Watershed Matchup #2: Clear Creek VS Clear Creek

Watershed Matchup #2: Clear Creek VS Clear Creek

This post is part of a series for 2019 Watershed Awareness Month, comparing water quality in a pair of local creeks to learn how land and people influence water. Clear Creek @Hyland on May 18 Clear Creek@ Hyland on May 24 Transparency > 60 cm Transparency of 1 cm Orthophosphate 0.1 mg/L Orthophosphate 5 mg/L Clear Creek was true to its name on May 18 when the Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition did its spring water quality snapshot.  Long-time member Ed Engle and three Ames High School students (Wil, Becca, and Nate) filled a transparency tube to the top (60 cm) and the secchi disk at the bottom was clearly visible.  A week later, Rick Dietz tested the same location after a 1.7 inch rainstorm and couldn’t see the disk until he’d poured out all but 1 cm of the water! Water quality can change rapidly.  Sediment* in the water spikes during and after a big rain storm.  So does phosphorus and E. coli.  Nitrate and chloride show strong...
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Watershed Matchup #1:  Long Dick Creek VS Bear Creek

Watershed Matchup #1: Long Dick Creek VS Bear Creek

This post is part of a series for 2019 Watershed Awareness Month, comparing water quality in a pair of local creeks to learn how land and people influence water. Long Dick Creek and Bear Creek both start east of Ellsworth and join the South Skunk River between Story City and Ames.  Both have agricultural watersheds with thousands of acres in both Story county and Hamilton county.  Yet one is dirtier than the other.   You might wonder why… Hey!  Wipe that smirk off your face! “Long Dick” was the unfortunate nickname of a tall guy named Richard who explored the land near the creek when it was still wild prairie.  “Bear Creek” was named because an early settler shot a black bear nearby.  Since the 1860s, the prairie and the bears have disappeared and the man’s nickname has acquired other meanings, but we at Prairie Rivers of Iowa are serious about our water and our history and will have no giggling, thank you very...
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Roots and mussels on the South Skunk River

Roots and mussels on the South Skunk River

This is a good time of year to enjoy the South Skunk River Water Trail and other local waterways! I joined the Skunk River Paddlers this weekend, paddling my kayak from Anderson Access to West Petersen Park.  While the main purpose of the outing was fun, we also hauled out some tires, cleared some smaller obstructions, and made note larger logjams for followup.  The water was chilly but the air was pleasant. Bluebells were blooming on the bank and we found live mussels in the water (this one is a plain pocketbook). While central Iowa has been spared the extreme flooding that has devastated communities on the Missouri and Mississippi, it's been a wet fall and a wet spring, and we saw the evidence of that on the river. Bark had been scraped off trees by ice flows, lots of bank slumping, and lots of exposed roots. The roots here illustrate the value of riparian buffers. A good stand of perennial vegetation can...
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Learn about volunteer stream monitoring

Ever wondered about the condition of your local creek? What kinds of fish, aquatic insects, and other critters live there? Does the water quality pose a health risk for children wading or kayakers paddling? How much nitrogen and phosphorus is washing downstream to the Gulf? In some cases, a regulatory agency or university is collecting this information, but with 71,665 miles of rivers and streams in the state, that's not a given. Most of what we know about Clear Creek, Worrell Creek, and College Creek in Ames; Montgomery Creek and Prairie Creek in Boone County; Gilbert Creek (Ditch 70) in Gilbert; or Crooked Creek near Stanhope, we know because the efforts of volunteers in the Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition. For other streams in the area, including West Indian Creek in Nevada, Rock Creek in Maxwell, Middle Minerva Creek in Zearing, and Long Dick Creek near Story City, we have almost no information. Iowa DNR has had to scale back its role in providing equipment, training, and IT...
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3 Lessons from the Iowa Water Conference

3 Lessons from the Iowa Water Conference

Several of our staff attended the Iowa Water Conference on March 12 and 13.  The event brings together hundreds of smart, hard-working people that are working  to improve water quality, restore aquatic habitat, and control flooding across the state of Iowa.  We always learn a lot from both the presenters and the other attendees, and come away energized.  Here are our top three lessons we learned this year: 1. Farms can simultaneously improve water quality and wildlife habitat Adam Janke, Extension Wildlife Specialist, talked about how the practices being used for nutrient reduction can also benefit many of Iowa's species of greatest conservation need.  For example, trumpeter swans like CREP wetlands. Migrating ringneck ducks and Topeka shiners use oxbow wetlands.   Meadowlarks use prairie strips. We will be pursuing these kinds of synergies in three watersheds with a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, so it was great to hear specifics. 2. Retailers of agricultural products need to be part of water quality solutions Chris...
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Watershed Planning Update

