Hewitt Creek farmers work together to improve water quality


Jeff Pape, chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, talks to media and the public during a recent tour of the Hewitt Creek watershed group (hewittcreek.wordpress.com)
Jeff Pape, chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, talks to media and the public during a recent tour of the Hewitt Creek watershed group (hewittcreek.wordpress.com)
KC McGinnis | August 25, 2015

A group of farmers and residents in northeast Iowa believes it has developed an effective model for restoring water quality in their watershed.

The Hewitt Creek watershed, located near Dyersville, consists of about 23,000 acres, mostly used for agriculture. After being added to Iowa’s list of impaired waters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, residents and producers formed the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association in 2006, with funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Water Improvement fund. The group gives incentives to farmers to implement the Hewitt Creek Model, a performance-based environmental management plan that seeks sustainability through cooperation and the sharing of information among residents and producers to reach common water quality goals.

Jeff Pape, chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, spoke to a group of citizens, journalists and elected officials during a bus tour of the watershed in August. He recounted the disappearance of predatory birds that once used the Hewitt Creek waterway as a source of food, and the reappearance of these birds after the watershed group’s efforts helped restore water quality.

The group seeks to start discussions with area farmers about water quality, as well as with researchers who can help them assess factors like nitrogen and phosphorus output and soil erosion. They then incentivize various forms of sustainable practice including cover crops and tillage alternatives including no-till.

Project participation in the watershed has reached 85% among local farmers, according to Pape. That’s led to season-long average nitrate levels below 10 parts per million for four of the past five years, an improvement over the first five years of the program. Phosphorus levels also took a dip in recent years, dropping to 1 parts per million after rain events.

Improvements to the Hewitt Creek Watershed will likely lead to increased plant and aquatic biodiversity, which can in turn lead to increased recreational uses like fishing. Click here for more information about the Hewitt Creek Model.

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