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Read more about the work to sign Iowa's creeks, and other water quality successes, in Working For Clean Water, the DNR's annual watershed success story publication.
Thousands of motorists drive over Iowa’s waterways, big and small, each day. But unless it’s a major river, most people are crossing these streams unaware of what’s below.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Transportation, has been placing signs identifying creek crossings at bridges along state and federal highways over the past four years.
“We all live in a watershed, but not many people are aware of which one or even what a watershed is,” says Steve Hopkins with the DNR’s Watershed Improvement Program. “We want people to understand more about the creeks they cross over every day, and drawing attention to them with these signs is a great first step.”
In phase one of the project, the DNR worked with the DOT’s Tim Crouch and Kurtis Younkin to install signs at almost 40 stream crossings in nine different watersheds: Big Creek Lake, Badger Creek Lake, Dry Run Creek, Duck Creek, Easter Lake, Lake Geode, Lake Rathbun, Silver Creek and Tete des Morts Creek. All nine watersheds had active watershed improvement projects, funded by the DNR through the EPA’s Section 319 nonpoint source program.
Phase two focused on placing creek crossing signs on all federal and state highways in the Turkey, Boone and Floyd river basins. More than 60 locations received signs, including creeks and river tributaries, like the Little Turkey River, that had not been signed before.
“We hope that by increasing Iowans’ awareness of the waters they travel over, they can better understand issues affecting local water quality and what residents can do to improve conditions,” Hopkins says.
In western Iowa, John Klein has led the charge to help draw attention to local streams. While it’s now a volunteer effort for the retired former Missouri and Mississippi Divide Resource Conservation and Development NRCS coordinator, it all began on the job back in 2010.
“We wanted, naturally enough, people to know the significance of their watersheds, and their streams. The signs give rural areas a name – that bridge with signs becomes a landmark, and having that area identification is important to rural people and how they develop personal concern about their watershed,” says Klein. “It also explains the greater geologic history of glaciers that shaped their lands. It helped explain why landforms were so different east and north of Carroll than south and west, where the glaciers stopped.”
Thanks to his efforts, and the work of many partner groups, 83 stream crossings in Audubon, Guthrie, Carroll, Pottawattamie and Clarke counties now boast creek signs, with more planned. WIRB and other groups have funded sign projects in other parts of the state as well.
“Each sign up is a victory for conservation,” says Klein. “It is great environmental education that lasts for years, hopefully long past my life. It makes people better understand their place in the watershed and natural landscape. I am hoping that with the signs installed, that it will make the work of naturalists, park rangers, and science teachers easier in the future when they explain the importance of watershed level management.”