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A needed ‘backyard’ enhancement
QUASQUETON - Twenty-eight flood-reduction projects costing almost $2 million are either underway or completed in my backyard on the Wapsipinicon River and three of its tributaries.
Developed under the auspices of the Upper Wapsipinicon River Watershed Management Authority, the projects are part of the Iowa Watershed Approach, which describes itself as a 'statewide watershed improvement program designed to slow down the movement of water through the landscape by strategically building farm ponds, wetlands and other conservation practices in the watershed.”
While I won't live long enough to witness the taming of the Wapsie, I am gratified that concerted conservation measures will enhance streams whose banks I have trod for more than 60 years.
Funded by a $96.9 million federal grant, the Iowa Watershed Approach encompasses the Upper Wapsipinicon and eight other watersheds - Bee Branch Creek near Dubuque, Clear Creek in Iowa and Johnson counties and the following rivers: North Raccoon, West Nishnabotna, East Nishnabotna, English, Middle Cedar and Upper Iowa.
Of the 28 Upper Wapsipinicon projects, 13 are along Smith Creek, whose enchanted 5-mile course to the river includes springs, rock rapids, hardwood forests, bluebell meadows and memories of quests for creek chubs, bullfrogs, pheasants, turkeys and morel mushrooms.
Another 12 projects are along Dry Creek, which flows into the Wapsipinicon three miles above Troy Mills.
The projects include 12 ponds, three wetlands, four oxbow restorations, two grass waterways, two on-road detention basins, one grade stabilization and one water and sediment control basin.
All of the projects - funded with a 10 percent landowner match - are in Buchanan County with the exception of three in Delaware County along Nugents Creek, which flows into Buffalo Creek, the Wapsipinicon's largest tributary, near Coggon.
The projects are 'a first step toward the goal of increasing the watershed's capacity to hold water,” thus reducing flood peaks on the river, said Ross Evelsizer, co-coordinator of the Wapsipinicon initiative with Tori Nimrod, his colleague at Postville-based Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development.
The most visible of the 28 projects is the restoration of a Wapsipinicon oxbow at Cedar Rock State Park. Over time sediment has filled the abandoned section of the river so that it has little capacity to store water and little value as fish and wildlife habitat.
When completed at a cost of $198,000, the restored oxbow will cover 5.1 acres to a maximum depth of 7 feet and will drain 44 acres. With periodic high-water connections to the river, it also will support fish and other aquatic species.
Soil excavated from the oxbow has been used to construct a berm to contain a shallow wetland at the low end of the park's restored prairie.
Park manager Katie Hund said the oxbow and wetland will enhance park visitors' experience.
Besides seeing Cedar Rock, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian masterpiece, visitors will gain a greater appreciation of nature and learn about efforts to make Iowa more flood-resilient, she said.
Over 50 years, the projects are projected to reduce the discharge from those combined 3,628 acres by an average of 57.5 percent.
Constituting less than four thousandths of the 992,000-acre Upper Wapsipinicon Watershed, the affected acres, while effectively reducing flooding within their subwatersheds, will not appreciably reduce the volume of water carried by the Wapsipinicon.
In fact, any gains in flood resilience may be offset by higher Wapsipinicon flows caused by increased rainfall and intensification of agriculture within the watershed.
'We have to do something, and the beginning is always hard,” said Antonio Arenas, an associate research engineer with the Iowa Flood Center. Arenas said he expects to complete an analysis of the projects' flood reduction benefits by the end of the year.
That analysis will enable replication in other watersheds of the most effective structures and practices, he said.
While flood reduction is the main goal, the projects also will improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and expand outdoor recreation opportunities, said Kate Giannini, Iowa Flood Center's public relations coordinator.