Tour goes beyond the dredging
With all the talk of lake dredging, it's important to remember the less visible yet equally critical work being done in Storm Lake's watershed.
On a bus tour before the Lake Preservation Association's annual meeting this week, people had the chance to see some of that up close, including a major settling basin on Episcopal Creek and other plans from city wellhead protection and programs to promotion of sound land management.
The Buena Vista Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners has submitted a grant application for Iowa Watershed Protection funds to help fund a part-time employee to work on a variety of programs in the watershed.
The "watershed coordinator" would develop a plan targeting funding opportunities and will study new set-aside programs in the Farm Bill. The coordinator would also conduct technical assessments and hold land-owner meetings on programs.
Jeff Kestel, Iowa Lakes RC&D, and Julie Sievers, Iowa DNR, have developed a plan for the LPA that identifies other needs for not only the lake but the watershed in the future.
Eighty-four percent of the 13,500 acre watershed is farmland, 13 percent urban and 4 percent roads and public lands, Sievers said. Because of that mixture, it's important for all the different groups to work together, she noted.
About 70 percent of the watershed flows through Little Storm Lake, which acts as an excellent filter for the main lake, Kestel said. However, the remaining 30 percent is where the heaviest sediment load comes from.
"As the rest of the watershed goes, there isn't a good filter to protect from run-off from roads and fields," Kestel said.
One goal is to establish a landowner recognition program for farmers who have done an outstanding job managing their land. The bus tour visited one such landowner, Chet Brecher, who implemented a major water quality protection project on his farm on the west side of Storm Lake on Episcopal Creek. Brecher has worked to install a large settling basin to collect sediment from run-off before it enters the lake.
Brecher said the project came about two years ago. It is unique because it consists of both public and private support from Brecher, the DNR, Iowa Public Owned Lakes and the Buena Vista Soil and Water Conservation District and the NRCS.
"The first thing was to get everybody together," Brecher said.
Those groups helped fund the construction of the basin, which will act as a filter for about 1,000 acres of the watershed that drains through there. Brecher said about 1,400 tons of sediment comes off that land annually. The basin has a capacity to collect about 30 to 35 years worth of sediment, he added.
"It turned out a lot better than I imaged at first," Brecher said.
Another goal consists of enrolling land into the reserve program. The City of Storm Lake is seeking grant funding to enroll land around city wells into the conservation reserve program. "Besides protecting public drinking water, it will also give us some watershed protection," Sievers said.