“Never let your watershed management plan gather dust,” recommended Kevin Griggs at last week’s meeting of the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Board. Board members agreed, discussing the next elements of the 20-year plan to bring to life.
- Can we protect drinking water wells in small communities like Stanhope?
- Can we improve wildlife habitat?
- Can we promote recreational opportunities in our area?
We sure can, and often with the same practices that we’re already promoting to address nutrients and water quality in Squaw Creek. Cover crops and stormwater best management practices are good tools for source water protection. Prairie strips and riparian buffers are great habitat for birds and pollinators. At Prairie Rivers of Iowa, we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities, and more reasons to get people interested in soil health and water quality.
In parallel, we are also working on a watershed management plan for the Keigley-South Skunk Watershed. We hope that this too will be a living document that opens the door to grant funding and generates enthusiasm and collaboration on a range of issues.
A meeting on April 4 laid the groundwork. Pat Conrad from Emmons & Olivier Resources shared some preliminary findings from their assessment. Nitrogen and phosphorus levels were high in Keigley Branch, Bear Creek, Long Dick Creek, and the South Skunk River, even higher (on average) than we observed in the Squaw Creek watershed. Bacterial levels were lower than Squaw Creek, but still frequently above the state standard. Finally, EOR identified several priority areas where we could work with landowners to address phosphorus, nitrogen, sediment, and stream erosion.
The discussion ended on an optimistic note, pointing out all the great work that is already happening in the watershed. Story City recently installed an innovative stormwater management project. The City of Ames is working on modifying an unsafe low-head dam with a rock-arch rapids to enhance recreational opportunities and fish passage. Landowners along Bear Creek and researchers at Iowa State University created a nationally-known demonstration site for riparian buffers. “Watershed Management” can be a loaded term for some, given the history of finger-pointing around flooding and water quality in our state. However, I’m confident that by highlighting the work being done and the opportunities available that we can shift the conversation to how we can all be part of the solution.