5 ways to get more conservation bang for our buck

5 ways to get more conservation bang for our buck

  On any field in Iowa, cover crops will improve soil health, sequester carbon, and prevent nutrients from washing down to the Gulf of Mexico.  There are at least six situations where cover crops can add to the farmer's bottom line, but in other situations, or to help encourage farmers to make that initial investment and get through the troubleshooting stage that comes with any new practice, public cost sharing can make a difference.  Most taxpayers I talk to are quite willing to pay farmers who are employing conservation practices for the ecosystem services they provide.  But we either can't afford to or aren't willing to invest at the scale needed to achieve universal adoption of cover crops and other conservation practices, and that means we have to make some decision about where to invest first, so as to get the most nutrient reduction (and hopefully carbon sequestration, soil protection, flood reduction, and other benefits) for our buck. Most of those discussions...
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2020 Spring Water Quality Snapshot

2020 Spring Water Quality Snapshot

It turns out that stream monitoring is quite compatible with social distancing.  28 volunteers participated in the Squaw Creek Watershed Coalition's 13th spring water quality snapshot on May 30 and 31.  Together we tested water quality at 43 sites on Squaw Creek, its tributaries, and the South Skunk River!  This time, Prairie Rivers of Iowa assembled the equipment, organized the event, and entered the data.  We're happy to support this dedicated group of citizen scientists in better understanding and drawing attention to our local rivers and creeks.  Here's a few selfies taken by participants, a mix of long-term volunteers and new faces. As the name implies, this is a snapshot in time.   The water quality on one sunny weekend in May is not necessarily representative of the month, let alone the year.  As described here and here, water quality can change dramatically in response to a big rainstorm.  But for this moment in time, testing many sites gives us a very detailed...
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May showers bring awesome graphs!

Last weekend's rains (5-17-2020) provide a clear illustration of how water and nitrate make their way to Squaw Creek. How water reaches Squaw Creek after a rain It started raining late Saturday night and stopped around 3AM Sunday. The rain gage outside my house in Ames showed 0.9 inches.  The water hitting my driveway and other paved surfaces in my neighborhood enters a storm sewer that goes directly to a tributary of Squaw Creek.  (In newer neighborhoods, the water would be slowed down by a pond or detention basin).  This runoff takes about an hour to make its way down Squaw Creek to the USGS stream gage at Lincoln Way.  In response to urban runoff and the rain that fell directly on the channel, we can see a quick rise in the water level, and quick fall. Over the next 15 hours, Squaw Creek rose another foot as it was joined by water that fell as far away as Stratford and Stanhope. Other...
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The Strength and Power of Public Support

Public support can do wonderful things and we are witnessing its strength during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing people come together as seamstresses make masks, distilleries make hand sanitizers, and manufacturers retool to make personal protective equipment (PPE). Social distancing, no large groups, and wearing masks are our new "normal." Hopefully there will be a vaccine soon to eradicate this virus. Re-reading the Winter edition of The Lincoln Highway Forum https://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/forum/, our attention was drawn to an article written in 1914 by Henry B. Joy, President of the Lincoln Highway Association. He talks about public support for the Lincoln Highway and commented that the Highway helped spur the improved road movement for two reasons: 1) It was a definite accomplishment with a "real, tangible goal towards which to work as well as crystallizing scattered efforts." 2) It was a monumental tribute to "our martyred president." The 3,400 miles of road was in need of improvements and Carl Fisher, the idea man behind...
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Spring flowers by College Creek

We're all a bit stir-crazy and can benefit from spring weather and spring flowers.  If you're in Ames, I recommend walking east of the ISU campus, where (as of April 5) the ground is carpeted with blue flowered squills, Scilla siberica.  It's not often that you see that color blue in nature, or in that quantity! While you're there, take a peek in College Creek.  When I visited, the water was clear, the bottom was rocky, and it was full of 4-6 inch fish. This was great to see.  College Creek used to be a dump, but between legal action against businesses and mobile home parks that were discharging sewage, urban conservation projects, and the annual trash clean-up event, it's become a lovely place.  Most of our backyard streams have the same potential, if we treat them right. I should caution you that that E. coli levels in College Creek and other streams in Ames often exceed the primary contact recreation standard, but you're...
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Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Spring 2020

