Additional agencies that have supported the Price Creek Watershed Project and creek signs have been added to this article. The story was updated at 12:56 p.m. Dec. 5, 2019.
AMANA — State agencies have been working nearly a decade to improve the watershed that feeds Price Creek, a 13-mile stream that drains Iowa County farmland, passes through Amana and then flows into the Iowa River.
The creek, named after early settler Abraham Price, was one of the reasons the Amana Society decided to locate there in the 1860s, although the group ended up building Mill Race, a 7-mile canal, to provide hydropower for its mill, said Rose Danaher, Price Creek Watershed project coordinator.
Danaher has been leading efforts to reduce manure flow into Price Creek, on Iowa’s list of impaired waters because of high bacteria levels, by fencing out cattle, helping farmers manage manure and replacing failing septic tanks. Permeable pavers being installed in Amana will filter water draining from the construction site of the Hotel Millwright before it goes into Price Creek and Mill Race.
Price Creek signs on Highway 151 help Eastern Iowans become more aware of the stream and perhaps care more about reducing pollution, Danaher said.
“When people know the name of the creek, they maybe have a little more respect or attachment to that body of water,” she said.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation and other partners have worked since 2014 to install more than 900 creek name signs across the state, focusing on areas with past watershed improvement projects, ongoing work or assessments that may lead to future projects, said Stephen Hopkins, Iowa DNR nonpoint source coordinator.
The $50,000 spent so far comes from a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designed to clean up waterways impaired by nonpoint source pollution, which can come from sources including agriculture and industry. Part of the money is to be used for raising awareness, which is where the signs come in.
“Our survey data show many Iowans don’t even know the names of their local creek, much less problems with water quality and how to fix it,” Hopkins said.
The 2012 survey conducted for the Iowa DNR by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Social and Behavioral Research found most of the participants in four focus groups understood the interconnectedness of waterways, but didn’t know much about the creeks near their homes.
“Farmers and those affected by flooding had a good working knowledge of the waterways nearby,” the report said. “Others struggled to name creeks and streams nearby. Some could name the creek but when asked to draw waterways in their area, few could do so.”
The Iowa DNR signed a new contract with the Iowa DOT in September that provides for 239 more signs, many in Eastern Iowa, to be installed over the next three years, Hopkins said.
Buffalo, Bear, Honey, Hoosier, Spring, Silver, Dry Run, Indian and Clear creeks all are scheduled to get name signs in 2020, letting Eastern Iowans driving on state and federal highways know the names of the waters flowing underneath the bridges they cross.
Iowa DNR staff picks the streams to identify and sends the list to the Iowa DOT, which then orders the signs and installs them as time allows. The signs, which appear in both directions on bridge crossings, cost between $155 and $380 each, depending on how many posts the sign needs, how large the font must be and the length of stream name.
“Dry Run Creek would be much cheaper than the Little Wapsipinicon,” Hopkins said.
The Price Creek Watershed Project is a partnership with the Iowa DNR, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa DOT, Iowa County Soil and Water Conservation District, U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Creek signs have been done through groups that include the DNR, DOT, local conservation districts, nonprofits and individuals.
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