Dam wins award for Black, Friis
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · February 01, 2013

John Black and Curt Friis affectionately call it the “Hoover Dam,” a grade stabilization structure that can hold up to 14.5 million gallons of rain flowing from 311 acres of farmland northwest of the city.

But to the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors Assoc., it represents how the farming partners sacrificed acres of land to help fend off flooding in downtown West Branch and the Hoover Complex in the event of an enormous downpour.

Which is why ILICA honored the two with a conservation award on Jan. 19.

“I thought it was interesting to be recognized,” Black said. “There’s nothing beneficial in it to us, but it’s a big deal for the city and Park Service.”

Bruce Barnhart, owner of Barnhart’s Custom Services, which includes excavation services, nominated JB & CF Farms for the award for the dam and other conservation practices.

“They have adapted progressive farming methods which have included minimum tillage, no-till, vertical tillage and have recently invested in updating their planting equipment to handle the increased trash that modern farming has to deal with,” he wrote in the nomination application. “They have always strived to maintain and improve their waterways and have spent many dollars tilling alongside waterways to improve their functionality.”

Barnhart also lists Friis’ and Black’s involvement in the Hoover Creek Watershed Group, which worked to alleviate flooding in West Branch.

“We felt we just needed to do it to help the town,” Friis said, noting he did not expect an award. “We would’ve done it anyway.”

Friis owns the land with the dam, but JB & CF Farms leases it for farming, doing the same on Black’s acreage.

Black and Friis also set aside acres for the federal Conservation Reserve Program. The federal government pays farmers to not farm on acreage in an effort to reduce soil erosion, increase wildlife habitats and improve water quality, among others.

“Curt and (wife) Carla are avid hunters and outdoor people and have enjoyed the additional wildlife which flourishes in the habitat they have created,” Barnhart writes.

Black said farmers considering building a grade stabilization structure or starting their own conservation practices might consider their possible impact on the surrounding area.

“I feel like it’s important to give back to the community a little bit,” he said. “We’ve been blessed with success and what the community has done for us.”

Both Black and Friis said there is a lot of paperwork involved in building a dam, but the Cedar County Soil and Water Conservation District did all that for them.

Black said farmers or landowners along the Hoover Creek could significantly reduce flooding in the city and Hoover Complex.

“We need quite a few more (dams),” Friis said in agreement, “especially on the main creek through town.”

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