PRI Iowa Water Quality Specialist Awarded as a New Voice in Water Quality

PRI Iowa Water Quality Specialist Awarded as a New Voice in Water Quality

The Conservation Learning Group, a think tank based at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has announced the 2022 winners of its New Voices in Water Quality Awards. Prairie Rivers of Iowa Water Quality Specialist Dan Haug is one of 15 Iowans being awarded. Haug was recognized for his excellence in youth and/or community water education.

In a recent Conservation Learning Group release, its director Jacqueline Comito said, “Each of these individuals was nominated by peers and recognized for their efforts, achievements and passion for improving and restoring water quality.”

The Outdoor Alliance of Story County (OASC) has worked with Prairie Rivers of Iowa, and particularly Haug, on a number of projects. In their nomination letter, the board cited Haug for his expertise at analysis and reporting, his role as an outstanding communicator and his leadership during water quality monitoring and creek cleanup events. “We recall a cold April morning when Dan trained volunteers on identifying macroinvertebrates from Ioway Creek. His enthusiasm was infectious, and the volunteers had fun collecting and examining the samples despite the very cold water,” the OASC further states in the letter.

Volunteers Searching for Macroinvertebrates

Volunteers searching for macroinvertebrates.

Water Quality Monitoring Instruction

Haug teaching water quality testing.

Iowa State University (retired) Teaching Assistant Professor of Agronomy Laura Merrick said of Haug, “Dan has been my closest collaborator starting in 2017 on a variety of citizen-science and community-based water quality monitoring and watershed-centered coalition-building initiatives. He has grown to serve in a central guidance role to transform the nature of community collaboration for monitoring and sustainable improvement of our regional water quality in surface rivers and streams and to promote youth and community water education.

Among Haug’s many accomplishments, starting in the spring of 2020 he was instrumental in assembling in Story County a 24-member planning team that developed a 10-year water monitoring plan with Haug as its primary author. He then subsequently authored its first annual report.

“As nice as it is to be recognized by the Conservation Learning Group as part of this dedicated group of water professionals, it was even more gratifying to know that nine friends and colleagues in seven different organizations sent nomination letters on my behalf.  It really speaks to the level of collaboration we have around water monitoring and watershed projects,” Haug modestly relates.

According to Prairie Rivers of Iowa Director Penny Brown Huber, “Trying to solve critical water quality problems takes dedicated people to understand what is happening. Dan is a key link to helping the public build their understanding so change can happen to improve water quality.”

To meet all the New Voices in Water Quality Award winners visit newvoicesinwater.org.

Water quality Education at City of Ames Open House

Water quality demonstration at water plant open house.

Dan Haug During Ioway Creek Cleanup

Haug helping with Ioway Creek cleanup.

Watershed Education at Eco Fair

Watershed education at Ames Eco Fair.

A Mother’s Love: The Race to Provide

A Mother’s Love: The Race to Provide

Metallic Green Sweat Bee

A speck of sunlight warmed the face of a mother, causing her to wake and stand up. She took a few steps toward the sunlight, letting it warm her cold legs in her tunnel. Looking back at the wall of her nursery, she knew she had limited time to finish her work. Behind that wall was a row of rooms, one for each of her eggs. Each nursery room was provisioned with pollen and walled off from the others, providing a safe place to hatch, overwinter, and hopefully emerge next year. Her antennae started twitching excitedly. She tried beating her wings; they buzzed. She was warm and ready for another day’s work.

She cautiously peeped over the lip of her nest entrance. She was a metallic green sweat bee, and just last week she watched as a parasitic bee invaded one of her neighbors’ nests, ending the hope of a future generation from that mother. To keep all her efforts from being in vain, she had to leave and enter her nest in complete secrecy. She scanned the area around her, checking for someone perched on the tops of rocks or hidden in the shaded spaces between grass stems. So far so clear. She stepped out of her nest, allowing the sun to warm her entire body. Looking around once more, and seeing no sign of threat, she zipped off to start her chores.

