Inch Your Way to Loving Worms!

Inch Your Way to Loving Worms!

The pretty cecropia moth caterpillar!

 

We won’t be talking about love or flowers this Valentine’s Day, but we will talk about some love-able critters that can eat flowers! They’re squishy, fluffy, or prickly, and sometimes called worms. They can be striped, spotted, or elaborately camouflaged. They are mini bird burritos, have secret appendages, and can trigger gag reflexes. They will become tomorrow’s moths and butterflies. We’re talking about CATERPILLARS!

What exactly is a caterpillar?

These curious creatures are the larval stage of growth in butterflies and moths. The term “caterpillar” is colloquial, and almost exclusively refers to moths and butterflies (although some moth caterpillars are also called “worms” or “inchworms”). Other insects have different terms for their larval stages, such as “maggots” for fly larvae and “grubs” for beetle larvae.

Most people know that the caterpillar/larval stage is one step in the development process called metamorphosis. But did you know that there are two general kinds of metamorphosis: “complete” and “incomplete”? The big difference between the two is that insects using complete metamorphosis go through a pupal stage (a period where they are inactive for a bit). Butterflies and moths go through complete metamorphosis because a caterpillar forms into a pupa when it develops into a chrysalis or rests inside a cocoon. Insects that go through incomplete metamorphosis do not go through a pupal stage (some examples include dragonflies, praying mantids, and crickets).

A black swallowtail caterpillar with beautiful warning stripes that say “don’t eat me”.

Why so squishy?

Back to caterpillars: why would any animal want to be small, slow, and squishy for a period of their life? What is the advantage, considering how tasty caterpillars are to birds, rodents, and many other animals? About 80% of insects (including bees, ants, fireflies, and more!) use complete metamorphosis to grow, which requires this vulnerable phase. Why is this?

Besides the pupal stage, another hallmark of complete metamorphosis is that the larval stage and adult stage have virtually nothing in common. Most scientists agree that this difference is key to the success of complete metamorphosis: young and adult insects don’t have to compete for the same resources. Caterpillars munch on leaves and grow in vegetation while moths and butterflies sip nectar and fly around looking for mates. But what about the fact that most caterpillars are specialists? Why would caterpillars evolve to be picky?

A lucky four-leaf clover.

The brightly colored cloudless sulphur caterpillar!

Luna Moth

A red admiral caterpillar feeds on nettles in Brookside Park!

Why so picky?

To name two examples, monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed, and red admiral caterpillars will only eat nettles. Wouldn’t it be much more advantageous to be able to eat any kind of plant, or at least a more general group of plants? Not necessarily. Specialist caterpillars seem to have better defenses against predation than generalist caterpillars: monarch caterpillars eat poisonous milkweed plants, and red admiral caterpillars hang out in nettles that sting – most animals will learn to avoid these caterpillars. Scientists also think that specialist caterpillars are better at identifying and choosing plants, and consequently eat more. Because so many caterpillars are specialists, it is imperative to plant as many native plants as possible if you want to help butterflies and moths. It’s surprisingly beneficial to be a picky, squishy caterpillar, but it’s still a dangerous world.

Worm weapons!

Plants can’t supply all necessary defenses – many caterpillars must deploy their own wacky weapons to defend their soft, protein-filled bodies. One tactic is coloration. Caterpillars can be camouflaged to look just like bird poop, or have colorful patterns to warn their predators they are poisonous or bad-tasting. Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars look almost exactly like miniature snakes, frightening off birds with their life-like eye spots. These caterpillars also have secret appendages, called osmeteria, that they strike out of their head to mimic a snake’s tongue! Other swallowtail species also have colorful osmeteria they can stick out in conjunction with nasty smells and sometimes irritating secretions (not harmful to humans). Other caterpillars take defense to new lengths: fecal firing.

You read that right. To help hide their smell from parasitic wasps, silver-spotted skipper caterpillars catapult their smelly frass (excrement) 38 body lengths away, a distance equivalent to 228 feet for a six-foot human! Curiouser still, some caterpillars like the walnut sphinx moth can squeak or whistle. The whistle sounds like a bird warning call, causing the hungry bird to drop the caterpillar. But let’s get into some hairier defenses.

A snake-mimicking eastern tiger swallowtail, with its osmeterium acting like a snake’s tongue!

