The Shoal Creek Watershed Improvement Group (SCWIG) has completed a watershed management plan that will be used to guide water quality improvements over the next 10 years. The group focuses it efforts
"Our most noteable accomplishment over the last year was completing the second draft of our nine-element watershed plan," said Drew Holt, an environmental quality specialist who assists with the SCWIG project.
The watershed plan is designed to create local strategies and solutions for achieving water resource goals for the Shoal Creek watershed. The plan, which has been submitted to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for approval, will also provide assessment and management information for the watershed.
During phase one of the plan, which will be completed in 2012, the group will complete its septic system repair and replacement project, develop baseline levels of bacteria and nutrients in the watershed through water sampling and establish an online interactive GIS mapping interface.
"During the last half of 2010, we were able to complete eight septic pump outs using cost-share funds," said Holt. "We also began working with five landowners who needed septic system replacements."
Before a septic system can be replaced using cost-share funds available through the SCWIG's $224,000 grant, it must be confirmed that the system is located within one-half mile of Shoal Creek.
"After we confirmed that the system was failing, we had to use a backhoe to dig holes to allow a scientist to complete a soil test," said Holt. "The Barry County Health Department uses the soil type to determine what septic system can be installed."
The group was able to complete one septic system replacement in 2010. The other four replacement projects are pending.
"We have the bids back and those projects are just pending landowner signature," said Holt.
Through soil testing, SCWIG discovered that there is a hard pan of soil located under around 75 percent of the county's land. The hard pan causes water that is absorbed into the ground to travel laterally.
"The health department requires the lateral lines to be two feet above the hard pan, but at every one of these five sites we discovered that the hard pan was located at 24 inches," said Holt. "We were required to put advanced on-site sewage systems at these sites."
The advanced systems, which use low pressure pipe and drip irrigation, cost between $6,000 and $10,000 to install.
"That is going to take up our grant money pretty quickly," said Holt. "We initially proposed that we would complete 30 system replacements, but we are probably going to have to scale down the number we are able to do."
SCWIG hopes to receive approval from DNR to complete other water quality projects, such as closing old wells located in the watershed.
"These old wells are a direct conduit to our ground water," said Holt. "We have been asked if there are any cost-share programs that could help cover the costs of closing a well.
"Our grant application didn't say one word about closing wells, but there is a need for that," said Holt. "We may have to scale back on some of our other efforts and turn to some low-cost projects that will help improve water quality in other ways. We will need DNR approval for that though."
In an effort to develop a baseline for water quality on Shoal Creek, SCWIG member Donnie Pierpont collected water samples at six locations along the watershed from May through October of last year.
"The results haven't been great, but they haven't been real bad either," said Holt. "DNR allows you to have 235 colonies per 100 milliliters in one sampling or an average of 126 colonies per 100 milliliters in five samples.
"We are battling a public perception problem," said Holt. "E coli is an indicator of bacteria, but not all bacteria is harmful. A sample can have 235 colonies and not have any pathogenic micro-organisms or harmful strains of E coli."
A sample can also have a smaller amount of bacteria and contain a large number of harmful strains, said Holt.
SCWIG hopes to collect more water samples this summer. Volunteers, such as Stream Team groups, are needed to help with collections.
"We are also working with a GIS mapping service provider," said Holt. "We will offer an application that can be accessed on the Internet by the SCWIG Board, media and members of the public."
When the mapping project is complete, community members will be able to use the computer application to access information on projects that have been completed and water sampling that has been conducted.
"We are still promoting our creek pond projects," said Holt. "There is money in the budget to construct two more pasture ponds."
Over the next year, SCWIG members will be researching new grant opportunities that will help the group complete more water quality improvement projects. The watershed management plan will help with future grant applications, said Holt.
Between 2013 and 2020, SCWIG hopes to focus on more cost-sharing conservation practices and conduct professional scientific water quality evaluations along Shoal Creek to find harmful pathogenic micro-organisms.
"The activities we want to undertake require the cooperation of local landowners, residents and group stakeholders," said Holt.
SCWIG focuses its efforts on the upper portion of the Shoal Creek Watershed, which is located between Exeter and Wheaton. The group will host a dinner and informational meeting later this spring. All community members will be invited to attend.