Indian Creek Community Lake

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Published on: May. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

When people think of north Missouri water resources, they usually picture brown-stained, sediment-laden streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. Indian Creek Community Lake in Livingston County sheds that brown and muddy stereotype. This 192-acre body of water near Chillicothe shows that good planning and careful construction can result in a high quality community lake that won't fill with sediment in a few decades.

When they closed the valve on the newly constructed Indian Creek Community Lake in mid-July of 1988, Conservation Department employees were unsure whether the lake would ever provide a quality fishery. Although the lake is nestled in a rugged, beautiful wooded valley on Poosey Conservation Area, the lake would receive water that drained from roads, farmsteads, feedlots, pastures, crop fields, forests, utility rights-of way, dumps, logging trails, lawns and gardens. Given those circumstances, you might expect the lake would be murky and contain suspended sediment, similar to many other north-central Missouri impoundments.

The lake was slow to fill, thanks to dry weather from mid-1988 through 1989. Finally, the spring rains of 1990 raised the lake level 25 feet in about 10 weeks, and the lake filled for the first time on June 15 of that year. Fisheries biologists measured water clarity and found it to be about four times clearer than might be expected in north Missouri farm country.

The high water quality of Indian Creek Community Lake is the result of the Conservation Department's aggressive efforts to intercept the sediment from the different land uses. They looked at every path the water could take to enter the lake and where possible they took efforts to reduce its sediment load.

Controlling sediment and keeping the lake clear seemed at first an impossible task. The Conservation Department owned less than 30 percent of the lake's watershed. About 60 percent of the watershed was in row crops, mostly soybeans, with no soil or water conservation practices in place.

Of the five main drainage networks that started in the uplands and formed a major arm of the lake, the Conservation Department had control of soil erosion on only about half of one drainage, or about 10 percent of the total.

What's more, most of the forest land that had been purchased by the Conservation Department had recently been harvested. Although the cut over areas were not eroding, a network of logging roads and skid trails had become gullies that carried tons of sediment to Indian Creek.

Other sediment challenges on the major arm included the 15 percent of the watershed that was made up of gullied and bare grazed woodlands and road ditches that collected sediment from crop lands and channeled it to the creeks. Herbicides used to control growth along the roads, aggravated the condition by accelerating erosion of the ditches themselves.

The Conservation Department worked to change land use and stabilize soil on state-owned land. We planted warm season grasses, and contour strips of trees and shrubs to intercept water runoff. We left little acreage in agricultural crops, and those fields were reshaped to follow the land contour. We also removed interior fences, since livestock no longer had access to the property, and we closed logging roads and skid trails to stop gullying.

Private property owners also contributed to the effort to keep the lake clear. One private landowner was already doing an excellent job of forest management, particularly for wildlife. We enrolled him in the Tree Farm program and provided him with a 5-year management plan to guide him.

An avid fisherman and an employee of the rural electric cooperative helped the Conservation Department organize training workshops where line maintenance employees learned better tree trimming techniques. They also learned to identify different trees and shrubs, so that they wouldn't waste herbicide on species that would never grow tall enough to affect the wires.

We worked with local road commissioners to close public roads to be flooded by the lake. When closed, those roads were worked on to divert ditch water out onto the land, where it could soak in, instead of following a gully to the lake.

The Conservation Department made the purchase of additional land within the watershed a top priority and targeted the most erosive properties for acquisition. Fortunately, the owners of some large, key tracts of private land offered them for sale before lake construction began.

One important acquisition brought the Conservation Department an additional 21 percent of the watershed, bringing the total in state ownership to over 50 percent. We planted trees and shrubs, established prairies and used contour farming on these newly acquired lands.

We also now had more opportunity to control runoff from roadside ditches. We built sediment control structures to divert runoff. Some of these new structures also created additional fishing opportunities on the area. We inspected and approved sites for 22 potential structures. Eight of the most strategic structures were completed in 1990, and the four next most critical were added in 1991.

Adjoining private landowners also did much to help reduce the sediment load in the watershed. Some of them enrolled property in the Conservation Reserve Program and planted permanent cover to protect their land. Others planted warm-season grasses in the pastures, practiced conservation tillage, reduced livestock numbers in the watershed and followed forest management plans.

Currently, thanks to an innovative combination of land management practices, the sediment control structures and private landowners contributions to soil conservation, we calculate that we have controlled the sediment reaching the lake from 80 percent of the watershed.

The result is enjoyed by the many visitors to Indian Creek Community Lake, who consider it the most beautiful lake in north Missouri.

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