May showers bring awesome graphs!

Last weekend's rains (5-17-2020) provide a clear illustration of how water and nitrate make their way to Squaw Creek. How water reaches Squaw Creek after a rain It started raining late Saturday night and stopped around 3AM Sunday. The rain gage outside my house in Ames showed 0.9 inches.  The water hitting my driveway and other paved surfaces in my neighborhood enters a storm sewer that goes directly to a tributary of Squaw Creek.  (In newer neighborhoods, the water would be slowed down by a pond or detention basin).  This runoff takes about an hour to make its way down Squaw Creek to the USGS stream gage at Lincoln Way.  In response to urban runoff and the rain that fell directly on the channel, we can see a quick rise in the water level, and quick fall. Over the next 15 hours, Squaw Creek rose another foot as it was joined by water that fell as far away as Stratford and Stanhope. Other...
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2018 Impaired Waters List

2018 Impaired Waters List

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comment on the newly released draft impaired waters list.  Prairie Rivers of Iowa will be recommending that Squaw Creek and East Indian Creek be added to "Waters in Need of Further Investigation."  We'll also take this opportunity to try to demystify a topic that can be confusing, using examples from the South Skunk River watershed. Every two years, the DNR is required to assess the available data to determine whether Iowa's lakes, rivers, and wetlands are meeting their designated uses.  About half the rivers, and a bit more of the lakes have enough data to assess.  Since new waters are considered each cycle, the length of the impaired waters list doesn't really tell us whether water quality is getting worse.  Since nutrients aren't considered for most uses and the data used for the 2018 assessment is from 2014-2016, it doesn't tell us whether the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working.  What it...
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Watershed Matchup #5: Grant Creek Vs. West Indian Creek

Watershed Matchup #5: Grant Creek Vs. West Indian Creek

GIS mapping is a big part of my job, but I'll be the first to admit there’s a limit to what you  can learn about a stream without getting your feet wet, or at least dipping a bucket into the water. I’ve been testing West Indian Creek and Grant Creek at the lovely Jennett Heritage Area, just above their confluence. (With some help from David Stein and Rick Dietz)  West Indian Creek flows through Nevada and drains 28,417 acres at this point.  Grant Creek, also known as Drainage Ditch 5, drains 13,344 acres between Ames and Nevada. Based on soils and landcover in the watershed, I’d expect Grant Creek to have comparable or slightly worse water quality than West Indian Creek.  There are nutrient loading models available online and in the Story County Watershed Assessment that predict just that. Instead, I’ve found that water quality is consistently better in Grant Creek.  West Indian Creek has normal nitrate levels but very high phosphorus levels. ...
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Watershed Matchup #4: Upper Squaw Creek vs. Lower Squaw Creek

Watershed Matchup #4: Upper Squaw Creek vs. Lower Squaw 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. On May 20, the Skunk River Paddlers launched their canoes and kayaks on Squaw Creek at 100th Street in Hamilton County and paddled down to 140th St in Boone County.  The recent rains made it a fast ride! However, the rain also washed a lot of sediment and quite likely some land-applied manure into the stream.  I collected a water sample just before I took this photo and had a lab test it for E. coli bacteria, an indicator of fecal contamination: 2,390 CFU (Colony Forming Units)/100mL.  That’s 10 times the primary contact standard for a single sample (235 CFU/100mL) and just shy of the secondary contact standard (2880 CFU/100mL). Later that day, I collected a sample from Brookside Park in Ames with the help of my son.  The lab results came back at...
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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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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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Greenbelt in the Iowa State University Research Park: A Win for Water Quality

Last evening, Story County Conservation hosted an open house at the Core Facility in the ISU Research Park to share the plans for the greenbelt located in the Research Park that will be eventually linked to a corridor that connects to the High Trestle Trail and Heart of Iowa Trail. This area will be called the Tedesco Environmental Learning Corridor. This project is a partnership that will serve Story County and Iowa in ways never before serviced by bringing county, city, university, and state agencies together to showcase how commercial development and natural resource conservation can by symbiotic. The engineering and design team for this project consists of representatives from Shive-Hattery, Wallace Roberts Todd, Great Ecology, Earthview Environmental, and E-Resources Group. Each of these representatives spoke on their component of the project, which included current state of the site, stream assessments, design and layout of future project, and incorporation of interpretive materials for all ages and backgrounds. The site will include many entry-ways,...
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Inspiration from Conservation Leaders

"Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare." - Angela Duckworth, Grit I was reminded of the above quote yesterday when I attended the Iowa Farm Environmental Leadership award ceremony at the Iowa State Fair. This is an award organized by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship  that recognizes those who go above and beyond on their farms to address soil health and water quality. These are individuals who are not only enthusiastic about conservation, but also work to incorporate it into their farms. In Iowa, we are not short of enthusiasm for efforts to protect and build soil health as well as protect our public waterways. What is more rare are those who are standout individuals who take extraordinary measures to protect the land. This is seen among those who have won the IFEL award. They are not farming for the present, but farming for the vitality of their ecological and social communities for the future. Previous research shows that farmers are motivated by...
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Conservation Champions around the Squaw Creek Watershed

Conservation Champions around the Squaw Creek Watershed

This spring, planting season took off in the State of Iowa as the temperatures warmed up in the soils. We are seeing a multitude of conservation practices at work in the Squaw Creek watershed with each farmer implementing what works best on their land. Strip Tillage One farmer hard at work out in the field is Jeremy Gustafson, a diversified farmer who grows corn and soybeans along with raising hogs in the Squaw Creek Watershed. Gustafson, a Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner for Boone County, implements strip-tillage as a conservation practice to protect his soil from erosion.  Gustafson comes from a multi-generational family farm and has been managing his farm with conservation in mind for over ten years. Strip tillage is a conservation tillage system in which only strips of soil are worked before planting. This allows for the soil to warm up and dry out for planting. Seeds are then planted directly into the strips. This practice improves the soil health and water quality...
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Iowa Master River Steward Program

"We speak for the rivers, because they can't speak for themselves," was the general theme of our river steward training led by Dr. Jim Pease over the last two days hosted by Iowa Rivers Revival. They have put together a thorough curriculum discussing watersheds, geologic landforms, topography, river form and function, navigating Iowa's waters, river wildlife, river chemistry and monitoring, agricultural production and policies, stream and riparian zone restoration including fish and wildlife habitat, and finally developing a river-health related project.   Now that I have been through the "Training the Facilitator Program", I am prepared, along with 17 other educators from across to state, to develop and host a Master River Steward Program in our watershed area. The idea is to develop a large group of river stewards who can spread the word about watershed and stream health across Iowa. At the beginning of the program each participant receives the Izaak Walton League's Handbook for Stream Enhancement & Stewardship and many more resources...
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