West Buttrick Creek was a playground for David Ausberger as he grew up in Greene County, Iowa, along the banks of this silvery skein of water. It was more than just a place to swim and explore—West Buttrick also was a place a boy could hide away.

“Our farm was landlocked, so you didn’t hear any car noise, and couldn’t see any other houses,” Ausberger recalls. “It was easy to imagine that you were living in the 1850s.”

But as Ausberger grew up and began farming the land in the early 1990s, he soon learned that this stream was a thread that connected central Iowa farmers to a lot of folks downstream. The creek flows into the Raccoon River, the source of drinking water for the city of Des Moines, located about 60 miles south.

“In the late 1990s, the Iowa Soybean Association approached growers in the West Buttrick Creek watershed with concerns about high nitrate levels,” Ausberger says. “We farmers needed to take the reins and do something about it.”

 ISA helped him develop a written Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan to reduce nutrient losses. “Soon after, I began doing replicated strip trials, guided stalk testing, manure trials, nutrient benchmarking, and using satellite imagery and other methods to quantify the effectiveness of various practices that I use on my operation,” he says.

The Ausberger farm also features a number of acres in the Wetland Reserve Program, along with generous buffers in sensitive areas along the creek. “We have planted around 30,000 trees in the riparian buffer on one 200-acre tract,” he points out.

And within the banks of the creek, one of the smallest species—the 3-inch-long Topeka shiner, an endangered minnow species—has been given a boost. “Dad has excavated a silted-in oxbow adjacent to West Buttrick Creek as Topeka shiner habitat,” Ausberger says. “We’re doing all we can to reduce our impact on West Buttrick Creek.”