Many caterpillars are hairy enough to make some 1980s bands jealous. Sometimes the fluff just means the caterpillars are cute; other times it means they shouldn’t be touched. Many fuzzy caterpillars can have hairs that break on contact, causing irritation on the finger or mouth that touched them. This doesn’t always affect humans; if you’ve handled woolly bear caterpillars before, you’ve handled these kinds of irritating hairs. Other caterpillars can have more irritating hair, or have specialized hairs that can actually deliver mild venoms. Puss caterpillars get a lot of media attention for the sometimes blistering results they can give to human skin, however there have been no sightings of these caterpillars in Iowa (puss caterpillars grow into a particular species of flannel moth). The buck moth and some slug and saddleback moth caterpillars can cause serious irritation, but sightings and encounters are very rare in central Iowa and symptoms normally do not need medical attention (for specifics on venomous caterpillars, read here). Most fuzzy caterpillars in Iowa are harmless or merely have irritating hairs. Removing hairs with tape, washing the area afterwards, and ice or baking soda paste is the best care for minor rashes from caterpillar hairs.

Pictures: Above, a touch-friendly woolly bear caterpillar. Below, a slug caterpillar that may irritate the skin. While not seen often in Iowa, some slug caterpillars can deliver more of a sting. Besides that, they look SO STRANGE! In nature they look like a spider’s shed exoskeleton, and are well-camoflaged in leaf debris. Read more here!

The last caterpillar defense tactic is one that we hope you aren’t dealing with this Valentine’s Day: manipulation. Some caterpillars can trick animals that are usually predators into being their caretakers! Many gossamer-winged butterflies (a family of butterflies comprised of hairstreaks, blues, coppers, etc.) exude pheromones as larvae that trick ants into thinking the caterpillar is a fellow ant. Some of these dainty blue butterflies use this trick to commit social parasitism! Exactly how they utilize ants varies for each species of this butterfly family; for today we will focus on Edward’s hairstreak, a species of special concern in Iowa. This species of butterfly munches oak leaves as a caterpillar, and utilizes mini shelters created by ants. As a young caterpillar, it stays in the trees. But as it grows older, the Edward’s hairstreak caterpillar eats in trees only during the night; as dawn approaches it drops to the base of the tree to hide in ant-made shelters called byres, which are small piles of thatch created from leaves, sticks, and other forest floor materials. The caterpillars secrete a honeydew as a reward for the shelter and protection the ants provide. This relationship is much more in the spirit of the holiday, giving us a loving mutualism rather than parasitism.

Above, an inchworm on my kale plants this year. Below, a monarch caterpillar that could be harmed by garden pesticides!

From beautiful colors to shooting feces and feeding ants, caterpillars are worthy of love and appreciation! To support this wonderful world of worms, be sure to plant a variety of native plants in your yard, and most importantly do not spray pesticides! Yes, many caterpillars will chew on your garden plant leaves. I suggest allowing a part of your garden to become a “nursery”, a subset of plants that you don’t mind getting eaten by caterpillars. You can “babysit” the caterpillars by moving them off the plants you care about and place them onto the plants in the nursery (using gloves if they are fuzzy). By not spraying pesticides and allowing caterpillars to stay in the garden, you win the fun of watching the caterpillars that ate your dill and carrots turn into black swallowtails! Keeping from spraying pesticides also allows you to enjoy bumble bees visiting your tomato plants and bees sleeping in your flowers. By tolerating the presence of insects and a few munched leaves, you can support an entire little ecosystem with your garden, and witness all the drama the insect world has to offer while pulling weeds and watering plants. Let the backyard garden be your gateway to the curious world of caterpillars!

Visit the following links to dive even deeper into the curious world of caterpillars!

– A list of butterfly/caterpillar host plants: https://henderson.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/05/plants-that-host-butterfly-larvae/

– More information on the importance of caterpillars: https://extension.psu.edu/a-case-for-caterpillars

– A fun read on caterpillars in the US: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/03/20/the-little-known-world-of-caterpillars

– More on metamorphosis: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/insect-metamorphosis-evolution/

– More on ant-butterfly relationships: https://sites.tufts.edu/pollinators/2019/07/the-butterflies-who-are-raised-by-ants/

A Novel Way to Preserve a Historic Dining Experience

A Novel Way to Preserve a Historic Dining Experience

Lizzie's Dining Car Marengo Depot

Lizzie’s Dining Car & Caboose Bar is a new dining experience based upon the historic passenger cars that frequented Marengo from 1860-1970.  Located at 1041 Court Ave, Marengo, Iowa, the immersive experience Elizabeth Colony has created is that which can be compared to a movie set created in Hollywood. The transformation of blank walls in a brick and mortar building into a trip back in time on a railroad dining car is enhanced with “windows’ ‘ showing outdoor scenes that move at the speed of a locomotive. Only the smells and tastes of the home cooked food and drink give away the truth that this is not an actual passenger dining train. 

