our Chapter President and have been since 2010. I am now serving on the Board of Directors as Treasurer. I want to continue to develop my professional network through IECA, but as I mature in the industry I would like to take the opportunity to mentor new members and younger professionals who are just entering the industry. Many people in IECA have taken me under their wing in helping develop my professional skills, and I would like to do the same for others.

    Q: Why are you an IECA member?
    IECA provides a great networking and professional development opportunity. IECA is the premier resource for a professional in this industry and was how I first became involved. A major part of my professional network has been developed through IECA and IECA events. This provides me resources and knowledge bases from a multitude of areas of expertise that I can draw from and is one of the reasons I became a member of the Board of Directors and stay active in the association.

    Q: What are the most impactful issues regarding erosion and sediment control today?
     Developing consistent and practical implementation of practices, as well and consistent and actual enforcement of regulations is one of our largest issues we face in the industry. A loss of practicality in some aspects of the industry seems to drive a lot of potential clients, customers, and advocates away from implementing good solutions to stormwater and erosion and sediment control issues.

    Inconsistent and irregular enforcement of existing water-quality regulations also sets uneven playing fields and conflict in the industry as well as does a really poor job of protecting our resources. Working to improve practicality and consistency in our industry could do a lot of positive things.

    Q: What’s your best advice you can give someone new to the industry?
     Don’t be shy about approaching others in the industry. If you approach others with respect and ask intelligent questions they will help you. Don’t pretend to know more than you do to fit in. People in this industry are good people and approachable. They will help you along the way.

    Q: How would you want to be remembered in the industry?
     I want to be remembered as someone who was respected by his peers both personally and professionally.

    2014 Photo Contest Winners

    Each year, IECA hosts an annual photo contest, sponsored by Land and Water magazine. We had over 60 submissions.

    The first round of voting was held on IECA’s Facebook page. People were asked to vote by liking or commenting on images. The top photos were selected to move on to the final round of voting, which was held at Environmental Connection 2015 in Portland, Oregon, this past February. Conference attendees filled out ballots selecting their favorites in the three categories: Impacts of Erosion, Technology, and Before & After. These were the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners:

    1st Place
    The earth has been washed from behind a recently reconstructed retaining wall, destroying an urban trail and compromising bridge footings.
    Photographer: Jenny Hill
    Location: Yellow Creek, Toronto, Canada
    Date taken: October 20142nd Place
    Armoring and vegetating of a newly constructed earthen berm using local dredge material supported by erosion control fabric
    Photographer: Burt Brumfield
    Submitted by: Howard Cumins
    Location: Buras Boat Marina in Empire, LA
    Date taken: December 20143rd Place
    Water erosion on granite outcropping
    Photographer: Melanie McCaleb
    Location: Stone Mountain, NC
    Date taken: October 2014TECHNOLOGY
    1st Place
    Roadside slope transitioning from temporary erosion control protection provided by Curlex NetFree to the permanent erosion control protection that will be provided by the vegetation
    Photographer: Kurt Kelsey
    Location: Madison, WI
    Date taken: December 20142nd Place
    Armoring and vegetating a newly constructed earthen burm using local dredge material aided by erosion control fabric
    Photographer: Burt Brumfield
    Submitted by: Howard Cumins
    Location: Buras Boat Marina in Empire, LA
    Date taken: December 20143rd Place
    Thousands of silt fence ditch checks line the shoulders of this 20+ mile roadway construction site.
    Photographer: Michael Perez
    Location: Randolph County, GA
    Date taken: August 2014

    1st Place
    Before: Grading for electric substation, April 2013

    After: Final stabilization of site, July 2013, vegetative cover established with Profile Flexterra and special seed mix from Pennington.
    Photographer: Rick Lipcsei
    Location: Jefferson, GA
    Date taken: April 2013 (before) and July 2013 (after)

    2nd Place
    A landslide of 30,000 CY of earth was restored with a 52-foot high welded wire retaining wall, regrading, BFM hydroseed, site BMPs, and native planting.

    Photographer: Steve Morales
    Location: Hood Canal, WA
    Date taken: October 2011 (before) and September 2014 (after)3rd Place
    Shoreline restoration using Flexamat Plus as the erosion control system. The project received wave induced erosion from a boat ramp.
    Photographer: John Slupecki
    Location: West Palm, FL
    Date taken: February 2013 (before) and October 2013 (after)

    At Environmental Connection 2015, the votes were tallied and the photo with the most votes won $50. With 17 votes, Jenny Hill’s Impacts photo won.

    Congrats to all of our finalists! For information about the 2015 photo contest, visit later this year.