Big Sioux River Water Monitoring Project

Joel DeJong, Field Specialist-Crops, Northwest Area

Problem Statement

EPA has put the Big Sioux River basin on the impaired streams list. Several streams in Plymouth County drain into the Big Sioux River. The Iowa DNR held a meeting in the fall of 2005 to prepare for putting together a TMDL plan for the Big Sioux River. Many of the participants at the meeting wondered if Plymouth County streams were actually adding to the Big Sioux River impairment or actually diluting the problem with the water that was being drained into the river.

Programmatic Response

ISU Extension staff suggested that more monitoring of the Plymouth County streams emptying into the Big Sioux to determine if they are part of the problem (bacterial contamination above thresholds.)  ISUE worked with NRCS, the Plymouth County Conservation District, and Akron-Westfield schools to put together a sampling plan for the three Plymouth County streams. Funds for the project were donated by Farm Bureau to help pay for sampling materials and additionally needed equipment. Akron-Westfield school students volunteered to pull and analyze samples bi-monthly of these streams. This school district had most of the equipment needed to assess water samples, and ISUE in conjunction with the retired science teacher (who did most of the writing) prepared a Quality Assurance Plan report to be approved by Iowa DNR for the data being collected. Quarterly public meetings have been held to share information from the water testing with the community, and media reporting of these events has been wide-spread.
Fifteen students have learned how to test water for several quality indicators. They have been able to share this information with the local public, and also shared with many school district representatives around Iowa at the Iowa School District Convention in November of 2006.

Data of the reports have shown that one of the three streams seems to have higher levels of bacteria contaminating the stream higher than the Big Sioux which it empties into. Further tests will be completed to determine if septic systems are a large part of this so better educational direction can be put into place directly at causative problems. The focus of future watershed work will start with this one stream that shows the highest risk. Local entities have planned a community meeting to start the development of a locally led watershed group to determine how they want to proceed on improving this watershed.

The local group has been empowered by this data, and will pursue grants and governmental programs to target this watershed, and reduce the bacterial levels found in this stream.

150 Environmental Stewardship

Page last updated: December 21, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,