Elizabeth (Lizzie) was inspired to create this dining experience from the rich history of the town in which she lives. The Mississippi & Missouri (M & M) Railroad Co extended its rail line from Iowa City to Marengo in 1860. A short 18 months later the railroad line was continued to Wilson (present day Victor) and finally Council Bluffs. The train brought thousands of passengers and freight through the Iowa Valley including presidents Truman and Eisenhower and even the Liberty Bell.  The local newspaper reported in 1899 the anticipation of an Orphan Train to arrive in Marengo; several children were received in homes in Koszta, Blairstown, South Amana, and Marengo. Although Marengo received its last passenger train in 1970 and the depot was destroyed sometime in the 1980s, a portion of the original depot from Wilson (Victor) can be seen at the Iowa County Pioneer Heritage Museum

Lizzie’s Dining Car & Caboose Bar is not a historic train car. What is preserved at Lizzie’s is the atmosphere of a historic moment. It is an immersion of the senses into a time when the world was opened up to new possibilities through train travel.

The unique atmosphere was created within two walls of a downtown storefront.  As you enter the dining car, layered drapes of vintage fabric frame windows which are actually televisions. The televisions display movement through woodlands, beaches, or winter scenes.  The visual creates a sensation that you are on a moving train. On each side of the aisle are small booths igniting an intimacy for quiet conversation. Boxcar Meatloaf or Atlantic Railroad seafood and a drink from the bar completes the scene.

At the end of the railroad car is the Caboose Bar. The countertop is a single piece of cut tree that adds a natural element to the traditional “L” bar configuration found on a passenger train. The illusion is complete. 

Marengo is located in the heart of the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway where a rich collection of cultures, stories, activities, and historic scenic views remain today. The preservation of our stories is only limited by the creativity used in choosing how to tell them.   

Information for this article was informed by articles written by Bob James for 98.1 KHAK published May 16, 2023 and Marilyn Rodger, Guest columnist for the Southeast Iowa Union published Sep. 14, 2023 and Elizabeth Colony, owner/operator of Lizzie’s.  For more information on Lizzie’s Dining Car & Caboose Bar visit Facebook.

Prairie Rivers Wins Grant to Help Pollinators and Farmers

Prairie Rivers Wins Grant to Help Pollinators and Farmers

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has been protecting Iowa’s natural resources for over 20 years. We recently received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support our work! The grant is awarded through the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Conservation Fund. Prairie Rivers of Iowa is one of 18 organizations to receive this grant, including The Nature Conservancy, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and the Pollinator Partnership.

Helping with Habitat
Prairie Rivers’ project, titled Pollinator Patchwork: Enrolling Private Working Lands into Monarch Butterfly Habitat, focuses on providing technical assistance to farmers and landowners motivated to help pollinators while receiving on-farm benefits as well. Our project, in particular, focuses on women landowners and farm operators, a group that has been historically left out of conversations and under-recruited for beneficial programs for decades. This group is also an un-tapped source for converting low-quality cropland out of production and into beneficial pollinator habitat. To address this issue, Prairie Rivers is creating general and women-specific field days, webinars, and effective outreach materials while partnering with area experts to accomplish these tasks! Our partners include Story County Conservation, Dr. Jean Eells of E Resources Group, area farmer Jim Richardson, Boone and Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the Story County Water Quality Monitoring Planning Team.

Dr. Jean Eels during a Women Caring for the Land event in 2019.

Dr. Jean Eells is excited to partner with Prairie Rivers of Iowa for this project. Eells received her PhD in Agricultural Education and is highly experienced in effectively creating field days and outreach materials for women:

“This funding will allow us to hold events for landowners that will answer their questions and let them see directly how monarch and pollinator habitats can be created on their acres. I’m especially excited to hold meetings for women landowners where they can get their questions answered in a very friendly forum, whether they are very experienced or just beginning to make space for monarch butterflies.”

