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From the September/October 2017 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
Silently meandering through the lush fields of Iowa, Sewer Creek slowly wears down the soil that hugs the water to a steep slope. Overlooked by residents in the area, Sewer Creek has been an environmental eyesore for decades.
In an effort to revive the creek, advanced placement biology students at Newton High School are gathering support from community leaders to change the name to Cardinal Creek through the U.S. Geological Survey.
Courtney Wolken, whose class is leading the name change, believes this will not only help her students learn, but also improve the surrounding environment in the community.
“The name change would provide a positive step forward in restoring the creek and the surrounding habitat,” Wolken says. “I hope this leads to other projects with regards to watershed improvement.”
The creek is in need of improvements, like reducing erosion. To have action take place in the near future, the community needs to be made aware of the state of the creek.
The name arose in the 1960s when people dumped trash into the creek without consideration for aquatic life and ecosystems below.
Students believe changing the name of the creek will create a positive connotation between the creek and the community, raise awareness and inform people about the watershed they live in.
The creek runs parallel to the school, making it a potential hands-on learning opportunity for students by interpreting long-term data and identifying possible types and levels of contamination, says Wolken.
“Having students monitor the water quality of the stream following IOWATER testing methods and then possible restoration projects aligns with our course goals,” she adds.
The renaming of the creek contributes to the Department of Natural Resources’ and the Department of Transportation’s efforts to educate and raise awareness in local communities about the dynamics of watersheds, says Steve Hopkins with the DNR’s Watershed Improvement Program.
“It’s important for residents to know about their watershed. Without their knowledge and action, water quality won’t improve,” says Hopkins.
When it rains, water picks up artificial pollutants such as motor oil and pesticides which carry chemicals and nutrients that can harm a watershed’s ecosystem.
The students generated awareness from local community leaders such as Keri Van Zante, director of the Jasper County Conservation Board, who expressed support in a letter.
“I hope that this is just the first step in improving Cardinal Creek,” she writes. “I envision student-led water testing and maybe even some native prairie plantings along the creek in the future.”
The renaming was brought up at a Newton City Council Meeting where the council voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting the students’ efforts. The city believes that the name change will provide positive long-term benefits to the community.
Newton mayor Michael Hansen applauds the students. He believes residents will become more aware of their watershed and encourage them to take action to improve local water quality conditions.