Water Quality Monitoring, 2016-2018

Water quality monitoring of the following two locations was part of our larger conservation efforts in the Squaw Creek Watershed, funded by a Water Quality Initiative grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

  • Squaw Creek at Lincoln Way in Ames
  • East Indian Creek at S27 north of Maxwell

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.

During the growing seasons of 2016, 2017, and 2018, City of Ames and Story County Conservation staff collected biweekly samples for these two sites and used automated sampling equipment to collect samples during storm events.  The City of Ames Laboratory Services tested these samples for nitrate, phosphorus, total suspended solids, and E. coli.  Our handout explains what those things are. 

Takeaway Messages

There’s poop in the water, so use caution and hand sanitizer when fishing or wading in the stream.  Squaw Creek has levels of fecal indicator bacteria (E. coli) that regularly exceed the primary contact recreation standard.  In a large watershed, it can be difficult to tell where it’s coming from, but testing of multiple sites by volunteers has helped us find and address sewer and septic issues in the past.  Some of our partners are exploring some intriguing new techniques for microbial source tracking that may help us distinguish human, livestock, and wildlife influences so we can better direct our efforts.

It turns out to be quite difficult to measure trends in nitrogen, and very difficult to measure trends in phosphorus (which tends to shoot up after a rainstorm).  You need a lot of data and a big improvement to pick out a signal from the noise of day-to-day and month-to-month variation.  Now that we have a baseline, we may come back and monitor again once we have a few more thousand acres of cover crops in the watershed, but for now we’re working with Story County and other partners to develop a comprehensive, locally-led water quality monitoring strategy.