Jim Richardson, as a grain farmer and president of the Hamilton County Conservation Board, holds unique insight into farmer attitudes:

“As a farmer, I always like to participate in programs that are a “win-win,” relates Richardson, “I consider Prairie Rivers’ new project to be a “win-win-win.” It’s a win for the landowner who will get maximum revenue off of low-productive ground. It’s a win for the tenant, who will not have to put expensive inputs into marginal land. Lastly, it’s a huge win for our monarchs and all of our pollinators, who will find food sources where they have never been able to before.”

PRI Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Pollinator Conservation Specialist Jessica Butters leads this exciting new project. Butters is ready to take action for pollinators and farmers:

“It is exciting to start pollinator-focused projects in rural areas,” Butters states, “Prairie Rivers has started many successful pollinator projects in urban areas. Given that over 85% of Iowa is agricultural land, pollinator conservation on farmland is an enormous piece of the puzzle in supporting monarch butterflies and pollinators. Creating pollinator habitat in agricultural areas will allow us to connect pieces of pollinator habitat together, allowing monarch butterflies and other pollinators to move throughout the state.”

Are you a landowner or farmer interested in adding beneficial pollinator habitat to your land? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Jessica Butters at jbutters@prrcd.org or call 515-232-0048 for more information!

After 100 Years, Preston’s Station is Now in Its Preservation Era

After 100 Years, Preston’s Station is Now in Its Preservation Era

Preston's Station 1927 - 1928

Mary Helen’s great-grandpa George W started something when he purchased a Standard Oil station for his four boys in 1923.  Little did he know what his then 12-year-old son, George H, would do to create a legacy for the family.

The building bought for a mere $100 (“well that was all that it was worth in 1923” – George H. Preston – The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) was built in 1912, just before the start of America’s first transcontinental roadway, the Lincoln Highway. The Highway originally went past the Standard Oil Station but was relocated to the south around 1927, so the family decided to move the station.

One sunny day in 1928 (ish), if you were walking down 8th Ave or 13th St in Belle Plaine, Iowa, you would have witnessed a mule team pulling a building loaded on a sleigh down the street to where Preston’s Station would remain to this day. Eventually, the family would turn the original garage behind the house into a cabin and add a larger garage and a three-room motel.

George H loved more than anything to bend the visitor’s ear.  Running a gas station, sometimes bus station, and garage for 60 years gave him plenty of stories about life along the Lincoln Highway.  George was so taken by his life along the Lincoln Highway and the stories he heard from travelers he became a strong promoter for the Lincoln Highway and for the town of Belle Plaine. George would tell his stories to anyone who would listen, and much like the game of telephone, over time, it became hard to know what stories were true and which were tales that simply grew taller through repetition.  George was a collector as well as a talker and his signs covered the station.

George H. Preston at the station.

George and his sign-covered station had unwittingly become a staple stop along the Lincoln Highway from New York to California well after they stopped selling gas in 1989. The station ran as a Standard Oil station for approximately 40 years and as a Phillips 66 station (Preston’s 66) for 30 years. George saw the value in storytelling through antique items such as signs and matchbooks long before it became an American pastime. To this day, people stop to have their pictures taken at the station with George’s signs.

Eventually, his roadside museum became famous along the Lincoln Highway; however, it was catapulted to a new level of fame when George was invited to be a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson show in 1990. Johnny was so taken with George because he couldn’t get a word in, and suddenly, his five-minute segment became 15 minutes. George and Johnny exchanged Burma Shave jingles, talked about Greorge’s 900 number to hear Lincoln Highway tales, and the Belle Plaine, Victor, and Deep River trail (today’s HWY 21).

George H. Preston on the tonight Show in 1990.

When George passed away, his oldest son, Ronald, began to carry on his father’s legacy and continued to tell the stories and collect the antiques (or junk, as some would call it). Ronald got involved with the re-invented Lincoln Highway Association tasked with preserving the stories of the Lincoln Highway and spent his final years becoming a part of the Belle Plaine Community like his dad. Unexpectedly, Ron passed away in 2011, and it was time for the next generation of Prestons to decide what to do.

Ronald Preston

In steps, Ronald’s eldest daughter, Mary Helen, and her husband, Garry Hevalow, now the fourth generation Preston family, made a plan to continue the legacy.  Before they even moved to Belle Plaine from Kansas City in 2017, they got to work clearing the extra, inventorying the museum, and planning for the buildings to be inspected for restoration. The station building is now over 100 years old (remember it was built in 1912) and has significant deterioration. Additionally, Mary Helen jumped into her father’s footsteps by joining the Lincoln Highway Association and has served as President of the Iowa Chapter for several years now.

