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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Map your watershed

August is National Water Quality Month.  Help us showcase ongoing efforts to improve soil health and water quality in Squaw Creek Watershed and the larger South Skunk River watershed by uploading a photo to our crowd-sourced map. Do you have a photo of cover crops on your farm or a rain garden in your backyard?  If not, maybe you have a photo of a stream in your area that’s worth protecting.  Photos of flood control, stream restoration, and trash cleanup efforts are also fair game. Click here and log-in as a guest or using your Google or Facebook account.  Upload a photo and write a brief description.  If the photo was taken with a smartphone and has embedded GPS coordinates, a red circle will automatically appear on the map.  Otherwise, you can type in an address or zoom in and click on the map to set the location.  Your photo will appear on the crowd-sourced map once it is approved by the...
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ACPF: A menu of conservation opportunities

I’ll take some cover crops with a prairie filter strip on the contour, a side-dressed nitrogen application, a grassed waterway, and riparian buffer strip.  Hold the soil, please. The research that informed Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy made it clear that there’s a large menu of conservation practices that can keep nutrients and soil on our crop land and out of our waterways.  The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is one way for farmers to explore those options. The ACPF toolbox is an add-on for ArcGIS software developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service.  It uses high resolution elevation data along with soils and landuse data to map suitable sites for conservation practices including grassed waterways, saturated buffers, bioreactors, drainage water management, water and sediment control basins, nutrient removal wetlands, and contour buffer strips. For example, denitrifying bioreactors are a relatively new practice that can prevent excess nitrate in drainage water from reaching streams.  A buried bed of woodchips intercepts the flow from tile...
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What’s a HUC?  Understanding hydrologic units

What’s a HUC? Understanding hydrologic units

Story County is taking the forward-looking step of assessing all its HUC12 watersheds so it has solid information for managing its water resources.  Prairie Rivers of Iowa is excited to be part of the project: our team is busy mapping potential conservation practices using the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework.  That's great, you might say, but what's a HUC? We're used to thinking of nested levels when it comes to our home addresses.  You live in a city or township within a county within a state within a nation. Jackson Township, Boone County, Iowa, USA In the same way, you have a watershed address.  Your land probably drains to a creek that drains to a river that drains to a larger river.  The further downstream you go, the larger the watershed. Onion Creek watershed, Squaw Creek watershed, South Skunk River watershed, Mississippi River basin The US Geologic Survey's Watershed Boundary Dataset is a good way of representing this watershed address.  The entire United States is divided up...
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April showers bring Watershed Planning!

April showers bring Watershed Planning!

“Never let your watershed management plan gather dust,” recommended Kevin Griggs at last week’s meeting of the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Board.  Board members agreed, discussing the next elements of the 20-year plan to bring to life. Can we protect drinking water wells in small communities like Stanhope? Can we improve wildlife habitat? Can we promote recreational opportunities in our area? We sure can, and often with the same practices that we're already promoting to address nutrients and water quality in Squaw Creek.  Cover crops and stormwater best management practices are good tools for source water protection.  Prairie strips and riparian buffers are great habitat for birds and pollinators.  At Prairie Rivers of Iowa, we're always on the lookout for new opportunities, and more reasons to get people interested in soil health and water quality. -- In parallel, we are also working on a watershed management plan for the Keigley-South Skunk Watershed.  We hope that this too will be a living document that opens the door to...
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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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