Bee and Duck Creeks in southeast Minnesota are the two main streams in Houston County that at the Iowa state line form the headwaters of Waterloo Creek in Allamakee County. The Waterloo Creek Watershed area is 30,610 acres with 17,438 acres in Minnesota and 13,172 acres in Iowa.

The Bee and Duck Creek Watershed committee is working jointly with government agencies in Minnesota and Iowa, along with more than 200 watershed landowners, in efforts to improve water quality in the creeks, improve aquatic habitat for cold water fish species (trout), reduce soil erosion on agricultural land, lower turbidity and improve water clarity in the watersheds streams, as well as remove Waterloo Creek from the Iowa DNR's "Impaired Waters List".

On March 14, a landowner meeting was held at the Fest Building in Spring Grove with 35 in attendance.

Representatives from several agencies provided landowners with information on water quality, soil health, cost-share incentives, conservation practices and flood control, and encouraged discussion on conservation practices for cropland, timber and pasture.

Relationship is unique

"This is a unique meeting - this partnership between Iowa and Minnesota," stated Ron Meiners, district manager - Root River SWCD, "The principle of what we are doing with Iowa - is Minnesota being good neighbors to Iowa?"

As with this state-to-state partnership for good drainage area management, the landowners-to-landowners partnership must take place with a cooperative approach.

"If there is bare land above, there is a problem," Meiners stated. "Upland treatment has to be considered when dealing with erosion. Good drainage area management should be in control by that landowner."

For those on the upper end, the landowner may not want to spend money for any conservation and erosion control because it won't benefit their land directly. However, he or she would have to look at it as being a "good neighbor" to help those down the hill who can see that wall of water coming.

"With the small size of the Bee/Duck creek area, it would be difficult to create enough money as a watershed district," he noted regarding funding. "We've identified places in the watershed that are a target and talked about little things than can be done.

"When a landowner comes into our office, we will find a way to help in any situation. A landowner's contribution can be very difficult, but we can help through cost-share programs. Smaller projects always get help. There are incentive payments for push-up ponds, which still do a really nice job (slowing down runoff)."

Meiners continued, "The Clean Water Grant was not successful for Houston County yet, but we are very close. For the next application, we will be targeting specific projects, and I think we will be successful and get projects on the ground. It's coming together for bigger projects."

In conclusion, Meiners stated, "This group effort has been interesting to me. If you have a problem, talk to us. Help your neighbor, yourself, and the watershed."

Landowners seeing benefits

In the absence of Mike Burrichter of Dorchester, Iowa, guest speaker Michelle Elliott, Waterloo Creek Watershed planning coordinator/ district technician for Allamakee Soil & Water Conservation District, showed slides of water sediment control structures he has installed on his land.

Dan Griffin, farmer in Wilmington Township, has put in six grade stabilization structures over the last 10 years with the help of EQIP funds. "They really work well. They fill up and slowly release water from the stand pipes with holes and are big benefits to control what happens down below."

Donna Myhre, a landowner below the projects, thanked Griffin saying, "We didn't get the water we usually expect."

Dean Ellingson, landowner in Spring Grove Township, reported putting in a pond seven years ago with a big waterway and buffers. "I would like to get some more ponds in," he stated.

And, in 2009 Randy Wohlert and Glenn Kinneberg put in a sizable structure above Ellingson's land to control water runoff from several draws that come together.

More needed for Waterloo Creek

Elliott reported that information from the DNR of both states shows that Waterloo Creek is the sixth most popular trout stream in the state of Iowa, and Bee Creek is a popular fishery with a steady unstocked trout population.

On a sad note, she pointed out, "Waterloo Creek is the only creek on the Iowa DNR's 'Impaired Waters List'. It is impaired with bacteria."

E.coli found in water and sediment threatens the watershed. "Bacteria love sediment," Elliott noted.

Fifty-five percent of cropland in the watershed is in row crops. Between 2009 and 2011, corn crop more than doubled from 2,500 to 6,000 acres. The soybean crop increased from 1,500 to 2,250 acres. Therefore, it is important to get some conservation practices going on the ground.

How to help soil health

Peter Hartman, area soil scientist with the Minnesota NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), talked about soil health and soil quality as a new approach of how to deal with soils.

"If soil is healthy, there would be less damage from flood events," he stated, adding, "For the most part, our soils in southeast Minnesota are not healthy.

"I like to talk about the definition of soil health as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living system that sustains plant, animal and human health."

Did you know that in a tablespoon of soil there are nine billion living organisms? Soil is alive!

Plants put about 70 percent of their energy into roots, which includes sugars to feed the soil microorganisms. Soil organisms produce glues that aggregate soil particles and greatly increase infiltration. The organisms in the soil are critical in plant nutrient immobilization and cycling. A bare plowed field is hungry, thirsty and running a fever.

Transitioning from conventional tillage to a no-till system can be painful and even result in a temporary yield loss, but by the fifth year, farmers should see benefits. After 10 years, the need for fertilizer should be reduced by 40 percent.

A good tool to learn more is the website www.covercropdecision.

Programs are available to help

Gary Larson, District conservationist, NRCS - Houston County, spoke on key conservation programs.

EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Programs) offers a wide range of conservation practice options to conserve natural resources while boosting production on their lands.

There are programs that pay the landowner, such as for residue and tillage management to mulch-till or no-till; well decommissioning to pull well out, grout and seal; Karst sinkhole treatment to seal sink hole; seed for grassed waterway; dam rehabilitation cost share; cover crop - chemical kill; and contour buffer strips.

"Program incentives pay the lion's share of the dirt work for grade stabilization structures," Larson reported.

"Stop in and see us," he urged. "We encourage you to not chase the program, but what you want to do is to take care of your land needs in a conservation plan. And we'll look at programs to meet that plan. All programs are voluntary. We can help you meet your conservation goals through these programs."

Iowa doing its share also

LuAnn Rolling, district conservationist - Allamakee NRCS, stated, "The reason we are here is flood damage. We are totally dependent on what you're doing up here (in Minnesota)."

She boasted of the success in their county last summer with broadcast seeding of cover crops by airplane.

"We had beautiful cover crop and got tillage affect from the radishes. Farmers recognized the benefit of the cover crop, and for this year, we have 3,000 acres signed up," she added, "And, deer just love those tillage radishes."

Tillage radish is a good cover crop as the large roots improve soil health and can help retain soil moisture and reduce erosion.

The Allamakee office staff continues to write applications for grants and conservation addendums.

For additional information on any of the information in this article contact the Root River Soil and Water Conservation Office in Caledonia at (507) 724-5261 or stop by at 805 N. Hwy 44 (by Dollar General).