Mary Helen Preston and Garry Hevalow with interpretive panel highlighting the station's history.

Finding the right grants, writing them, and qualifying for state, federal, and local funding for restoration is a long and arduous process. Mary Helen and Garry created a non-profit organization for the station and then began the process of applying for national recognition. In 2020, they were ecstatic to announce that Preston’s Station Historic District was now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The District includes the station, the garage/museum, a two-room cabin, and the 3-room motel. Their desire to not just restore the station but to contribute to the identity of the Belle Plaine area begins with this.

Soon after designation, the grant writing process began. In July 2021, the signs had to come down so that Martin Gardner Architecture could begin preparing a Master Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan to preserve and restore the property properly.  In that same year, a grant was secured from the Benton County Community Foundation (of Northeast Iowa) for funds to hire Wadsworth Construction to access, stabilize, repair, and restore seven original garage windows. A grant for paint to paint the garage was obtained from Paint Iowa Beautiful. Other grants received to date include $5,000 from the Lincoln Highway Endowment, $10,000 from the Mansfield Charitable Foundation, and $10,000 from the MidWestOne Foundation.

The Master Plan includes looking at structural issues first at an estimated $150,000. The cost to restore the motel is estimated at $116,000 and the station, which includes the reconstruction of the front canopy, is expected to be $180,000. A two-room cabin is estimated at $69,500 for restoration and the Garage Museum comes in at $57,000.  

Restoration efforts thanks to a Paint Iowa Beautiful grant.

At an estimated total cost of $500,000, there is still a long road ahead before restoration will be complete for the future generations of Prestons, Belle Plaine, and Lincoln Highway enthusiasts. The storytelling that George H began and the legacy he created will continue to live on in the telling of stories and the artifacts left behind.

If you would like to contribute to the restoration efforts of the Preston Historic District or if you know of grant opportunities that are a good fit, visit Preston’s Station’s website or send your donations and ideas to Preston’s Station Historic District at 402 13th St, Belle Plaine, IA 52208.

Paul, Mary Helen, and George H. Preston.

A young Mary Helen Preston sitting on Grandpa George’s lap along with Paul Keisel.

Editor’s Note: Preston’s Station District is located near one of the intersections where both of the state byways that Prairie Rivers of Iowa manage for the Iowa Department of Transportation — the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway and the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway

Many thanks to Preston’s Station Historic District for providing photos and information that contributed to this article.

Can Infrastructure Spending Help Iowa’s Polluted Rivers?

Can Infrastructure Spending Help Iowa’s Polluted Rivers?

The display department for the plans.  If you've read Douglas Adams, you'll appreciate the joke.

“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

 

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 

I was reminded of this scene after spending a long day cross-referencing the Raccoon River TMDL (a pollution budget for nitrate and E. coli) with permits and monitoring data for wastewater treatment plants.  In this case, I suspected that polluters were getting away with something, but I’ve had just as much trouble finding information when I wanted to document a success story.

Effluent limits for nitrogen are not strict.  Wastewater treatment plants and meatpacking plants in the Raccoon River watershed routinely discharge treated wastewater with nitrate 4-6x the drinking water standard.  Why is this allowed?  The 2008 Raccoon River TMDL capped pollution from point sources at the existing level, rather than calling for reductions.  Due to limited data, the wasteload allocations were an over-estimate, assuming maximum flow and no removal during treatment. 

Water Treatment

That’s all above board, but someone else at the DNR went a step further.  Wasteload allocations in the TMDL were further inflated by a factor of two or three to arrive at effluent limits in the permits, using a procedure justified in an obscure interdepartmental memo.  The limits are expressed as total Kjeldahl nitrogen, even though the authors of the TMDL made it clear that other forms of nitrogen are readily converted to nitrate during treatment and in the river.   In short, the limits in the permit allow more nitrogen to be discharged than normally comes in with the raw sewage!

