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Council OKs $3,000 for Macbride watershed grant

City Engineer Dave Schechinger and Public Works Director Scott Kleppe during the Nov. 11 meeting of the Solon City Council. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– It was the neighborly thing to do.
The Solon City Council voted last week to pledge $3,000 in support of a Johnson County Soil and Water District (JCSWD) grant application aimed at improving the Lake Macbride Watershed.
At a Nov. 19 meeting, JCSWD Technician Breanna Zimmerman and intern Laura Waldo Semken presented council members with information regarding their application for a Watershed Development Planning Assistance grant through the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
Zimmerman said the JCSWD will apply for up to $10,000 to help fund education and outreach demonstration projects in the Lake Macbride Watershed, but noted the grant deadline was approaching quickly and the application was in need of support– financial, if possible.
In the weeks prior to the meeting, Zimmerman reached out to city council member Brad Kunkel, who in turn related some of the difficulties the city has experienced with flash flooding.
Compacted soil in new developments appears to be making it worse.
That’s why the health of the soil in the watershed is so important, Semken told council members.
“The healthier your soil, is, the more organic matter it has, the more ability it has to absorb rain water,” Semken said, noting the proposed grant will emphasize soil quality restoration as one of its components. “If you have healthy soil, it can absorb rain and not run off into your creeks and cause all these problems that you guys are seeing,” she said.
Restored soil can hold a three-inch rain in a 24-hour period, she said, but if you’re in a new development “and it’s compacted, and it’s clay with just sod put right on top, it’s basically not absorbing anything. It’s like a parking lot.”
That correlates with what Public Works Director Scott Kleppe is seeing.
“As we continue to grow, the flooding just keeps increasing every year,” Kleppe said. “The ground is just not absorbing the water in newer subdivisions.”
If successful, the grant would be used to fund local educational outreach about topics such as rainscaping and soil quality restoration, with the goal of dealing with rainwater, not just moving it on downstream, which in this case would be the impaired waters of Lake Macbride.
“We want to try and promote practices that will allow those rain events to be absorbed as they hit the ground as much as possible,” Zimmerman said.
If the water is absorbed by the soil, it’s being filtered before reaching the lake, Semken said. If it’s running through the storm sewer, it’s carrying a lot of pollutants with it.
Lake Macbride is one of a long list of Iowa rivers, lakes and streams which are considered impaired by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because they fail to meet state water quality standards.
According to the DNR’s 2012 integrated report of impaired waters, Lake Macbride has aesthetically objectionable conditions (algae), and significantly more than 10 percent of its water samples violated the pH criteria.
Roughly 16,000 acres of land drain into Lake Macbride, fed by Mill Creek and Jordan Creek.
Sixty-five percent of the watershed was utilized for farming in 2002.
That’s when the JCSWD helped create the Lake Macbride Watershed Project and its accompanying advisory committee.
On the heels of a $2 million state investment toward cleaning up the lake, the JCSWD received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund conservation practices in the Macbride watershed with a 75 percent cost share.
The successful program wound down in 2007, but the JCSWD is looking to revive it with the new grant application.
According to Zimmerman, the outcome of the grant application will be known in spring. If approved, the project would begin right away in April and would last until October.
Despite a tight budget, council members were supportive of the project, and passed a motion pledging $3,000 in support, something which Zimmerman said would likely make the application more competitive.
“We have it in our mind that we only worry about storm water when it makes its way through our yards and into the storm sewer,” Kunkel said. “We do need to think about the impact when we do send it downstream and what kind of neighbor are we being to the rest of the watershed and Lake Macbride.”
Council member Mark Krall also supported trying to find money for the grant, noting the city would be receive a substantial benefit from the investment.
There would be funds left over in the city’s curb and gutter budget, Kleppe volunteered, suggesting the practices promoted by the JCSWD were aligned with plans to put more teeth in the city’s storm water management ordinance.
He envisioned the grant helping the JCSWD get together with area contractors and developers to communicate why soil is so important for the city and the watershed.
“Just some simple changes would make a huge difference,” Kleppe said.
Council members discussed possible funding sources with City Administrator Cami Rasmussen and Mayor Steve Stange before approving a motion pledging $3,000 to the grant application.
“I was very pleased with the council’s decision to contribute such a substantial amount towards the proposed grant,” Zimmerman said after the meeting. “They should definitely be recognized for their contribution and leadership in this proposed project.”
She applauded Solon for its commitment toward protecting people, resources, and infrastructure.
“We believe that their decision to partner with us on this potential project will make our grant application for the Macbride watershed much more competitive,” Zimmerman noted. “Their contribution shows that the citizens in this area have a progressive attitude towards promoting and implementing storm water management practices and improving soil health in this growing community.”