STANHOPE - They came to listen and got an earful.
Members of the Squaw Creek Watershed Management Authority held the first of four meetings on Monday to listen to the concerns of landowners along the watershed in hopes of building partnerships with those landowners to gain better water quality and less water quantity flowing downstream to Ames.
A second meeting is set for today at 3 p.m. at the Gilbert City Hall in Gilbert. Two other meetings will be set in Ames at a later date.
Squaw Creek begins a few miles east of Stratford as drainage ditch 192 (which drains a few townships in Webster County), flowing through southern Hamilton County, through western Boone County and empties into the South Skunk River at Ames in Story County.
As they listened, landowners talked, and the SCWMA learned the room was distrustful of their intentions of wanting to build partnerships with farmers.
"We have no authority to regulate anything," said Paul Toot, a Story County supervisor and chairman of SCWMA, "and I have no interest in telling anyone what they have to do."
But attending farmers were not accepting his statement at face value.
J.R. Ubben, of Stratford, said farmers have been implementing buffers and other measures to keep nutrients and soil in place.
"But in urban areas," he said, "they keep putting in parking lots and developments that keep adding to the (flooding) problem.
"Farmers are doing an outstanding job with their conservation efforts."
Dr. Ervin Klaas, vice president of Prairie Rivers of Iowa, based in Ames, a nonprofit organization designed to strengthen Iowa's communities through responsible conservation of natural resources, asked if farmers in the room were working on compliance with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
The INRS was announced in April 2013, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Iowa to reduce its nitrogen and phosphorus loads in surface waters by 45 and 29 percent, respectively.
The EPA did not give Iowa a deadline for meeting the nutrient reduction goals, standing back to allow the state to make land management changes voluntarily.
Klaas, a water monitoring volunteer for 12 years, said his testing sites around Ames show E. coli contamination so high year around, "that if it was a swimming beach, it would be shut down."
He said other monitors have found high E. coli levels in the water farther upstream.
When challenged from the floor if the E. coli content was any higher or less a century ago, Pat Conrad, representing Emmons and Olivier Resources, based in Oakdale, Minn., to conduct watershed condition survey, said contamination may be less now than a few decades ago, now that wastewater treatment plants are more efficient.
Russ Tieg, of Jewell, a former state legislator, said farmers are making land management adjustments in order to qualify for farm bill payment programs.
Klaas reminded the room that the EPA is watching Iowa's efforts and if it fails to meet compliance, it will issue land-use regulations.
Toot again called for wanting to form partnerships with landowners along the watershed, specially to find ways to slow water as it goes downstream.
Ubben told the SCWMA members that they were up against a defensive wall with landowners.
Katie Olthoff, who farms just south of Stanhope, said farmers' defensive stance is because they are blamed for Ames flooding following heavy rains, when farmers are implementing many conservation practices without urban acknowledgment.
Klaas, a long-time critic of Ames urban development in flood plains, said the city built rain gardens, installed pervious pavement and planted native vegetative landscapes during the last several years to reduce the amount of runoff that flows into the creek.
"But it's going to take awhile to compensate for 150 years of development," he said.
Again, the SCWMA said it's only looking to form rural and urban partnerships, not dictate how farmers manage crop land or how they grow crops.
Toot said he hopes that as partnerships form, more state funds will be released to provide cost-sharing in both rural and urban areas to stem the flow of flooding, as well as improve water quality in the creek.
Keith Dencklau, a Webster County supervisor, said the trust issue among farmers is the word authority in the water management group's name.
"We can't help that," Klaas said, "that's state law."
"But," countered Dencklau, "that's how (regulatory bodies) get started."
Ubben urged the audience to begin considering forming the partnerships and build a trust level with the SCWMA and urban communities downstream.