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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Delivering Technical Assistance to Under-served Small Landowners: A Pilot Project in the Squaw Creek Watershed

Delivering Technical Assistance to Under-served Small Landowners: A Pilot Project in the Squaw Creek Watershed

We all see it. We all drive through it and we, for the most part, don’t think much about it.  It is that transition that happens when you leave the city limits of a community like Ames and you head into the county or farm land of Iowa.  It is that zone where structured homes and home development transitions to acreages and single family dwellings and continues to small farms or even larger acreages and eventually moves and transitions into the more traditional larger production farming agriculture of Iowa.  This transition area is what Prairie Rivers of Iowa has come to call the Urban Fringe.  It is that land and group of landowners, homeowners, and farmers that occupy that transitions ground between the city and large-scale agriculture. These landowners have chosen to live here for many reasons, some being: more space, aesthetics, fewer neighbors, space for animals and gardens, and the ability do and have more.  The reality is that...
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Protecting a Watershed while Building a Source Water Protection Plan

Protecting a Watershed while Building a Source Water Protection Plan

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...
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Learning from Others in the Watershed

Learning from Others in the Watershed

An essential part of our lives is learning – from textbooks and the internet; and probably most importantly, our elders and peers. This learning starts when we are days old and continues the rest of our lives. In our younger years, we learn the basics of life and subjects that lead to life skills and careers. Further on, we dive further into a certain subject or trade of interest in preparation for our career. After plunging into our careers, we further develop our interests in extra-curricular causes and subjects. For some of us, the extra-curricular causes relate to protecting our natural resources. There are a plethora of natural resources that need protected in this world; for Iowa, the most well-known is our water quality.  In order to improve and protect our water quality, we must first understand what the problem is and how we all can help.   There are resources all around us to gain information on this important topic – advanced...
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Local creeks can be special places

Local creeks can be special places

March 1, 2017 I spent Sunday hiking along Clear Creek in the company of a curious herd of six deer, who came within 20 feet of me.  Bigger rivers may afford more opportunities for boating.  Cold-water trout streams in the northeast part of the state may have better fishing.  But the warm-water creeks in Central Iowa have their own charms. Clear Creek starts in Boone County and passes through Munn Woods and Pammel Woods in Ames before joining Squaw Creek.  As a boy, the woods along this creek was one of my favorite places, full of interesting rocks and animal tracks and birds and crayfish, the site of both noisy stick battles with my friends and quiet contemplation. As my environmental consciousness grew, I would go to the woods to pick up litter.  At the time, I had no idea the storm drain emptied to creek, or else I would have stopped my friends from throwing pop cans down there.  A recent survey showed that 37%...
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Watershed Educator Hired

We would like to welcome our newest staff member, Dan Haug. He is the Watershed Educator here at Prairie Rivers of Iowa. Dan grew up in Ames, Iowa, where he became involved in prairie restoration and community-supported agriculture.  In his free time, he enjoys family, playing music, and exploring the outdoors through canoeing and cross-country skiing. He is passionate about involving community members in environmental problem-solving and communicating science to the public. He worked previously at the Wisconsin DNR and holds an M.S. in Water Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dan will be working on the educational component of the Squaw Creek Water Quality Initiative Project, as well as the facilitation and coordination of the Conservation Innovation Grant, which is to fund the development of a Management Plan for the Keigley Branch of the South Skunk River Watershed. Make sure to take a second to introduce yourself to Dan and make him feel welcome! His email address is dhaug@prrcd.org, and as always, feel...
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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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One Stop Cover Crop Service Now Available

One Stop Cover Crop Service Now Available

We take the hassle out of building your soil health Prairie Rivers of Iowa, in partnership with the Boone and Story County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, is taking the hassle out of fall cover crop application. You tell us what you want for your fields, and we’ll book the service and buy the seed. You’ll receive only one bill in the end, and hopefully, some peace of mind. We are providing both pre-harvest and post-harvest application options primarily with cereal rye and oats. Farmers will have the option of an airplane, highboy applicator, or drill for application. Other mixes can be made and applied upon request.  By providing numerous options, we intend to provide a service that fits the farmer and the goals they would like to achieve within their farm operation. “As a farmer, I know that adding something new to the farm operation can be challenging,” says Jeremy Gustafson, Chairman for the Boone County SWCD. “It is our goal to...
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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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