Improving water quality

STANHOPE – Improving water quality and reducing water quantity in the Squaw Creek Watershed were discussed on Monday afternoon at the Stanhope Community Center. The meeting attracted landowners, ag business owners and farmers from Hamilton, Story, and Boone counties.

The listening sessions are being held to give landowners an opportunity to inform the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Authority board about ideas and concerns they have regarding the watershed.

Story County Supervisor Paul Toot told the crowd that state block grants came available in 2011 to begin watershed improvements. Story county and other counties affected by Squaw Creek then formed a 28E agreement to establish a watershed authority and apply for a grant, which was funded in 2013 for $160,000. Toot now chairs the 13-member Squaw Creek Watershed Management Authority Board, with representatives from area cities and county soil and water conservation districts.

Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for those on the board to listen to ideas and concerns on issues related to the Squaw Creek Watershed. “We’re not going to tell you how to manage your property,” Toot emphasized to the crowd. The Stanhope meeting was the first of four such listening sessions.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Pat Conrad, of Emmons and Olivier Resources, Inc., a water resource-based engineering and environmental consulting firm from the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Conrad said his company works with organizations to improve and manage watershed management. “Everything we do on our landscapes has a role affecting the quality of water in our streams,” he told the group, “whether it is urban or agricultural.”

There was plenty to listen to at the meeting, as several in the crowd voiced their concerns about the land and water quality, along with their efforts to improve both. In recent years, soil has lost serious amounts of organic matter.

Opposite views on watershed issues were evident as Toot related that concerns about Squaw Creek in his county are due to being at the end of the watershed and experiencing heavy flooding at times, while Hamilton county is at the other end of the watershed and farmers want the water to move through quicker in a heavy rain situation so that the soil can dry out and they can get on with farming.

Generally, farmers and property owners are taking care of problems with the soil and doing lots of good things related to conservation. According to Toot, the board’s only intent is “to see if there is anything we can do to help you do a better job of that.”

Conrad said that establishing a watershed management plan starts with assessment followed by public input. The next step will be goal setting, developing a plan, implementing it, and then managing the plan.