Lower Coldwater and Palmer Creek Watershed Improvement

Patrick Derdzinski, Butler CEED; George Cummins, Field Specialist-Crops; John Rodecap, P&S, Agronomy


In 2004, the Iowa DNR placed two north Butler County streams, Coldwater Creek and Palmer Creek, on the impaired (303d) water list submitted to the EPA. Water quality sampling by the DNR indicated nutrient enrichment and low dissolved oxygen levels contributing to the stream impairment. Palmer Creek flows into Coldwater just prior to entering the Shell Rock River. These two watersheds consist of approximately 30,000 acres, primarily dedicated to row crop agriculture with numerous hog and beef cattle operations. The preference is to educate and offer incentives to adopt practices that address causes of the impairment rather than through a regulatory, enforcement and penalty process. Many of the recommended practices will qualify producers for acceptance into the Conservation Security Program at a higher payment level.

John Rodecap's Performance-based environmental management model is being employed to address the water quality issues. The concept involves empowering local farmers to assume leadership in addressing the impaired watersheds.  The purpose is to educate farmers on the issues, develop leadership within the local watershed, and have farmers themselves develop priorities, goals and incentives needed to make changes in production practices that improve water quality. The Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) has invested in this project with a 3 year funding commitment of $30,000/ year for cost-share incentives.
The Butler County Extension Service, in cooperation with ISU Extension crop specialist, George Cummins, and John Rodecap, initiated contact with farmers in the watershed, facilitated 10 farmer meetings to inform of water quality issues, identify priorities and cost-share incentives. A leadership council was formed, officers elected, a local schedule of activities and incentives was developed, and the program implemented. The leadership group was organized into a formal non-profit corporation.  The project solicited support of CSI cooperator- Smidt Crop Consulting, Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock FFA chapter, IOWATER volunteers, and Coe College students to collect and analyze water samples, and collect corn stalk nitrate samples. Assistance was provided to organize water sampling at 4 sites in the watershed during the growing season to determine where and when contamination occurs.


1. 23 of 60 eligible producers signed up initially with continuing interest building
2. Water test results for the season identifying N as the primary nutrient of concern
3. Include Nos signed up for various practices P Index, Soil Conditioning Index, RUSLE II, LSNT, FSNT,etc
4. P Index results were all 2.0 or less
5. Identified two potential sites for biofilters in tile lines draining into CC
6. Request for further funding successful
7.  Farm Cooperator for N Research study with John Sawyer identified
8. Watershed Project has received good media coverage locally and regionally (Agri-News and Iowa Farmer today)
9. NW Area Extension team spent 2 days in the area studying the organization of this watershed project. The Extension Ag Program Leader, IDALS and regional EPA reps attended a regular meeting to observe the Exec Committee in action and determine the reasons for the success of this project.

October 2006
160 Natural Resources and Stewardship

Page last updated: October 24, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz, lschultz@iastate.edu