The latest phase of Perry’s ongoing partnership with Drake University and the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) has begun, according to Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson.
Two groups of environmental science and policy students from Drake University are collaborating with the city of Perry. One group is working with the city on strategies for managing stormwater runoff in the downtown area, and the other is looking for ways to improve water and habitat quality in Frog Creek.
Peterson will be joined in mentoring the students by Dr. Keith Summerville, interim dean of the College of Arts Sciences at Drake, and Butch Niebuhr, former Perry city administrator and now a consultant with Bolton and Menk, the city’s engineering firm.
“I’m very excited about it,” Summerville said. “I find Butch and Sven really easy to work with. The’re great with our students, and Perry is the right community to do something like this in. It’s small enough that students can kind of wrap their heads around it, but it’s bigger than — well, I live in Earlham, which doesn’t have a creek like the Frog — so Perry is the perfect size for the kind of collaboration we’re trying to build.”
The projects serve as a capstone for students of environmental science and sustainability, Summerville said.
“Each year, students must complete a public research project or public service project for a stakeholder that gives them a very concrete, tangible deliverable,” he said, “in this case, the plan for deploying in the cultural center some green infrastructure to minimize stormwater issues, and in the case of the Frog Creek group, a plan to look at integrating the creek more fully into the cultural center and into the design of the city of Perry while also improving water quality and trying to restore it to a more natural condition.”
The stormwater-management group will focus on the downtown cultural district.
“The goal of this project is to identify areas with poor stormwater management infrastructure and design sustainable solutions that reduce basement flooding and water ponding,” Peterson said in a prepared statement released Tuesday.
Flooding in 2015 revealed many such areas around Perry, including downtown. Potential solutions for managing stormwater could involve bioswales, rain gardens or semi-permeable pavement technology, Peterson said.
The Drake students will also seek federal or state grants aimed at green-infrastructure projects that address stormwater runoff. Community Development Block Grants, which are federal funds administered by the IEDA, are one potential source of green-infrastructure money.
The second group of environmental science and policy students will study ways to improve the habitat and water quality of Frog Creek, which flows past Perkins Park and through Pattee Park in Perry.
“The Frog Creek project will develop an ecological restoration and management plan that is responsive to 500-year flood events in Frog Creek,” Peterson said.
The group will also try to identify conservation practices that reduce impairments to the stream’s water quality. Frog Creek, a tributary stream of the North Raccoon River, is too small to make the Iowa Department of Natural Resources list of impaired waterways, but the North Raccoon River is on the list.
The DNR list is updated every two years. In 2010 there were 446 impaired waterways in Iowa. In 2012 there 630, and in 2014 there were 725.
“I think the primary problems in Frog Creek are sediment more than anything else,” Summerville said. “Nitrate and the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit are in the news, but I think the problems with Frog Creek are more vegetation management along the banks, efforts to improve the fishery and sediment loading from erosion. Those are my assessments. I’m less concerned with the overall water chemistry.”
He said the students will examine the feasibility of oxbow restoration in order to enhance the fishery potential of the Frog Creek habitat and will make recommendations for better incorporating the creek into future city planning.
Dredging oxbows adjacent to Frog Creek might be one way “to improve the oxbow habitat that would be necessary for the breeding populations of fish,” Summerville said.
The Topeka shiner is a species of small minnow that lives in oxbows along the North Raccoon River, including Frog Creek. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the Topeka shiner to its list of endangered species in 1998.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship estimate about 50 percent of the Topeka shiner population has been destroyed by the faulty land use.
In March the Drake students will wade into Frog Creek with GPS units. They will look for snags, eroded stream banks and storm-sewer entry points in order to see where flow rate and stream-bank stability could be improved, according to Peterson.
The partnership between Perry, Drake University and the IEDA started last February when Mandi McReynolds, director of community engagement and service learning in the Drake University office of the president, met with a number of community leaders in Perry to discuss preliminaries of the project.
The 18-month collaboration brought the project’s capstone faculty to Perry last March in order to assess the prospects for research studies in branding, marketing, communications, environmental science and economic development.
In April Deb Bishop, Drake management professor, brought 38 students to Perry in order to get a first-hand feel for their assignment. In May the management students presented their ideas for filling the vacant buildings in Perry’s retail district. Their recommendations included integrating and marketing the town’s leading attractions: bike trails and prairie art.
In November a quality-of-life survey constructed by Drake students in the Masters of Communication Leadership program was circulated online and in hard copy. The aim was to produce data to help city leaders “better understand how we can make our community a better place and improve communications,” Peterson said.
Among the survey’s findings, 80 percent of Perry residents think the town is affordable, and 66 percent think Perry is a safe place to live. Although only 5 percent of survey respondents were Hispanic, 67 percent said Perry’s diversity is a positive strength for the community.
Summerville said the goal is to complete the sustainability projects by May but if additional work is needed, he will set next year’s class to work on the same projects “so that Drake and the city of Perry can have a longitudinal partnership.”