What is a Watershed? Part II: Eco-Warriors in Action!

How we interact within our watershed affects all communities, both living and nonliving.
Last month we introduced you to watersheds. We learned what encompasses a watershed and the interconnected web each watershed weaves throughout the landscape - the most important takeaway from last month's message being that, "we all live in a watershed and are passively but intimately connected to one another because of it...how we treat the land and the water that flows through it is vitally important for future generations of all communities including plants, animals and people". The Polk County Conservation Board recognizes these facts and laid out a 5-year Strategic Plan in 2014 with emphasis on water quality in four of the top ten priorities established.

So what are we doing here at Polk County Conservation to ensure that one of our most valuable resources is available for generations to come? 

Three major rivers flow through our county; the Raccoon, Des Moines and Skunk Rivers with numerous streams and tributaries flowing into these waterways. Urban and agriculture interests constitute the majority of usage within the watersheds of Iowa's most populous county. When the status of water quality took the spotlight as part of the Polk County Water and Land Legacy Bond Referendum passed in November of 2012, PCC contributed to small water quality projects here and there but is now in a position to address the larger issue at hand.

The Initial Holdup 

Polk County Conservation has been without baseline data to which we can compare our current state of water quality. In order to become a leader in managing for and advocating on behalf of improved water quality in the county and state, we must have baseline data to know where to begin and how to move forward. In essence, we don't know what needs to be fixed until we know what is wrong. And we have a lot of ground to cover - 38+ miles of stream bank and 710+ acres of lakes, ponds, marshes, and river access that we maintain. 

The Next Step 

Water monitoring coordinators, Heidi Anderson and Joe Boyles, testing water transparency and nitrate level at Paw Creek.

In an effort to determine the overall health of local watersheds and identify areas of concern, PCC staff will inventory and monitor approximately 40 locations around Polk County where water quality is not currently monitored. PCC will work collaboratively with several cities and watershed associations to prevent duplication of data, and also to share results as a means to form the best picture of what is occurring throughout our waterways.

Staff participating in this initiative are those who have completed IOWATER training. IOWATER is Iowa Department of Natural Resources' citizen volunteer water monitoring program. Twenty Conservation staff have been trained in conducting basic water chemical, physical and biological assessments as taught through this program. Records of water transparency, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrates/nitrites, chloride and phosphates will be taken. The resulting data will drive where we go to next as an organization committed to healthy watersheds. If we find long term trends in specific bodies of water, that watershed (and the behaviors playing out within said watershed) will be studied more intensely. The areas we will be focusing on in 2015 include the following:
Beaver Creek
Walnut Creek
Fourmile Creek
Spring Creek
Mud Creek 
Camp Creek 

...as well as some standing bodies of water within our family of parks and wildlife areas.

We are committed to long term health and sustainability of our local watersheds as well as those downstream. Join in our efforts by doing your part in improving water quality as well - check out Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District's website to begin your water stewardship journey today! Interested in becoming a citizen volunteer water monitor? Click here for further information!


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