A More Complete Picture of Water Quality Concerns
by Watershed Educator Dan Haug

When the Iowa DNR submitted its 2018 report to the EPA in February regarding the status of Iowa’s waters, it contained two amendments. In response to our public comments, Squaw Creek and East Indian Creek were added to Waters In Need of Further Investigation or potentially impaired streams. It’s a change that will have no effect on permits or grant funding, but it’s a small victory for education.

Update: The name “Squaw Creek” was officially changed to “Ioway Creek” in February of 2021, to be more respectful to native peoples. Over the next year, expect to see some changes to the names of groups that have formed to protect the creek, as well as maps and signs.

Now when you view entries for those streams on DNR’s database, instead of saying “Not Assessed” there’s a mention of the data that PRI, City of Ames, and Story County helped collect and a warning that these streams may not fully support recreation. E. coli bacteria is an indicator of fecal contamination, something we’d rather not have in the waters where we canoe or our children play. In 2016 (the most recent year considered for the 2018 assessment cycle), seasonal averages for  Squaw Creek measured 1,825 colonies per 100mL and East Indian Creek measured 1,234 colonies. That’s 5 times higher than the South Skunk River in that same year, and well above the primary contact recreation standard of 126.

We think it’s important to share this information not to alarm people but to give them context. It’s a mistake to pay too much attention to the red lines on a map when some of the adjacent blue lines have even worse water quality. Whether that information motivates you to stay out of the water or just pack a bottle of hand sanitizer when you go canoeing, to pick up after your dog, keep your cows out of the stream, or call your legislator, we think those decisions can be made better when you have a more complete picture.