Roots and mussels on the South Skunk River

This is a good time of year to enjoy the South Skunk River Water Trail and other local waterways!

I joined the Skunk River Paddlers this weekend, paddling my kayak from Anderson Access to West Petersen Park.  While the main purpose of the outing was fun, we also hauled out some tires, cleared some smaller obstructions, and made note larger logjams for followup.  The water was chilly but the air was pleasant. Bluebells were blooming on the bank and we found live mussels in the water (this one is a plain pocketbook).

While central Iowa has been spared the extreme flooding that has devastated communities on the Missouri and Mississippi, it’s been a wet fall and a wet spring, and we saw the evidence of that on the river. Bark had been scraped off trees by ice flows, lots of bank slumping, and lots of exposed roots.

The roots here illustrate the value of riparian buffers. A good stand of perennial vegetation can hold a bank together and keep phosphorus out of the Gulf.

If you’re interested in establishing a riparian buffer on your farm, especially if you live near West Indian Creek, Long Dick Creek, Clear Creek, or Worrell Creek give Prairie Rivers of Iowa a call!

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.

Map of the Headwaters of the South Skunk River watershed

Headwaters of the South Skunk River watershed

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 & Water Conservation District
  • Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District
  • City of Ames
  • City of Story City
  • City of Roland
  • City of Randall

We hope more jurisdictions will join as the partnership takes shape.  Good communication between the cities, counties, and conservation districts in a watershed leads to more and better projects that improve water quality and soil health.

Great public input:  80 people—56 residents, 15 high school students, and 9 ISU students—attended our public workshops.  The goals and implementation strategies they suggested will provide a great starting point for the WMA to develop an actionable plan for conservation in the Headwaters of the South Skunk River watershed.

An interactive map of conservation opportunities:  Between this project and Story County’s assessment of its watersheds, we have identified suitable spots for bioreactors, grassed waterways, constructed wetlands and other agricultural conservation practices across 728,144 acres! Check out our interactive map to get ideas for conservation practices that might work on your farm or in your watershed, along with an explanation of each practice.

Winter is a busy season for grant-writing.  We are currently looking for funding to provide education and technical assistance to farmers and landowners in this watershed, to build partnerships with more groups in Hamilton County, to fill in missing information identified during the planning process, and to support the new WMA in completing a plan for the Headwaters of the South Skunk River watershed.   This is just the beginning!