Defined by an area fed by two distinct watersheds, the Conservancy’s Obion Creek/Bayou du Chien project drains more than 350,000 acres of predominately agricultural land located in western Kentucky. The extraordinary amount of drainage across such a vast area requires the Conservancy to focus on strategies aimed at protecting water quality as these streams eventually merge and enter the Mississippi River.
In the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds the Conservancy employs “Best Management Practices,” or BMPs, as a method of controlling water pollution. In rural western Kentucky this means working with farmers and other local landowners to manage pests and animals, control erosion, buffer streams and engage in other sustainable practices that minimize harm to local waterways. Currently the lack of BMP’s on numerous agricultural fields in the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds represents one of the largest threats to water quality and aquatic wildlife habitat in western Kentucky.
These efforts received a boost in 2009 when the Conservancy forged a partnership with the Ingram Barge Company to provide farmers and other landowners in these watersheds with incentives to buffer streams, secure conservation easement agreements and pursue other strategies for reducing runoff and removing land from uses that cause flooding and pollution. The partnership also led to the establishment of a platform project aimed at restoring and reconnecting more than 5,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands in the watersheds over a five-year period.
Conservation work in the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds will also benefit from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). During fiscal year 2011, this new initiative is dedicating $14.4 million to eligible agricultural producers in the Mississippi River Basin who voluntarily implement conservation practices to improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. In Kentucky, that means $1.65 million for landowners located in the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds carrying out the initiative’s goals.
Size: The project area encompasses two watersheds encompassing approximately 350,000 acres. Within that landscape, the Conservancy focuses on four smaller blocks, each around 20,000-30,000 acres.
Location: Bayou du Chien flows west out of Graves County, draining southern Hickman and northern Fulton counties. Also originating in Graves County, Obion Creek flows over a mud bottom into Hickman and Carlisle counties, draining the south-central portion of the Jackson Purchase area in far western Kentucky. The two waterways join in Fulton County and flow for approximately 2 miles before draining directly into the Mississippi River.
What’s At Stake: Wetland and bottomland hardwood habitats harboring more than 80 state listed plant species and five federally endangered or threatened animal species, including the Indiana Bat, Gray Bat, Relict Darter and Interior Least Tern.
Threats: Excessive sediment load from agricultural fields. Decreased water quality, increased water temperature and compromised wildlife corridors due to a lack of suitable buffers on both the main stems and tributaries of the creeks. Hypoxic conditions (low oxygen content) warranting additional research throughout the watershed. Potentially elevated fecal coliform levels at certain points along Bayou du Chien.
Milestones: In 2011, the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service’s new Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) directed $1.65 million to promote conservation practices in the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds. The Ingram Barge Company made a financial commitment in 2009 to support conservation activities on lands located where Obion Creek and Bayou Du Chien flow into the Mississippi River in Fulton County, Kentucky. Read about this initiative
Action: Working with local landowners to implement Best Management Practices on agricultural lands draining into the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds. Urging landowners to enroll land into conservation programs that help reduce sedimentation and benefit at at-risk species. Working with the Ingram Barge Company to create a platform project with the potential to restore and reconnect bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands to the Mississippi River alluvial floodplain.
Partners: Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Division of Forestry, Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ingram Barge Company and numerous local landowners.