Prairie Rivers of Iowa is working to create a watershed management plan and a watershed management authority for the Keigley Branch-South Skunk River Watershed. The particular area of focus is part of the larger South Skunk River watershed.

What is the Keigley Branch-South Skunk watershed and where is it located?

A total of 116,137 acres drain to the South Skunk River between its confluence with Drainage Ditch 71 (near Randall) and its confluence with Squaw Creek (in Ames). The watershed includes Keigley Branch as well as Bear Creek and Long Dick Creek.

Most of the land in the watershed is located in Hamilton and Story Counties, but also includes small parts of Boone and Hardin counties. The area also includes half of Ames and the communities of Roland, Story City, and Randall.

Why do we need a watershed management plan?

A watershed management plan can address a wide range of issues. The South Skunk River has high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and bacteria, and the river is listed as a priority for Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

A local planning effort can help gather technical information, build partnerships, and raise the awareness needed to implement conservation practices, such as cover crops and buffer strips, that can prevent nutrient and soil loss from farm fields. Many conservation practices have additional community benefits such as reducing flood events, providing habitats for wildlife and pollinators, and improving fisheries.

Okay, but then why do we need a watershed management authority?

Rivers and streams cross political boundaries. A single county, city, or soil and water conservation district may have limited abilities to improve water quality or manage flooding without the cooperation of its neighbors. A Watershed Management Authority is an agreement between these local government entities to work together on these types of issues.

Will this result in new regulations or fees?

No! Despite its name, a Watershed Management Authority has no authority to levy taxes, make regulations, or use eminent domain. The 28E agreement signed to form a Watershed Management Authority is just a way to get the local government entities in the watershed to the table to work together on a plan.

Who is paying for this plan?

A $71,316 federal grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will support education and outreach staff at Prairie Rivers of Iowa and the technical experts at Emmons & Olivier Resources Inc. in gathering and analyzing data about the watershed, facilitating public meetings, conducting an outreach campaign, and putting together the management plan document.

Does this project have anything to do with reservoirs for flood control?

No, the assessment work done for this project is focused on water quality, not flooding.

To the best of our knowledge, the controversial proposal for a reservoir between Ames and Story City is no longer being seriously considered. The US Army Corps of Engineers de-authorized the Ames Lake Flood Control Project in 2002. The City of Ames completed a flood mitigation study in 2014 that once again ruled out large reservoirs as cost-prohibitive.

How will this affect farmers?

Once the plan is complete, farmers may have more help getting information and cost-share resources for conservation practices. The Squaw Creek Watershed Management Plan led to state grants that allow Prairie Rivers of Iowa to put on field days, provide technical assistance, and fast-track the cost-share process for farmers in the Squaw Creek watershed. As part of the planning process, we will use the ACPF tools developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service to analyze suitable locations for conservation practices. These maps can help farmers visualize their options.