RC&D highlights Maquoketa River WMA projects

This map shows the 1.1 million acres that makes up the Maquoketa River Watershed management Authority. The WMA has had a busy year taking on several projects throughout the region. (Image submitted)
Board of Supervisors
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

It’s been a busy year for Limestone Bluffs RC&D (Resource Conservation and Development). 

During the Dec. 10 Jones County Supervisor meeting, Limestone Bluffs Executive Director Lori Scovel provided an update on all of the activities and projects RC&D has been a part of in 2019. 

RC&D in Eastern Iowa was formed in 1992. It was federally funded until 2011. 

“Since then, we’ve been funded by counties such as yourselves over the years, and grant projects,” explained Scovel. 

After losing one RC&D, seven remain. 

Scovel asked that the county consider a funding request for Fiscal Year 2021 in the amount of $7,000. 

The Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority started in 2015 as a grassroots effort of communities and counties along the Maquoketa River. The City of Monticello and Jones County are members of the WMA, which became official in 2017. 

“It took a lot of work to pull all of our members together,” said Scovel. 

The WMA currently has 35 members. Monticello City Administrator Doug Herman serves on the executive committee. 

The Maquoketa River flows for 150 miles from Fayette County down to Jackson County. It covers 1,700 square miles, just less than 1.1 million acres. 

Scovel shared an exciting highlight for the WMA: forming and approving a self-funded formula, which is voluntary per capita support. Jones County contributed its per capita support at $5,053. Scovel said the WMA is asking the county to consider the same amount for FY 2021. 

The WMA has raised $56,621, or 89 percent of its goal. 

“This has really brought us, surprisingly, a lot of attention throughout the state,” said Scovel. “We’re not only the watershed that relies upon members for financial support.” 

Scovel said some watersheds have relied on grants for their planning and administration fees. Now, those funds are waning, and those watersheds have to figure out how to remain sustainable. 

She’s received calls from other watersheds about the funding formula, and how they can implement it themselves. Scovel has even been contacted by the Center of Rural Affairs, asking how the formula works so well. 

“It’s getting us a lot of regional and statewide attention,” she said. 

Concerning the WMA, they’ve been able to start a water-monitoring program, working with NRCS and Jones Soil & Water Conservation District. They held a volunteer training in April in Jones County, assisting volunteers in going out and taking samples from the Maquoketa River. 

There were 34 sites throughout the entire watershed identified, five in Jones County. 

“It’s a snapshot approach,” explained Scovel. “We take three days and do all of the testing on three different dates in May, June and August. 

“Typically samples are taken on the tributaries right before they flow into the river. So if we do find a problem, you can trace it back upstream.” 

The results were interesting. There was a range in concentrations of chloride and sulfate. The levels were generally below the statewide numbers. For turbidity (sediment), it was very low in May, but higher in June and August. 

“It rained right before we took samples in June and August,” said Scovel. “So that may have accounted for that extra sediment in the water.” 

Maquoketa River levels for turbidity were lower than the statewide average in May and June, but similar in August. 

For nitrates, the Maquoketa was higher than the statewide numbers for all three months. 

“What is usually seen as a seasonal trend with concentrations higher in May and June and a decline in August, the Maquoketa came in high all across the board,” explained Scovel. 

For e-coli bacteria and dissolved reactive phosphorus, the Maquoketa’s levels increased from May to June to August. They were also higher than the statewide numbers. 

“So what does that mean?” proposed Scovel. “This is just a baseline. It’s neither good nor bad. It is what it is. But it helps us gauge as a watershed group going forward when we start implementing practices.” 

The WMA is planning to continue the water sampling next year. 

Scovel said they applied for a Jones County Community Foundation grant, but were unsuccessful. The grant would have allowed them to get citizens more involved in water quality throughout the watershed. 

“It’ll be up to the executive committee if they choose to or not to pursue that,” said Scovel. 

The WMA also received a grant this year to host several “What’s in Your Water?” expos throughout the watershed region. 

“It’s a public education event,” said Scovel. 

The grant allowed them to purchase several display products to continue the expo in 2020 as well. 

“They’ll come in handy, especially as we move on to our second phase of working on our watershed management plan,” Scovel said. “This includes public outreach and having events all across the area. We’ll be able to take this event out into the communities.” 

She said an added benefit to the first expo in September in Manchester was seeing all of the partner agencies network with one another. 

“They found it very educational to learn what each other does and what kind of resources they have. That was an unexpected benefit to the event.” 

The WMA will have its annual meeting on Jan. 28. You can keep up to date by visiting their Facebook page (“Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority”). 

Read more about the projects RC&D has accomplished in 2019 in the Dec. 25 Monticello Express. 


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