City Hall, Community Center, and Library all combined in a state of the art building in Stanhope, Iowa

Nestled up in the northern reaches of the Squaw Creek Watershed, in southwestern Hamilton County, sits a small community with large potential – all because of some great community leaders and members. Beginning in 2017, the City of Stanhope’s elected officials made the decision to develop a source water protection plan after elevated levels of nutrients were being discovered in the samples taken from their wells. The group of council members and mayor, along with their city clerk and public works technicians, partnered with Iowa Rural Water Association to begin the process of developing a protection plan for their source water.

To give you some background, source water is water that is naturally occurring in a stream, river, or underground (aquifer) and going to be captured, treated, and distributed for drinking water. Stanhope has 2 active well sites that are drawing water from underground aquifers, each reaching over 550 ft deep. These wells have capture zones, which are estimated areas surrounding the wellhead that the surface is recharging water to. These ares are usually identified as a 2 year capture zone, a 5 year capture zone, and a 10 year capture zone.

Stanhope is located in the northern reach of the Squaw Creek Watershed

The process of developing the source water protection plan brought the community together for a common goal. The Iowa Rural Water Association, IDNR, and the city technicians concluded an initial assessment and shared their findings with the community. From there, a committee comprised of the City Clerk, a couple of council members, and Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s Watershed Coordinator teamed up to work with Lisa Walters from Iowa Rural Water Association to implement the plan that she developed. The group came to the consensus that working within the city limits and the 5 year capture zones would be the highest priority, and the larger capture zones and outside of the city limits to be the second priority.

Outlined in the plan were seven management projects to help protect Stanhope’s source water for years to come. The projects are: 1) Public Education campaign, 2) Installing ‘Water Supply Protection Area’ signs in visible area, 3) Perform inflow & infiltration survey to maintain wastewater collection system, 4) Have information available for landowner/operators near wells to enroll in water quality improvement practices (where Prairie Rivers of Iowa comes in), 5) Work with homeowners to ensure that all wells that aren’t in use are plugged, 6) Create a zoning ordinance for future hazardous material facilities or development, and 7) Promote storm water management strategies to protect surface and groundwater resources.

In just over six months since the plan was first being developed, Stanhope and their partners have had tremendous success in implementation of the plan. The city has hosted a successful rain barrel workshop where 23 community citizens attended and created a rain barrel for their home (photos below). These rain barrels will not only benefit the plants that receive fresh water instead of tap water, it will save the homeowner money and will help reduce runoff of soil, fertilizer, and other things that the water would have picked up and taken downstream. The community of Stanhope is also seeding permanent prairie vegetation in a park within the city this spring and looking to seed ditches along Hwy 17 in town as well. This prairie will not only provide a good place for the storm water to go and get filtered as it infiltrates into the soil, it will build the soil health in that area and provide great habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

Stanhope citizens preparing their rain barrels at the recent workshop in the city park

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has been collaborating with the landowners in the capture zones to ensure the best quality of water is available to be captured by the wells. The landowners surrounding the city limits have been very cooperative and have taken measures to reduce possible nutrient and bacteria contamination of the source water. These practices will also tremendously support the larger Squaw Creek Watershed by improving water quality and ensuring to their watershed [people and animal] neighbors that the Squaw Creek Watershed is a great place to live.

As we celebrate Source Water Protection Week, we wanted to highlight a community in the Squaw Creek Watershed that hasn’t let the fact that they have a small population and budget stop them from taking great strides in protecting a vital area of the watershed.