Residents of Roland, Story City, Randall, Gilbert, Ames and the surrounding areas are encouraged to attend one of the two upcoming listening sessions concerning the development of a watershed management plan to address water quality and other issues in the Keigley Branch and the South Skunk River.


The first listening session will take place Monday, Oct. 23, from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Franklin Community Room at Gilbert City Hall. The program will include a presentation on issues in the watershed and time for open discussion.


Cara Rinehart, biology teacher at Gilbert High School, and her students will present findings from their biological monitoring project on Keigley Branch and other local streams.


The second listening session will take place Monday, Oct. 30, from 6 to 7 p.m. in 2226 Bessey Hall on the Iowa State University campus, 2200 Osborn Drive, Ames. The Iowa State University Soil and Water Conservation Club is partnering with Prairie Rivers to organize this event. Jim Colbert, associate professor in the Department of Biology, will speak about his work with the Skunk River Navy.


The Keigley Branch-South Skunk River Watershed is an area of land in Story and Hamilton counties that drains to Keigley Branch, Bear Creek, Long Dick Creek and the South Skunk River.


Conservation practices in this area can support Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy while also improving soil health, reducing flooding, benefit pollinators and wildlife, and improve fishing and boating opportunities along the Skunk River Greenbelt.


Dan Haug, watershed educator at Prairie Rivers of Iowa, will facilitate the meeting.


“What better way to kick off the planning process than to hear from some students who have been getting their feet wet and can speak to the value of these waters,” said Haug. “We’ll continue holding meetings throughout the winter and hope they generate some constructive dialogue about how groups in the watershed can work together.”


Prairie Rivers of Iowa received a two-year, $71,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to help local leaders develop a watershed management plan.


A watershed plan can help counties, cities and conservation districts coordinate their efforts and attract outside funding.


The goal of listening sessions is to hear stakeholders’ ideas and concerns about water quality, soil health and other issues in the Keigley Watershed.


The planning team hopes to learn more about what farmers, community groups and local government are already doing for conservation and discuss opportunities for collaboration.


At a meeting on July 13, the agenda started with a recap of findings from watershed assessment work. Existing conservation efforts in the watershed were be highlighted, and was a discussion about the listening sessions that are planned for the fall.


Watershed experts began discussing goals and objectives for the management plan, and a meeting schedule was set for the rest of the year.


Story City Mayor Mike Jensen was among those attending the July meeting.


“We will be looking at elements for improving water quality,” said Penny Brown Huber, executive director of Prairie Rivers, after the grant was announced last year. “We will also look at things like the wildlife in the area. Could the watershed support a recreational trail? Or a water trail? We want to help the communities.”


“‘Watershed management’ can be a loaded term for some, given the history of finger-pointing around flooding and water quality in our state,” Haug said.


“However, I’m confident that by highlighting the work being done and the opportunities available that we can shift the conversation to how we can all be part of the solution.”