Sarah Lohmeier’s path to serving as president of the board of the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council passed through a childhood in Ames and a nursing major at the University of Iowa. 

Lohmeier is quite fond of the outdoors, whether running half-marathons, paddling, hiking, snowshoeing or downhill skiing. That, of course, fueled her environmental ethic.

She figures you’ll wonder why a self-described soccer mom decided to get involved in the community in this way. 

She says it boils down to three thoughts:

It’s OK to care about the environment.
I think sometimes people feel apologetic about speaking out on our environmental issues because we live in an agricultural state. We can still be proud of our rich ag history. My grandpa was a family farmer and was probably why I inherently care about these issues. But we must also strive to be a leader in science, sustainability, land and water stewardship, and renewable energy to keep up with our growing needs. Agriculture and a healthy environment can and should coexist.
 
You don’t have to be a policy nerd to bring change. 
I have never and never will be a policy junkie. I understand that is the determinant on how to bring change on the state and federal level, but each one of us can be an advocate, a lifelong learner, a good example, a good neighbor and make conscious decisions on what we drive, how we heat our homes, etc. This is my favorite quote from Margaret Mead that keeps me hanging in there: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Do it for the kids. 
Society is raising an incredible generation of children who are insightful and caring, but they need us to step up for them now. I’m simply not willing to pass down these problems to my three children and their children. These young ladies are my top motivation for being involved and why we are raising them to understand how important it is to be informed and to do our part. My efforts have truly come full circle when our youngest daughter, Claire, age 7, orders ‘a water with no straw please,’ or when Isabella, age 11, chose to be Rachel Carson for her eminent person fair, or when Madeline, 13, took her science fair project about water quality to the state science fair competition. So let’s come together for the kids. Business and industry leaders, farmers, legislators, students, grandparents, fellow soccer moms — let’s stop making excuses and take action.

I interviewed Lohmeier about the environmental issues in Iowa. Most of the discussion surrounded two — water quality and energy. 

How did you get involved in environmental issues? 
I think I’ve always had a passion for health. I went to nursing school and took care of people for a number of years. So just, I think that focus on holistic health and the environment certainly run hand in hand. Once we had our second child and I could see my nursing schedule and the level of intensity, we just kind of decided as a family that it would be better for me to step away from my career for a while and focus on the kids. Once they started entering school I thought, “I have something to give.” 

What does that look like? 
I first spoke to Tom Hadden. He was past chair of the environmental council as well as a friend of ours and he encouraged me to  meet with the executive director at that time and see where I might have a valuable role in the organization. She [Marian Gelb] asked if I’d be interested in a board spot. I was pregnant with my third daughter, but accepted the role anyway. Some of my first meetings, I had an infant in my arms. That first year [2011] was kind of a whirlwind.

You mentioned you spent about a year carrying a legal pad around and learning all the wonderful acronyms in the environmental world. What came next?
After I had the first year under my belt and was getting a little more sleep at night, I decided this is something that I want to spend a lot of time working on and bring value where I can. I initially thought that would be more in the development world, so I jumped on the development committee and diligently made my asks.

Did anyone say yes? 

They did! 
Then we got to the point where we thought, “This organization is important and more people need to know about it. It’s time for us to have an event.” I took the ball and ran and got a group of friends from a diverse background and I’m like, “OK, we’re going to have an event. I need your help.” And Pro H20 was born. It’s an evening cocktail party and fundraiser. Metro Waste Authority has a really cool probe for water-testing. The Science Center of Iowa had a display where you could light water on fire. And we had a display where you could look at the Des Moines River water and Raccoon River water through the different stages of the cleaning process. 

What messages do you have on water quality? 
I think people have strong ties to water. I think everybody can remember the first time that they were in a lake or swimming in a pond or something. Somehow we need to connect the dots for people. It shouldn’t be an honor that we have the most expensive nitrate filtration system in the country. That should bother people. Why do we need the most expensive and smart technology? I just got the notice this morning from Des Moines Water Works that rates are going up [7 percent for most users beginning April 1].

It kind of stops everyone in their tracks if you don’t have clean water. I do worry that there are times when we could get really close to a critical issue on that. 

Is it time for more regulations on landowners regarding water quality?
For some reason, the term “regulation” has become a dirty word. But we’re regulated in nearly every other part of our lives. We can’t just go out and drive our car at whatever speed. We can’t get on an airplane without passing some sort of screening. We are regulated. It just seems so obvious — why would we not protect our water?