Hickory Grove Watershed receives grant

Brett Van Waus

The Story County Conservation Board has been selected for a grant of $223,095 to improve the water quality of the Hickory Grove watershed.

Work performed in coming years will include stabilization of stream banks throughout the watershed, as well as planting vegetative buffers and fences to keep livestock out of watershed creeks, and working with area landowners to reduce local soil erosion. The effects on the lake have been studied since the early 1990s.

The popular fishing and camping destination southwest of Colo was selected by the Watershed Improvement Review Board, a department of the Iowa Department of Land Stewardship (IDALS).

“Work will start soon as far as planning and engineering,” said Story County Conservation Director Mike Cox. “The balance of the work will hopefully be done next summer. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Hickory Grove Lake, was designated as ‘impaired’ in 2010, 2011 and 2012 due to factors such as bacteria from geese, sediment from farm run-off and livestock contaminating parts of the 4,000-acre watershed. The state accepted Story County Conservation’s water management plan in January 2013.

Other possible sources of pollution are local septic systems that do not meet current environmental regulations. Since these properties have not recently been sold, the county has not recently required a septic inspection. The grant allows the county to offer residents a 50 percent cost-share when upgrading their septic systems to meet today’s environmental regulations.

Cox points out that these landowners may not be in violation of any regulations, it’s just that the systems have not been inspected for anyone to know one way or the other.

In addition to Story County Conservation, other agencies involved with planning and funding include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Lakes Program, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Story County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Iowa Learning Farm and Iowa State University.

“These are expensive projects.” said Cox. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without leveraging funds and seeking partnerships. The beauty in this case is that we have so many different partners in this process, and developing a watershed plan with them has been critical.”

Story County Conservation and ISU will monitor the lake to ensure safety for swimming and check that the lake is meeting water quality requirements.