Big Creek Lake Watershed Project

BCFINALLOGOThe Boone and Polk Soil & Water Conservation Districts are sponsoring the Big Creek Lake Watershed Project aimed at improving and protecting water quality in Big Creek Lake. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are providing funding for the project.   Those who live and farm within the Big Creek Lake Watershed may be eligible for up to 75% or even 90% in cost share on agricultural conservation practices such as terraces, sediment basins, waterways, pasture management, streambank stabilization and many more. All these practices are aimed at improving the water quality of Big Creek Lake.

Big Creek Lake itself is 781 acres and was built in 1972 by the Army Corps of Engineers as a part of a flood control project. The lake is surrounded by a 1,500 acre State Park and 2,050 acre Wildlife Management Area. Wildlife Area amenities include deer, turkey, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, dove, duck and goose hunting, mushroom hunting, pond fishing, boat ramps, hiking, dog training area and wildlife viewing. The State Park and lake offer recreational opportunities and are favorite destinations of many Central Iowa residents. Park amenities include a 3.4 acre swimming beach, shelters, picnic areas, playgrounds, a sports field, several boat ramps, a shooting range, and several miles of multi-purpose trails.  Each year an average of 750,000 people visit Big Creek Lake, this visitation contributes over $19 million dollars to the local economy.

“In recent years, the water quality at Big Creek Lake has shown signs of major degradation.” Ben Dodd, Fisheries Biologist, Iowa DNR

In the spring 2011 the Boone and Polk SWCDs completed a watershed management action plan which outlines twenty years of improvements within the Big Creek Lake watershed.  The goal of the plan and watershed project is to address water quality issues at Big Creek Lake.  Big Creek Lake has experienced high bacteria levels, algae blooms, and high rates of sedimentation.  All these have been highly publicized and could impact the future of Big Creek Lake.  These problems impact human health; in 2004 alone high bacteria levels resulted in beach warnings on 11 separate occasions. The lake has been severely impacted by soil eroding from the watershed; this soil is being deposited in the upper arms of the lake.  Along with the soil comes phosphorus which tends to stimulate the growth of algae.  The Big Creek Lake Watershed Project is working with farmers, homeowners, landowners, lake users and state agencies to improve the conditions in the lake and watershed.

Big Creek Lake is an important resource for central Iowans, according to the Iowa DNR, an average of 740,600 people visited Big Creek Park annually from 2001‐2008. An Iowa State University study found these visitors contribute $19.09 million annually to the local economy, which in turn supports 233 jobs.

About the Watershed

Basic_Map_200111130v1A watershed is the area of land that all drains to the same body of water, the watershed for Big Creek Lake is 47,665 acres or nearly 75 square miles.  The uppermost part of the watershed starts near the community of Boone and extends south to Big Creek Lake.  The watershed is about 24 miles north to south.  The communities of Luther, Madrid and Sheldahl all lay on the edge of the watershed.

There are three streams that feed Big Creek Lake; they are Turkey Creek, Big Creek and Little Creek. The total stream miles within the watershed are estimated to be 64 miles.

Land use in the watershed is 81% cropland with mostly a corn and soybean rotation. The timbered areas are concentrated in the state park and along the streams that feed Big Creek Lake which total 2% of the watershed. Approximately two percent of the watershed is used for grazing.

Click here for an interactive map of the Big Creek Lake Watershed

Watershed Landowners and Farmers

If you are a farmer or landowner in the Big Creek Lake watershed you may be eligible for higher cost share rates to install conservation practices.  To find out if you are eligible please contact the watershed project coordinators Sean McCoy or  John Swanson.   The following information provides general information about the available cost share rates.  For examples of the practices see the photo gallery below.

  • Grassed Waterways – 90% cost share
  • Sediment Basins (aka Ponds) – 75% cost share
  • Grade Stabilization Structures – 75% cost share
  • Pasture or Hayland Management – 75-90% cost share
  • Streambank Stabilization – 75% cost share
  • Terraces – 75% cost share
  • Manure Settling Basins – 75% cost share
  • CRP incentive – one time $100-200/acre signup incentive
  • Low interest loans for conservation practices
  • And more



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