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The 55-acre wetland just off of Highway 20 in Sac County may seem like a new addition to the area, but it's part of an effort to restore a millennia-old chain of natural marshes.
Located in the 1,200-acre Kiowa Marsh Wildlife Management Area, the formerly drained wetland helps to filter excess sediment and nutrients from runoff water as part of a larger chain of marshes. That's especially important here in the Indian Creek watershed, which feeds into the North Raccoon River basin. The Raccoon River, used as a drinking water source for 450,000 Iowans, has high nitrate, phosphorus and E. coli levels.
Ducks Unlimited engineers and the DNR restored the marsh by building an earthen dam and a water control structure to allow staff to manipulate the wetland's water level. Shallow wetlands like those in the marsh complex traditionally went through occasional dry cycles, allowing it to drain, re-grow plants and refill. The water control structure allows wetland managers to recreate these cycles. A fish barrier keeps out carp and other undesirable fish.
Upland of the new wetland, three new ponds catch sediment and nutrients before they reach the marsh. A new swath of prairie - 32.5 acres - reduces soil erosion, traps runoff contaminants and provides wildlife nesting cover. Estimates show that the project will reduce the amount of sediment reaching Indian Creek by 652 tons per year and trap 847 pounds of phosphorus.
"Kiowa Marsh represents another great partnership project that DU was pleased to be a part of," said Eric Lindstrom, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist. "This successful project will provide high quality habitat for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent wildlife, as well as critical flood storage capacity and improved water quality benefits for downstream residents."
Wildlife has already begun to make use of the new wetland and prairie habitat. "We're starting to see more vegetation in the wetland, and that's drawing waterfowl like blue wing teal and shorebirds," said John McCleary, a DNR wildlife technician at the marsh. We've seen some painted turtles and snapping turtles and frogs. Amphibians and reptiles will benefit, too."
That makes the area attractive for hunters and birders, too. Jeff Kestel enjoys hunting the area with his son and taking the dog out for a run there. "I don't think a lot of people know about it, but the amount of habitat and diversity of it is great - upland for pheasants, marsh for waterfowl," he said. "When we create these areas, hunters use the area and everyone gets the advantage of better water quality and protecting the soil."