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...
Read More
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...
Read More
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...
Read More
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...
Read More
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...
Read More

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...
Read More
Watershed Awareness Month

Watershed Awareness Month

Everyone lives in a watershed.  What's your watershed?  June is a good month to find out, and learn more about what can be done to reduce and clean the runoff leaving your farm or your neighborhood. Story County Board of Supervisors and Conservation Board proclaimed June 2018 to be Watershed Awareness Month.  Over the last two weeks, the cities of Ames, Nevada, and Gilbert have made similar proclamations. We applaud their commitment to water quality.  The full text of the Story County proclamation is included below, along with scans of the proclamations by the cities (click the thumbnail to download a PDF). WATERSHED AWARENESS MONTH PROCLAMATION June 2018 WHEREAS, the county’s rivers and lakes provide recreational opportunities and wildlife habitats that enhance the quality of life of Story County residents, and   WHEREAS, protecting and restoring the quality of groundwater and surface water is a goal of the Story County Comprehensive Plan, and   WHEREAS, water quality and flooding issues in rivers and lakes cannot be mitigated without good...
Read More
Story County Watershed Signs

Story County Watershed Signs

Story County roads now have 50 signs marking the boundaries between watersheds. Another 105 signs label creeks at bridges.  As you drive around Story County, we hope you will have a renewed appreciation for its many creeks and rivers.  We hope the watershed signs will help make visible the subtle divides between watersheds and get people thinking about the connections between land stewardship and water quality.  We also hope to replicate this project in other counties. Pictured here are representatives from the organizations that made this project possible: the Story County Board of Supervisors, Story County Conservation, the Story County Community Foundation, and the Story County Soil & Water Conservation District.  Watch the video from the June 6 press conference to hear from these organizations and learn more about the project. Similar efforts around the state have helped to draw attention to our water resources and spur interest from landowners in conservation practices, but Story County’s effort is perhaps unprecedented in scale, and...
Read More
Upgrade your sewage treatment plant, get a free bioswale!

Upgrade your sewage treatment plant, get a free bioswale!

Does the State Revolving Fund (SRF) do infomercials for its Clean Water Loans?  I think they should because SRF Sponsored Projects are a classic case of "buy-one-get-one-free." We usually focus on conservation efforts by farmers but today let’s give some credit to the municipal wastewater departments—they do a lot to keep our rivers clean.  As a nation, we’ve generally been more successful in regulating and treating the pollutants coming out from sewage treatment plants and factories than we have been in dealing with the pollutants that wash off of farm fields, turf grass and parking lots.  We’ve now reached a point where the water coming out of the local sewage treatment plant is cleaner in some respects than the water in the backyard creek.  I’m not kidding: Ames Water and Pollution Control can’t exceed 126 E. coli colonies per 100mL in their treated effluent—E. coli levels in Squaw Creek for 2016 were eight times higher. Repairing an aging sewer system or installing...
Read More

The good, the bad, and the ugly of the South Skunk River

How do we reconcile good recreation with poor water quality?  How can we work together to improve water quality in the South Skunk River?  These are some questions I hope you will discuss with me at McFarland Park this Friday (Feb 9) at 5:30PM The good: paddling!  The portion of the South Skunk River that flows through Story County* will be dedicated as a water trail this year.  Story County is lucky to have a river with so many acres of protected natural areas and with such well-marked public access points.  A lot of work over the years by a lot of dedicated conservationists has made that possible. The bad: water quality!  This stretch of the South Skunk is on the impaired waters list due to high levels of E.coli bacteria, an indicator for fecal contamination. The ugly: rivers in the rest of the state aren’t any better. There are over 400 river/stream segments on the Iowa Impaired Waters List due to E...
Read More