The Pipe Creek Watershed is the northern most watershed that drains to Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac County. See map below. Like many of the tributaries along the east shore of Lake Winnebago, the Pipe Creek Watershed experiences heavy runoff during rains, especially in the spring time when snow is melting. The heavy runoff of sediment and phosphorus not only negatively affects the water quality of Pipe Creek but it also impacts Lake Winnebago. The Calumet Harbor Marina and the Fond du Lac County Columbia Park are both located at the mouth of Pipe Creek which makes the runoff very visible for anyone at the park or marina. During many rain events the water at the mouth of the Pipe Creek and into Lake Winnebago is an orange or brown color from the sediment from erosion. Many homeowners along the Lake Winnebago shoreline also experience flooding from the sediment laden runoff.
The Fond du Lac County Land & Water Conservation Department staffs have been focusing efforts in the Pipe Creek Watershed to assist landowners with adoption of conservation practices that will reduce erosion and phosphorus runoff to Pipe Creek and Lake Winnebago. In fall of 2014, LWCD staff met with both homeowners and landowners to discuss possible solutions for the runoff and flooding. The LWCD then began identifying areas in the Pipe Creek Water-shed that projects could potentially be located. Staff began working with land-owners to discuss the implementation of conservation practices and cost share options. The LWCD staff is utilizing various Federal, State and County programs to provide funding for cost sharing practices. Conservation practices that have already been implemented in the Pipe Creek Water-shed include riparian buffers, grassed waterways, water and sediment control structures (WaSCOBs), and streambank stabilization. The LWCD is hoping that enough practices can be implemented to show an improvement in water quality to Pipe Creek and Lake Winnebago while also reducing the amount of runoff that causes flooding for lakeshore homeowners.
Grant for Pipe Creek Watershed Project
The Fond du Lac County Land & Water Conservation Department (LWCD) has been focusing conservation efforts in the Pipe Creek Watershed in an ongoing effort to reduce runoff and improve water quality of Pipe Creek and Lake Winnebago. The LWCD has been working with landowners to implement conservation practices with federal, state, and county funding. Most of the cost sharing available has focused on structural practices like water and sediment control structures and grass waterways because funding for cropping practices like high residue management or no-till is limited.
In the winter of 2015, the LWCD prepared an application for funding through a Great Lakes Commission grant. The project was titled The Pipe “P” Trap, A Collaboration for Cleaner Water. The intent was to be able to dedicate funding for cropping practices and harvestable buffers to the Pipe Creek Watershed to further reduce runoff and improve soil health. The grant will complement the existing cost sharing that was already being used for more structural conservation practices. This added funding would provide landowners more options to reduce runoff from their land. The grant application also included funding for a hydro-study to determine the best conservation practices and locations to reduce soil and phosphorus runoff in the project area. The LWCD staff contacted a few producers in the project area about grant opportunity and felt like there was enough support to submit the application.
In 2016 the Fond du Lac LWCD was awarded the grant, which meant the LWCD had to hit the ground running because the grant funding is for only three years ending in fall of 2019. The grant project utilizes phases for implementation to help maximize all funding sources available. Phase 1 of the project is to have interested farmers verify that the information in their nutrient management plan is correct. If a producer does not have a nutrient management plan they can receive cost sharing to have one developed. Once the plan information is verified, LWCD staff will review all information available for the farm to look for opportunities to reduce soil or phosphorus runoff. LWCD staff will then meet with producers and landowners to discuss potential conservation practices for any priority areas identified for their farm. At the end of Phase 1 landowners will receive a one-time flat rate cost share of $30 per acre. Next, in Phase 2, LWCD staff will provide technical assistance and cost sharing for adoption of the selected conservation practices.
The LWCD partnered with the Lake Winnebago Quality Improvement Association to host a Kick-off meeting on the evening of February 2nd at the Calumet Town Hall. The LWCD staff explained the grant and project to homeowners, landowners, and farmers in the Pipe Creek Project Area. Since the informational meeting, 32 fields in the project area have already been signed up to begin Phase 1 with more pending. At the end of the 3 year grant the LWCD will provide a report to the Great Lakes Commission about the sediment and phosphorus reductions from the practices installed as part of the project.
Written by: Paul Tollard, Fond du Lac County Conservationist
Submitted by: Ellen Balthazor