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The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the Tete des Morts Watershed Project in Jackson County as a success story.
The project, which began in 2008 and was administered by the Jackson County Soil and Water District and led by coordinator Michelle Turner, ran for about nine years.
A portion of Tete des Morts Creek was targeted for improvement after experiencing a fish kill in 2005 and being placed on Iowa’s impaired waters list the next year. The water was polluted with sediment, as the creek is surrounded by highly erodible land including farmland and bluffs, fish were having difficulty surviving and the level of aquatic animals like insects, snails and crayfish was found to be impaired.
Turner, along with partners including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, collaborated with farmers and landowners to install several conservation practices funded in part by the EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 grants. Those efforts included grassed waterways, streambank protection, grade stabilization structures, water and sediment control structures, terraces and animal waste systems. Five cattle crossings and 700 feet of fencing were also installed to prevent cattle from accessing the stream.
The project had a goal of a 40% reduction in sediment delivery - Turner and staff exceeded that goal, accomplishing a 53.7% reduction.
As a result of these efforts, brown trout are successfully reproducing in the stream and smallmouth bass populations are supporting recreational fishing. Aquatic animals and insects are also increasing, reflecting a decrease in pollution.
“There are some types of fish in here that we don’t see widespread and certainly not self-sustaining,” said DNR fisheries biologist Dan Kirby. “A lot of these fish are indicators of clear water because they’re sight feeders.”
Tete des Morts Creek was removed from the impaired waters list in 2022. Turner credited landowners for remaining dedicated to conservation practices even after the project, and the grants, concluded.
“Landowners have kept up the momentum of putting in conservation practices that will help water quality,” Turner said. “This has created a legacy that has continued through the years and the landowners take pride.”
More information on the project and the full success story can be found at epa.gov.