Gathering pollen was her favorite chore. She had already started a new nursery cell; all there was left to do was to lay an egg and provide a provision of food. Using the sun as a compass, she navigated to a large patch of gold that she had seen yesterday. The yellow rays of one unoccupied flower caught her eye, and she flew into its center, landing on a blanket of brown bristles topped with yellow tufts of pollen. The buzzing of other insects at neighboring flowers reverberated in the air around her, and caused the flower to tremble even more in the breeze. The air was slowly growing cooler each day. It was taking her longer and longer to warm up enough to fly in the mornings. The frantic buzzing of other insects confirmed a sense of fear she didn’t quite understand. She sensed that she must hurry.

Native Sunflower

Thinking of her young ones back at the nest, she worked as quickly as possible, picking up pollen and snatching a mouthful for herself every now and then. As she moved across the flower, she let her body brush against as much pollen as possible. She paused periodically to comb this pollen from her abdomen, head, and feet to tuck it onto her back legs where she had thicker, hooked hair that was much better at holding pollen in place. The sun shone on, warming her even more. Through the race to gather and provide for her family, it was nice to be out in the sun and surrounded by velvety gold rays. The bristled brown underneath felt good on her feet and belly. Once she was through gathering here, she remembered a bright purple area that had looked promising.

Looking for her Nest

After a while, the little sweat bee had as much pollen as she could carry. Pushing off the sunflower, she flew back toward her nest, only pausing once for a breath on a stand of purple flowers. Back on the ground, she felt around with her antennae until she found her own nest entrance. She peered inside her dark nest. All was quiet, just how she left it. She glanced behind her. No one had seen her; her family was safe.

As she pulled pollen off her legs and rolled it into a loaf, she had a sense that this may be the last nest she would finish. She felt much more tired compared to a few weeks ago. She was particularly proud of this nest: it was in a well-hidden location, its walls were smooth, and she had a good mix of pollen from different flowers within each loaf she had made for her children. Although she would never get to meet them, she was glad they would have all the nutrition they would need to start a successful life. She hoped they would find the yellow and purple flower patches. She grew more tired. Maybe one more pollen collecting trip before she turned in for the day.

Six Tips to Enjoy Iowa Lakes

Six Tips to Enjoy Iowa Lakes

lake at sunset

There is no better way to relieve stress and get an attitude adjustment than sitting by a lake, or floating on a lake. While the kids are going back to school, the lake season is by no means over. If you live near a lake, there will still be some evenings and weekends warm enough to enjoy swimming and paddling, and of course, it’s never too cold for fishing! But it’s hard to enjoy a lake if it’s choked with blue-green algae. Cleaning up Iowa lakes so we can enjoy will require some shifts to our attitudes.

1. Don’t Panic

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the “brain-eating amoeba” Naegleria fowleri. Iowa and Nebraska both had their first cases this year (both fatal), contracted at the Lake of the Three Fires and the Elkhorn River, respectively. While scary, it’s also extremely rare. Nationwide there have only been 154 cases in the past 60 years, concentrated in the South. And even where the amoeba is known to be present, there are ways to enjoy the water while minimizing risk.

2. Check Where the Beaches are Cleanest

Iowa Environmental Council maintains a map and puts out a weekly report showing where there are beach advisories. The map also shows many lakes with no advisories (the blue umbrellas). For example, in Story County, the beach house at Hickory Grove Lake has sometimes been closed this summer due to high E. coli levels, but at Peterson Park, E. coli has been consistently below the detection limit. Not every lake in Iowa is hopelessly polluted, and even the most troubled lakes will have their good days.  Take advantage of them!

map of beach advisories
Peterson Park Lake
The beach at Peterson Park is Story County looked inviting today, and we have some hot weather in the forecast.

3. Help clean up dirty lakes at the local level

Having spent some time enjoying a clean lake, hopefully, you are in a better frame of mind to tackle the not-so-clean lakes. There are lake improvement efforts all over the state that need the support of taxpayers or the help of landowners in the watershed. For example, Story County is planning a complete renovation of McFarland Park Lake, which recently suffered an algae bloom and fish kill.