There are signs of spring 2020 along the Lincoln Highway! In some places, snow has melted away and some flowers are busting through the soil. That means spring is just around the corner. Home and Garden Shows are being held in many communities across Iowa. Also Camping and Boating shows! These types of events get people excited for warmer weather and for the eventual summer.   Also check our our Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Recreation and Camping brochure for ideas of where you can go along our route and enjoy the outdoors.  https://www.prrcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/10-18.UPD-Camp26RecBrochure.pdf What preparations are you making for spring? Cleaning closets? Raking the yard? Perusing garden catalogs and magazines? Getting your fishing gear ready? We all know that Thursday, March 19th is the first official day of spring, but, as Iowans, we know it can still snow in April and be chilly in May. What can we do in preparation in the meantime for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway to get ready for...
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Watershed Education With All Ages

Watershed Education With All Ages

Prairie Rivers of Iowa kicked off 2020 with watershed education for both the young and old. Over four sessions in January and February, watershed educator Dan Haug spoke with 20 retirees for an Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning (OLLI) class at the Iowa State University Alumni Center.  In addition to unpacking difficult topics like the Clean Water Act and water monitoring, Dan introduced the class to online resources he uses to find out about water quality in local rivers and lakes, and about landuse and soils in their watersheds.  The class brought back examples and asked questions about rivers, lakes, and drinking water in their home towns and vacation spots, giving us all a better picture of water quality issues and solutions around the state. On February 7-9, high school students from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, and Oklahoma attended a training on the ISU campus for the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience, sponsored by Bayer and the national 4-H council.  By training teenage...
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New Year’s Resolution: Eat Healthy, Support Local Farmers, Protect Land and Water

New Year’s Resolution: Eat Healthy, Support Local Farmers, Protect Land and Water

Thank you to the board members who brought in donuts and coworkers who brought home-baked desserts to the office in 2019.  As a result, my New Year’s resolution is to lose weight and eat healthier! Kidding aside, Prairie Rivers of Iowa is an organization with a long track record of supporting local food systems.  Local food is a much better framework for healthy eating than picking processed foods based on high-this or low-that claims on the box.  Whole foods—vegetables from the farmers market or CSA, eggs from my backyard chickens, fruit from U-pick orchards—are not just nutritious but a source of joy in the harvesting, purchasing, and cooking.  “Eat more locally grown fruits and vegetables in 2020” is a pledge that makes me look forward to the coming year rather than dreading it. But I’m not overweight and in pain because I don’t eat fruits and veg.  Like most members of my extended family, I have chronic health conditions that are exacerbated...
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2018 Impaired Waters List

2018 Impaired Waters List

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comment on the newly released draft impaired waters list.  Prairie Rivers of Iowa will be recommending that Squaw Creek and East Indian Creek be added to "Waters in Need of Further Investigation."  We'll also take this opportunity to try to demystify a topic that can be confusing, using examples from the South Skunk River watershed. Every two years, the DNR is required to assess the available data to determine whether Iowa's lakes, rivers, and wetlands are meeting their designated uses.  About half the rivers, and a bit more of the lakes have enough data to assess.  Since new waters are considered each cycle, the length of the impaired waters list doesn't really tell us whether water quality is getting worse.  Since nutrients aren't considered for most uses and the data used for the 2018 assessment is from 2014-2016, it doesn't tell us whether the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working.  What it...
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New Day for National Scenic Byway Designations!

The world of Byways changed on September 22, 2019 when "Reviving America's Scenic Byways Act of 2019" was signed into law. It passed out of the U.S House of Representatives on a vote of 404-19 earlier this year and then was passed unanimously in the Senate.  The President signed it on 9/22/19. The bill directs the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to restart the nomination process for National Scenic Byway status within 90 days of enactment, and to make a round of designations within one year.We are very grateful to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) for their leadership on the bill in the Senate and to Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) for their leadership in the House. See what other groups have to say about the passage of this bill and what it means for America at  https://www.scenic.org/blog/president-signs-national-scenic-byways-bill-into-law/ We, at the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, are patiently waiting to see what the guidelines and nomination requirements are for this re-energized program....
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