Home 5 Ag Stories It takes a village to protect a watershed

It takes a village to protect a watershed

Photo courtesy of Hewitt Creek Watershed website

The Hewitt Creek Watershed came to life after a group of northeast Iowa farmers received some  alarming news. Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrate had runoff farm fields and into Hewitt Creek. The project, an effort spearheaded by farmers, hoped to address water quality issues and retain field nutrients.

Dubuque County Farm Bureau president Jeff Pape helped organize the project’s efforts. The project started with four or five farmers, but later accommodated several farmers within the 23,000 acre watershed. Pape talks about increasing farmer engagement and growing a “village.”

“We got some meetings started, then started inviting the rest of the people within our 23,000 acre watershed. As it grew, (farmers) were learning more about the watershed issues, what it takes to address those issues. As they did, they got more involved. It grew simply because we fed them enough information,” Pape said.

Participants implemented cover crops, changed tillage practices and timed nutrient applications. Pape happily reports, with the help of a “village,” the Hewitt Creek Watershed yielded positive results.

“(In) the seventh year, we finally saw results in the stream,” Pape said. “Our stream was tested monthly and anytime we had over a half-inch of rain. They were constantly monitored, spring through fall. But it took seven years until we saw results, which was a downturn in phosphorus and nitrate levels in our stream.”

Not only did farmers improve Hewitt Creek’s water quality, but improved their farm operations.

“When we got down to the end, most guys realized they were actually putting more money in their pockets by using these incentives, changing where they placed manure, testing manure and doing no till,” Pape said. “All of it was saving them more money than they were making in the incentives.”

The Hewitt Creek Watershed remained active for 10 years before funding dried up.