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CEDAR FALLS — Travelers along University Avenue and County Road D-18 in western Black Hawk County may have noticed a new highway sign marking a feature they may not have realized existed before – a watershed.
The large sign, one of the first of its kind in Iowa, notes that drivers are “Entering Dry Run Creek Watershed.” A watershed is an area of land that drains to a stream, river or lake – and in this case, the land drains into Dry Run Creek, a tributary of the Cedar River.
“The sign’s words are large enough to be clearly seen by drivers at normal highway speeds,” said Steve Hopkins, DNR Nonpoint Source Coordinator. “The sign also complements an Iowa DNR initiative to install creek signs in priority watersheds to help educate Iowans about the connections between creeks and their watersheds.”
The sign, built to Iowa Department of Transportation specifications, was installed by the Black Hawk County Engineering Department in collaboration with the Dry Run Creek Watershed Project, which is led by the Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District, Iowa DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
“It’s so important to begin to identify our watersheds as we raise the awareness of watersheds to the public,” said Jeri Thornsberry, Chair of the Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District. “This new watershed sign does that.”
The Dry Run Creek Watershed Project, an ongoing community effort for more than 15 years, provides funding and technical assistance to landowners to install conservation practices to reduce polluted runoff and improve water quality in Dry Run Creek, which is on Iowa’s impaired water’s list. Although signs identify Dry Run Creek in the area, this was the first sign identifying the actual watershed.
Project coordinator and DNR staffer Josh Balk worked with Black Hawk County Engineer Cathy Nicholas to install the sign, which was approved by the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors. Funding for the sign was provided by the watershed project through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Section 319 grant.
“The sign helps the public see and understand watersheds,” said Sherm Lundy, a longtime Dry Run Creek Advisory Board member. “It identifies not only where the watershed is, but it helps inform people that things are going on in the watershed. We need to keep watersheds in consideration in land management.”
Dry Run Creek, which has several different branches, flows from rural western Black Hawk County eastward through Cedar Falls before joining with the Cedar River.
Since 2005, the Dry Run Creek Watershed Project has worked with residents and landowners to install more than 200 conservation practices, which have reduced pollutant runoff to the creek by more than 84 million gallons per year. Common practices installed through the project include rain gardens, bioretention cells, permeable pavement and streambank stabilization along Dry Run Creek. According to Balk, participation in the project remains high with a backlog of demand for practices.
“It’s through our collaboration with local producers, residents, businesses, educators, conservationists and local leaders that we have seen success and will reach our long-term water quality goals,” said Balk. “This sign installation is a perfect example of the diverse partnerships we have fostered here as well as our continuing efforts to inform the community on ways they can get involved with clean water. We all live in a watershed and this sign emphasizes the connection between people, the land and our water resources.”
While not yet at a point to remove the creek from the state’s impaired waters list, water monitoring of Dry Run Creek shows continuing improvements in water quality.
The Dry Run Creek Watershed Project receives primary funding from the Iowa DNR’s Watershed Improvement program through U.S. EPA Section 319 nonpoint source program grants. To date, the project has used more than $2.6 million in EPA Section 319 funding to restore water quality in Dry Run Creek.