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Bow Creek Watershed project seeks to improve water quality

Curt Arens Bow Creek
HISTORIC BOW: Named for an American Indian chief, Little Bow, Bow Creek drains 392,574 acres in Knox, Cedar and Dixon counties before emptying into the Missouri River. A new watershed program seeks to enroll farmers in conservation practices to improve the water quality of the Bow.
Tests in 2016 quantified sediment, phosphorus, nitrates and E. coli in Bow Creek.

Bow Creek is an important waterway in northeast Nebraska, draining 392,574 acres in Knox, Cedar and Dixon counties. The creek was mentioned in the journals of Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Capt. William Clark when their expedition up the Missouri River visited the region in late August 1804.

The journals note that the expedition camped near the mouth of the creek where it empties into the Missouri near present-day Wynot. The creek was known as Petite Arc, a French term that meant Little Bow, who Lewis and Clark said was an American Indian chief who was displeased with Chief Black Bird and came to the region surrounding this creek to build a town.

For centuries, native villages and bands used the fruits and game around the creek and enjoyed the fertile soils within the region. As the region was settled in the late 1800s, pioneering families recognized the value of valleys around Bow Creek for farming, so small towns, villages and even a couple of mills popped up along its banks over the years.

Priority area

Two years ago, historic Bow Creek was added as a priority area for the Lewis and Clark Natural Resources District (LCNRD), based on Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (DEE) Basin Rotation water-quality testing. The 2016 testing showed elevated levels of sediment, phosphorus, nitrates and E. coli in Bow Creek.

Since then, FYRA Engineering — along with LCNRD — created models to show the potential to decrease nonpoint source pollutants in Bow Creek through the adoption of best management practices for area farmers and others living and operating along the Bow and its sub-watersheds.

Some of these practices include nutrient management, cover crops, no-till, grazing management plans, livestock exclusion with alternative water sources and fencing, land use changes — including Conservation Reserve Program or riparian buffer strips — along with septic system upgrades.

Because of grants from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and Nebraska DEE, these practices are eligible for additional implementation and education payments through the Bow Creek Watershed Project, but the practices must be part of an approved conservation contract to be eligible.

Producers interested in learning more about potential practices to improve the water quality along the Bow are asked to contact Becky Ravenkamp, Bow Creek Watershed coordinator with LCNRD, to set up a meeting.

“During the creation of the water-quality management plan, LCNRD worked with FYRA Engineering, and they created a framework for our priority areas that have suggested practices for each field to help increase water quality,” Ravenkamp says.

“Producers can choose if they want to implement the suggestions, or choose other practices to implement. They will then apply for a contract through agency partners who will assist with technical advice and incentive payments. Once approved, they can fill out the simple Bow Creek application.

“Upon Bow Creek application approval, they will receive half the additional Bow Creek incentive payment up front to help establish the practice, and the other half will be earned after they have completed six hours of education.”

Improve water quality

The goals of this program are ultimately to get Bow Creek delisted from the impaired waterbody list, and to make it safer for family, friends and neighbors to use and enjoy, Ravenkamp says.

“At the farm level, increasing acres managed with one of the conservation practices will be a success,” she says. “These practices will increase soil organic carbon, and increase infiltration — which will reduce runoff erosion, which will reduce nonpoint source pollution reaching Bow Creek.”

The hope is that the educational portion of the program means that these conservation practices will be implemented and will continue to be practiced long after the incentive payments and contracts expire.

For more information, call Ravenkamp at 402-254-6758.

TAGS: Water
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