“The renovation will: remove sediment, stabilize shoreline, increase lake depth, and improve lake habitat for aquatic plants and animals. Work will increase overall health of the lake, reduce the number of fish die offs in the future, and improve recreational opportunities.”

4. Keep clean lakes clean at the state and national level

It does no good to dredge out a lake if farmers in the watershed are going to plow up the hillsides around it. This is what happened to Lake of the Three Fires, as related by Chris Jones.  When a third of the county was converted from pasture to corn ground, the lake gradually returned to its former shade of brown. We can’t do much about naturally occurring amoebas, but we can take a hard look at the policies, business and purchasing decisions, and attitudes that shape farming practices across Iowa.

5. Think globally, act locally

The warmer the water, the more cases of Naegleria fowleri. The same goes for harmful algae blooms, a much more common problem in Iowa that is getting even more common. If we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions fast, hotter temperatures and more intense spring rainstorms will continue to worsen our water quality woes. Fortunately, there are opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa while at the same time improving water quality in the short term by planting more deep-rooted perennials and cover crops, building up organic matter in the soil, and using less nitrogen fertilizer.

6. Share your favorite water memories

A friend was visiting from out-of-state this week. A family vacation to Iowa of course included time with the grandparents and a visit to the Iowa State Fair, but he also set aside time to take his kids wading in Ioway Creek, where they caught minnows and marveled at the weirdness of dragonfly nymphs. For my friend, time spent outdoors in creeks and lakes was an essential part of growing up in Iowa, and he wanted his children to share that experience.

What a wonderful mindset to cultivate as we work to improve water quality!

The Community Academy explores Ioway Creek

The Making of “Peeling the Onion”

How did I do this analysis for “Peeling the Onion“?

Easy peasy!

1.  I plotted nitrate against log-transformed streamflow and realized that the linear regression I tried a couple years ago doesn’t actually work because the relationship is non-linear, even after log-transforming the data.  The high R-squared and significant p-values were leading me astray because the data is skewed, auto-correlated, and heteroskedastic, violating all the assumptions of the statistical model!

2.   I consulted Chapter 12 of Statistical Methods in Water Resources, which recommended fitting a loess smooth to the explanatory variable (discharge) and running a Mann-Kendall test on the residuals.  In the presence of skewed data, Theil-Sen robust line works better than an OLS best fit line.  Step 1, figure out what that means.  Step 2, figure out how to do it.

3. But first, I plotted the residuals against a moving average of flow in the last 365 days to account for antecedent moisture conditions.  Here I went with a linear regression, but got a poor fit until I realized I needed to include an interaction term in the model.  There’s no relationship between antecedent moisture and flow-adjusted nitrate concentrations when there’s not enough water to flush nitrate out of the soil.  Silly me!

a screen shot of R Studio

4.  I tried to correct for seasonal differences in nitrate concentrations, but realized it didn’t explain much unless you make it really complicated.  The difference between spring (Apr-Jun) and summer  (Jul-Sep) is already explained by lower flow in summer.  The difference between summer and fall (Oct-Dec) is a difference in the shape of the nitrate-flow relationship.  During low flows, nitrate will be higher in fall than summer because of denitrification in the stream.

5.  I spent a long time debugging code to make that three pane graph with model coefficients.

Okay, that was really hard.  I would never have done that if I’d known what I was getting myself into!  However, now that the code is written, it’ll be relatively easy to redo this analysis for other streams in Iowa.

Container Gardening for Pollinators

Container Gardening for Pollinators

How to Support Pollinators with Limited Space

Most pollinator garden guides are for those who have the space, time, and energy to implement a large garden into a backyard or front lawn. Those of us who rent, have small yards, or can’t commit as much time to gardening are normally left out of the conversation – until now! Apartment dwellers and busy homeowners alike have the ability to provide important resources to pollinators through container gardening! Below we outline some reasons why container gardening is important, give some gardening tips, list fantastic native pollinator plants, and provide links to inspiring resources to help turn your porch or balcony into an beautiful pollinator habitat!

