The 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.