OTTUMWA — Improving watersheds on the north side of town will in turn improve the Des Moines River's water quality, which is why the city is hoping to snag a grant this fall.
If awarded the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) Water Resource Restoration Grant, the city will focus on Harrow's Branch and Memorial Park, a combined total of 1,721 acres that need extensive work.
This spring, city staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) district conservationist Lori Altheide and Wapello County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) local coordinator Ryan Rasmussen walked the gullies in Harrow's Branch, looking for sources and severity of erosion and possible solutions.
"It's definitely concerning," Altheide said of Harrow's Branch. "Head cuts are advancing up the slope, which means they're not only eroding from the side banks but they're also cutting upstream and making the gullies bigger and longer."
The force of the water cuts out soil, leaving an open ditch, or gully.
All of this contributes to poor water quality from sedimentation and soil nutrients polluting the water, a problem that's plagued Harrow's Branch for the last 20 years, said city Public Works Director Larry Seals.
"Funding hasn't been available to fix the problem," Altheide said. "We have never been able to secure the funding ... to do practices in that watershed. This is the first opportunity we've had to receive some help from SRF funds."
Currently, it's estimated that 3,487 tons of sediment are delivered into Harrow's Branch every year.
Recently, Ottumwa Water Works and Hydro asked customers to cut back on water usage due to high nitrate levels in the river.
"Part of that is because you have nutrients in your soil, and when you lose soil, you also lose those nutrients, which will contaminate the water," she said.