Watershed Planning Update

An update on our watershed planning efforts is long overdue.  Our NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant for the “Keigley” watershed project wrapped up in September of 2018.  Here’s some of the highlights from 2017-2018 and what we’ll be doing next. A change in focus:  No more need to explain that by “Keigley Branch Watershed” we really mean “part of the South Skunk River.”  In the future, we’ll be working with the entire 200,556-acre watershed that drains to the South Skunk River above the confluence with Squaw Creek in Ames. On paper, a single ten-digit hydrologic unit (HUC10) seemed like a more manageable project, but as we talked with the public it became clear that watershed plans and partnerships would be more effective if the river’s headwaters in Hamilton County were included sooner rather than later. A new Watershed Management Authority (WMA):  The Headwaters of the South Skunk River WMA was formed in August 2018 with seven signatories: Story County Supervisors Story County Soil...
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Counting our blessings: 1,165 acres of grassed waterways

Counting our blessings: 1,165 acres of grassed waterways

Look down from a plane in any part of the state and you will see Iowa farmers’ commitment to soil and water conservation etched into the landscape.  Using aerial photos and Lidar from 2007-2010, the Iowa DNR and Iowa State University recently completed a statewide project to map and inventory six conservation practices. The finished maps are available for most* of the Squaw Creek Watershed, so we tallied up the results.  It's encouraging to see that even in a flat part of the state, producers have been doing a lot to control soil erosion.  Thank you for your stewardship! 100 acres of contour buffer strips 1,165 acres of grassed waterways 173 miles of terraces 230 water and sediment control basins 21 farm ponds However, while Iowa has made a lot of progress in addressing soil erosion, we are just beginning to address nutrient losses.  The dead zone in the Gulf this year was the size of Connecticut and shrinking it will require...
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Registration open for 2018 Master River Stewards Program

Registration open for 2018 Master River Stewards Program

Update Aug 27:  The class has been cancelled due to low enrollment.  Hopefully we can offer the program or a variation again in spring   If you'd like to get an in-depth understanding of rivers but missed our Master River Stewards class last summer, here's another chance.  This year, we're offering the course to retirees in a two-part (lecture + lab) format.  If you are not physically able to wade in streams or can't commit to the required volunteer hours, you may register for the lecture only. Lecture OLLI Open House, August 9, 10:30-11:45AM, ISU Alumni Center Registration opens August 9 for our River Stewardship class, offered through OLLI at ISU (formerly ISU College for Seniors) for anyone aged 50 and older.  The course is adapted from the Master River Stewards Program developed by Iowa Rivers Revival, and covers watersheds, river and stream dynamics, riparian habitat and wildlife, river chemistry and water monitoring, stream restoration, and agricultural conservation practices. Jerry Keys, the environmental education coordinator...
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Nutrient loading is like… beer

Nutrient loading is like… beer

On June 14, Squaw Creek rose to flood stage.  On the same day, nitrate concentrations in Squaw Creek dropped from 11.8 mg/L to 2.7 mg/L.  Does that mean that June’s storm clouds had a silver lining for Iowa’s nutrient reduction efforts?  I'm afraid not. The nitrate concentration in a river is an important number if (like the Des Moines Water Works) you’re treating it for drinking water and need to stay below 10 mg/L. However, when it comes to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, the number that matters is the nitrate load that is sent downstream: the nitrate concentration in the water times the flow of water in the river. Not following me?  Ponder this analogy.  Nutrient loading is like beer.  I enjoy craft beer and have learned to pay close attention to the alcohol by volume number, which can range from 5% in a lager to 10% in an imperial IPA.  In order to avoid having my judgement impaired, I...
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Soil as Sponges

Soils that are rich in organic matter act like sponges, soaking up heavy rains rather than allowing water to pond or run off the surface. By reducing runoff, healthy soils prevent sediment, nutrients, and other pollutants from washing into lakes and rivers. A spongy soil can also hang on to more water after the excess has drained, helping sustain crops through dry periods. Healthy soils can help reduce the negative effects of both floods and droughts, benefiting crops and downstream communities. Healthy soils can also be sponges for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, with the potential to help prevent destructive climate change by storing more carbon in the form of organic matter. Find out how you can turn your soil into sponges: In Town On the Farm During construction, topsoil is often removed and remaining soils are compacted by heavy equipment.  Soils in a new development act more like concrete than sponges.  It can take decades for plant roots and freezing and thawing to reverse...
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