Bloodroot flower in pot

The Importance of Container Gardens

Container gardeners fulfill unmet pollinator needs

If you live in a large, uniform area such as a rental complex or a grass-turf suburbia, it is all the more important to provide native habitat! These areas are full of concrete and frequently-mowed grass, making the area inhospitable to most pollinators. By growing a container garden, you contribute an important “stepping stone” for pollinators by providing them with nectar and pollen resources to help them move through your neighborhood.

Balcony gardens are inspiring

Have you ever looked at your neighbor’s porch or balcony and been inspired to add solar lights or a hammock to your own? You can do the same by inspiring your neighbors to start a pollinator garden! Apartment balconies are highly visible, giving you the perfect opportunity to showcase your efforts and spread the word about how your neighbors can help pollinators. The more people providing native habitat in your area, the more likely you will be able to start enjoying butterfly and bee sightings!

They are great learning experiences

Everyone starts somewhere. It can be daunting to start growing plants you are unfamiliar with. Additionally, you may be aware of topics surrounding native and nonnative plants, invasive plants, local ecotype… the list goes on. How “correct” do you have to be to get started? In my opinion, it is a great loss to miss out on a learning experience about native plants due to the fact that you were afraid of not being “correct” enough. The more you try, the more you learn, and pollinators desperately need more people learning about them and the plants they rely on if they are going to survive in the future. Also, because you will be growing plants in a container and trying to incorporate native plants, it is less likely that a plant would escape its container and cause issues. Caution is important and it shows that you care, but don’t be afraid, do what you can, and use this article as a starting point to get a pollinator container garden going!

Container Garden Tips:

Plan Ahead and Make Room

Start planning for next year’s container garden now, so you can get a jump on ordering seed or plugs! Also, use pots measuring about 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep or larger; prairie plants have deep roots.

Think Diversity

Provide a range of bloom times, colors, flower shapes, and plant structures to support as many pollinators as possible. This also provides you with a beautiful, dynamic garden space throughout the growing season. It may also increase your chances at seeing polliantors!

Grow Native Plants

Incorporating plants native to Iowa is fantastic, but utilizing native plants with a local ecotype is even better. Local ecotype means that the plant (and its resulting seed) was grown within a certain area, making it well-adapted to that area. To find local ecotype seed,  find nurseries and greenhouses within 150-200 miles of your home, and ask where they source their seed.

 Provide with Patience

It can take a few years for a native plant to bloom if started from seed, whether planted in a pot or the ground. This makes creating a native garden very rewarding! If starting from seed sounds daunting, plan your plant list now, and use plugs instead of seeds for the next growing season. This route is more expensive but gives you a nearly instant pollinator garden.

Heel and Save Seeds

Successfully overwintering grown native plants in pots is difficult; research the term “heeling” for info on how to overwinter pots with more success, or overwinter them in an unheated garage. You could also donate your potted plants to someone who can plant them in the ground in early fall. Remember you can collect seeds from your plants to use next year.

Leave it for the Bees

In the fall, leave potted plants outdoors until November and do not cut back dried-up vegetation. Place pots back outside in April, and only cut back stems and leaves when nightly temperatures consistently reach 50°F. Doing this increases the survival of any pollinators that may have decided to nest in your plants; it gives them a chance to emerge and start the next generation of pollinators!

Pollinator Plants for Container Gardens:

The following plants are mainly tallgrass prairie plants native to Story County, Iowa, and grouped by sunlight requirements. Remember to never take plants from natural areas in an attempt to transplant them into your garden. Natural and wild areas are increasingly scarce, making the plants in them vitally important to pollinators and other wildlife!

Full Sun:

The following native plant species are for balconies and patios that receive full sun during the day. They are also mostly tolerant of drier soils, which is handy as container plants in sunny areas tend to dry out faster than shady areas.

