Over 20 years ago, she was unsure of where her future was heading. Now, you can see Lynette Seigley canoeing down the rivers of Iowa year after year, on a 10-15 mile stretch of water, pulling out trailers full of trash along the way. Her passion is a huge reason interested volunteers are putting on bright, orange life-jackets to clean up rivers throughout Iowa.
Seigley’s energy is focused on engaging citizens to monitor water quality. Her mission is to increase awareness through monitoring, river cleanups and showing people ways to improve water quality.
Seigley attended College of Wooster in Ohio and received a bachelor’s degree in geology. She received her master’s degree, also in geology, at the University of Iowa. She has had opportunities to work at a geological survey, working with water quality issues related to agriculture in Iowa, IOWATER, along with the Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Program and is now Project AWARE’s (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition) coordinator.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Seigley said. “I grew up on a farm in Tiffin, Ohio, so it was an interest to me. Working for the survey really got me on the path of where I am today.”
Even now at the age of 50, Seigley is willing to float down the nasty, dirty, bug-infested rivers of Iowa. She is working with the Watershed Monitoring and Assessment Program, which is located in Iowa City, and travels often to do test samples of water all around Iowa. This program has produced Project AWARE, which is now on its tenth year and still expanding. According to the Iowa Department of National Resources, Project AWARE attempts to clean up, learn about and explore Iowa’s rivers.
In 2003, Seigley met Chad Pregracke, a one-man crusader for the Mississippi River. Pregracke is a 29-year-old founder of a non-profit organization, Living Lands and Waters, which removes garbage from the Mississippi river with the help of volunteers. Inspired, she and her co-workers decided to tackle cleaning up Iowa’s rivers by marshaling volunteers on canoes to dredge the waterways for sinks, car bumpers, lawn mowers, steel beams, bathroom sinks and even snowmobiles. Ninety volunteers signed up for the first cleanup in 2003. Last August, 387 people joined the weeklong cleanup.
Seigley and the team of Project AWARE were immediately gung ho about the learning experience. They wanted an effort to show results of water quality right in front of them. That was possible by collecting the trash and recyclables directly from different rivers of Iowa.
Project AWARE is now Seigley’s main task. She pushes to engage the younger generation in her passion for water monitoring and hopes to spark the younger generations interests in pursuing careers in geology or water quality.
“We joke about bringing younger staff on board,” Seigley said. “We ourselves are getting older, and it’s a little harder to lift those canoes up and pull the trash out, but everybody helps and it makes a quick job of the task at hand.”
Seigley can’t paddle a river — or even walk through a park — without picking up trash. She carries a trash bag with her everywhere.
“She brings a different perspective in a sense that she has worked closely with the marketing aspect,” said David Williamson, artist for Project AWARE. “She realizes there is a brand now with Project AWARE and works hard at her job to keep the integrity of the brand and make Project AWARE sustainable.”
Seigley actively participates and expresses her knowledge to tell the story to those unaware of the project. She is a scientist by training, but she doesn’t quantify success by how many articles have been written about her. She focuses on the volunteers and the citizens of Iowa to impact their lives and better understand what it is they do on a regular basis, Williamson said.
“Lynette (Seigley) is one of the most focused, intelligent and passionate advocates for a healthy environment that I know,” Williamson said. “She doesn’t just talk it, she actually does something about it and is not afraid to get dirty in the water and make it happen.”