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:
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 & 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!
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% of Iowans imagine that storm sewers go to the wastewater treatment plan or soak into the ground, so labels like this one below are a valuable reminder.
In revisiting Clear Creek, I was struck by what a marvelous thing a creek can be if given some space to roam. (Thank you Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.) I’ve heard from many people in both the city and the country who share my fond memories of time spent by the creek near where they grew up. Not every Iowa creek has hills and woods this dramatic, but if we treat them as something more than drainage systems for our convenience, any local creek can instill in a child the same sense of wonder and discovery that this one did for me.
-Dan Haug, Watershed Educator