Common NameBloom Period
Butterfly weedJune – August
Species NameDetails
Asclepias tuberosaSupports monarch butterfly caterpillars

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom Period
Narrow-leaved purple coneflowerJuly
Species NameDetails
Echinacea angustifoliaLocal alternative to Echinacea purpurea
Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
Common NameBloom Period
Bee balmJuly – August
Species NameDetails
Monarda fistulosaBee and butterfly magnet

 

Bee balm
Common NameBloom Period
Rattlesnake masterJuly – August
Species NameDetails
Eryngium yuccifoliumAdds unique shape to garden, supports many kinds of pollinators 
Rattlesnake master
Common NameBloom Period
Dwarf blazing starJuly – September
Species NameDetails
Liatris cylindracea Attracts butterflies and bees very well

 

Dwarf blazing star
Common NameBloom Period
Little bluestemWarm-season grass
Species NameDetails
Schizachyrium scopariumSilvery-green bunch grass; turns orange with hints of purple in fall. Supports butterfly caterpillars. 
Little bluestem in summer and autumn

Partial Sun:

The following native plant species are for balconies and patios that receive partial sun during the day. They are also tolerate medium to wet soil. Most pollinator plants love full sun; the following plants require sunlight and tolerate some shade. If you have shade for a majority of the day, you could try researching native woodland flowers.

Common NameBloom Period
Wild geraniumMay
Species NameDetails
Geranium maculatumThis flower blooms before most, making it an important pollinator food source in spring
Wild geranium
Common NameBloom Period
Golden AlexanderMay – June
Species NameDetails
Zizia aureaAs a member of the carrot family, it provides for the black swallowtail butterfly’s caterpillars
Golden Alexander
Common NameBloom Period
Black-eyed SusanJune – July
Species NameDetails
Rudbeckia hirtaProvides great landing pad for butterflies
Black-eyed Susan
Common NameBloom Period
Great lobeliaAugust – September
Species NameDetails
Lobelia siphiliticaIt’s tube shape and blue color make it a favorite among bumble bees
Great lobelia
Common NameBloom Period
Showy goldenrodAugust – October
Species NameDetails
Solidago speciosaCan bloom into October; important food source for late-season pollinators
Showy goldenrod
Common NameBloom Period
Bicknell’s sedgeFruits in late May
Species NameDetails
Carex bicknelliiProvides great cover for all pollinators; possible host plant of some declining butterfly species
Bicknell's sedge

Inspirational Resources!

The Missouri Botanical Garden showcases examples of different pot designs and teaches how to expertly arrange native species together to create a beautifully unique and cohesive look:

Build your own personalized container plant list by finding plant species native to your county at this URL. This website is a digitized version of the book Prairie Plants of Iowa (published 1999) with text and maps by Paul Christiansen and drawings by Mark Müller:

Have fun planning next year’s container garden!

 

Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridges

Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridges

During our April meeting while discussing the bridge in Tama, we had a conversation about James Marsh and his Rainbow Arch Bridge designs along the Lincoln Highway. So I reached out to our resident experts, Bob and Joyce Ausberger for a history lesson on these bridges and their significance to the Lincoln Highway.

James Marsh was the builder and promoter of several Rainbow Arch Bridges. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His company was N.E. Marsh & Son Construction Company in Des Moines. The bridge designs were formed by the conjunction of new technology, and reinforced concrete. The previous stone bridges were more expensive and labor-intensive.

By 1893 Marsh had constructed numerous bridges in Iowa – a three-mile elevated railroad structure in Sioux City and three bridges in Des Moines. Similar bridges were built in Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, and five other western states.

James Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge Design

Patent Photo credit: wikipedia.org

Beaver Creek Bridge on the Border of Greene and Boone Counties in Iowa

Photo credit: bubbasgarage.com

The Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge (known as Beaver Creek Bridge) is located on the Lincoln Highway on the border of Greene and Boone County in Ogden at 210th Street and was built in 1919. This bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Beaver Creek Bridge

Photo credit: Garry Gardner/wikipedia.org

Photo credit: John Zeller/Iowa DOT

Numerous single-span concrete arches can be found in rural Iowa, but multiple-span examples are rare. Moreover, among those concrete arches remaining in the state, the Eureka Mill Bridge is one of the earliest such arch structures designed by the state highway commission. We are fortunate to have these existing samples of these two types of bridges still remaining

This article was reprinted with permission from the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association Summer 2022 Newsletter, Volume 27, No, 2.