Despite a rainy start to the day, nearly 60 people gathered for a bus tour of the Otter Creek Watershed in Northeast Iowa on June 8. Participants saw rural and urban conservation practices designed and installed to reduce flooding in the watershed.
The tour began and ended in West Union, Iowa, where downtown infrastructure has been upgraded to enhance stormwater management. This project includes more than four acres of permeable pavers for downtown streets and sidewalks placed over a bed of crushed stone. This system has the capacity to manage a hundred-year storm, with no discharge for rainfall events between 0.5–0.75 inches.
The first stop of the morning was a large on-road structure east of West Union, one of five built in the Otter Creek Watershed as part of the recently completed Iowa Watersheds Project. This baffle-type installation on a roadway culvert impounds water upstream of the roadway, slowing runoff. Fayette County Engineer Joel D. Fantz told the group that this type of structure is a win-win for taxpayers, landowners, and residents of the county.
Next up, participants saw two farm ponds, which can reduce flood damage by storing water during high runoff periods. Ponds hold back floodwaters temporarily and release the water at a slower rate, lowering peak flood discharge downstream and supporting soil conservation efforts. Landowner and Turkey River Watershed Management Authority (WMA) board vice-chair Bill Bennett told the crowd, “If we can capture the water where it falls, we’ll be much better off.”
Downtown Elgin, set at the confluence of Otter Creek and the Turkey River, recently completed a downtown revitalization project that incorporated permeable pavers into parking areas on either side of the city’s main street. Two riparian wetlands also provide storage for stormwater runoff.
After an amazing lunch at the Brick City Bar and Grill in Elgin (provided by Fehr Graham Engineering, Turkey River WMA, and the Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District), it was back on the bus for a ride to the Rush Prairie Wildlife Sanctuary near West Union. The 234-acre sanctuary includes almost 90 acres of native prairie, more than 40 acres of buffer strips, and 103 acres of tillable land. It has never been tiled and contains one of the largest remaining prairie parcels in Fayette County. The property provides wildlife habitat, botanical diversity, and water-quality benefits to the watershed.
Sponsors for the Otter Creek Watershed Tour included: Iowa Flood Center, Turkey River WMA, Fayette County Conservation Board, Fayette County Board of Supervisors, Fayette County Soil and Water Conservation District, Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development, Fehr Graham Engineering & Environmental, and Brick City Bar and Grill.
More photos of the Otter Creek Watershed Tour can be viewed on the Iowa Watershed Approach Facebook page.