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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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Public input is essential for a watershed plan

Prairie Rivers of Iowa held three listening sessions this fall in Gilbert, on the Iowa State University campus, and in Story City.  Their purpose was to get ideas for the watershed management plan that we will be developing for Keigley Branch- South Skunk River Watershed, an area that includes the Skunk River Greenbelt and land that drains to Keigley Branch, Long Dick Creek, and Bear Creek in Story and Hamilton counties.  The 50 people that attended these sessions brainstormed responses to two questions. What goals or issues would you like to see addressed by the watershed management plan? What opportunities or strategies would make the plan successful? Their responses can be found here.  Some of the issues and strategies discussed were included in the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Plan and can easily be adapted for the Keigley-South Skunk Watershed.  Prairie Rivers and its partners have some experience with public education, watershed mapping, agricultural practices to control nutrients, and urban practices to control runoff, and...
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Creek Signs in Story County

Creek Signs in Story County

What creek is that?  If you’re driving in Story County, you may not be able to tell.  With the exception of the Skunk River, the waterways are not marked with road signs, and your highway map or GPS unit probably aren’t much help either.  However, that’s about to change!  Story County Conservation and Prairie Rivers of Iowa will be working with the county engineer and the state Department of Transportation to put up signs labeling the creeks at bridges on county, state, and federal highways. Within the City of Ames, most bridges already have a sign labeled "Squaw Creek Watershed: for clean rivers and streams."  The city Public Works Department has been proactive about education and stormwater through its "Smart Watersheds" program.  If you live in Story City, Nevada, Maxwell, Slater, Roland, Cambridge, or Zearing and would like to see a creek sign in town, please contact dhaug@prrcd.org. Similar projects have been done in other parts of Iowa.  Watershed coordinators have found...
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Upcoming Listening Session for Keigley Watershed

Upcoming Listening Session for Keigley Watershed

Listening Session for Keigley Branch-South Skunk River Watershed Management Plan Monday, October 23, 6-7PM Franklin Community Room, Gilbert City Hall Monday night will be our first of several opportunities to get some public input for our next watershed management plan, for an area that includes Keigley Branch, Bear Creek, and the Skunk River greenbelt.  With the harvest under way, you might question my timing—and to be sure, we will be scheduling listening sessions during the winter to reach farmers—but it happened to be an open night on the Gilbert High School calendar and I’m excited to have some Gilbert High students joining us. Mrs. Rinehart’s 10th grade biology students have been getting their feet wet in College Creek and Keigley Branch, collecting water bugs—sorry, sampling benthic macroinvertebrates.  I’ve met with them three times to help them make the connection between land management in the watershed, water quality in the stream, and the biodiversity in the stream.  Now they’re working on a project to research a...
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