For example:

  • The Storm Lake sewage treatment plant has an effluent limit of 2,052 lbs/day total Kjeldahl nitrogen (30-day avg).  Total Kjeldahl nitrogen in the raw sewage is around 1000 lbs/day.
  • The Tyson meatpacking plant in Storm Lake has an effluent limit of 6,194 lbs/day total Kjeldahl nitrogen (30-day avg).  Total Kjeldahl nitrogen in the raw influent is around 4,000 lbs/day.
  • I also checked a permit affected by the (now withdrawn) Cedar River TMDL.  Same story.  The Cedar Falls sewage treatment plant has an effluent limit of 1,303 lbs/day total nitrogen (30-day avg).  Average total nitrogen in the raw sewage is between 1000-1500 lbs/day.
  • Confused about the units?  That may be deliberate.  Total Kjeldahl nitrogen includes ammonia and nitrogen in organic matter.  Nitrogen in raw sewage is mostly in these forms, which need to converted to nitrate or removed with the sludge in order to meet other limits and avoid killing fish.  Nitrogen in treated effluent is mostly in the form of nitrate.  At the Tyson plant, the effluent leaving the plant has around 78 mg/L nitrate, versus 4 mg/L TKN, but figuring that out required several calculations.  At smaller plants, the data to calculate nitrate pollution isn’t even collected.

As part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, large point source polluters are supposed to evaluate the feasibility of reducing nitrate to 10 mg/L, and phosphorus to 1 mg/L.  Tyson did a feasibility study for phosphorus removal, and is now adding new treatment to its Storm Lake plant.  However, it is not required to evaluate or implement further nitrogen reduction, “because it is already subject to a technology-based limit from the ELG.”  This federal Effluent Limitation Guideline was challenged in court by environmental groups this year, and is now being revised by the EPA.  It allows meatpacking plants to discharge a daily maximum of 194 mg/L total nitrogen!

Fortunately, all this creative permitting has little impact on the cost and safety of drinking water in the Des Moines metro.  According to research in the TMDL, point sources only account for about 10% of the nitrogen load, on days when nitrate in the Raccoon River exceeds the drinking water standard.  However, the figure is much higher (30%) for the North Raccoon River.  I started looking at permits and effluent monitoring because I was trying to explain some unusual data from nitrate sensors, brought to my attention by friends with the Raccoon River Watershed Association.  During a fall with very little rain (less than 0.04 inches in November at Storm Lake), nitrate in the North Raccoon River near Sac City remained very high (8 to 11 mg/L).  The two largest point sources upstream of that site can easily account for half the nitrogen load during that period.

Figure from Raccoon River TMDL

I was glad to be able to solve a mystery, and hope that this investigation can lead to some tools and teaching materials to help others identify when and where point sources could be influencing rivers.   The load-duration curves in the 200-page Raccoon River TMDL are very good, but some people might benefit from something simpler, like this table.  In general, the bigger the facility, the smaller the river, and the drier the weather, the more point sources of pollution can influence water quality, and the more wastewater treatment projects can make a difference. 

Spreadsheet for estimating impact of wastewater.

I made this table to estimate how biological nutrient removal in Nevada and Oskaloosa (about 1 MGD each) could improve water quality in the South Skunk River (about 1000 cfs on average near Oskaloosa, but there could be greater benefit in tributaries, or when rivers are lower).

Dan Haug standing by Raccoon River

In this work, I’m supported by partners around the state and a grant from the Water Foundation.  The project (Movement Infrastructure for Clean Water in Iowa) focuses on building connections and shared tools around water monitoring, and will continue through this spring and summer.  The funders’ interest is in helping the environmental movement make the most of the “once-in-generation opportunity” presented by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  This fiscal year, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is adding $28 million to Iowa’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to communities to replace aging sewer systems and treatment plants.  Can that infrastructure spending help Iowa’s polluted rivers?  We won’t know for sure without better use of water quality data, and greater transparency in state government.

Lincoln Highway – A Poem by Amelia Kibbie

Lincoln Highway – A Poem by Amelia Kibbie

Hover then click the arrows to move from one verse to the next (best seen on desktop).

Lincoln Highway

by Amelia Kibbie

It’s hard to imagine now

as our modern mobiles whisper past

that along this road

horses and herds of cattle passed

and the air was splattered

with the jangled rattle of Model A’s and T’s

the clattered patter of Tin Lizzies.

New York, New York

1914 Times Square

This city, our homegrown gotham

the gateway to America

and the road started there or ended — beginnings and endings

are muddled, as is our mixed memory
and truth-stained history.

Named for Lincoln

who put pen to paper and called for freedom

freedom, the siren song of the automobile

“Life is a Highway”

“Every Day is a Winding Road”

“Bacon and eggs to fix…”

Never mind that the children of those he freed

had to use the Green Book to

keep them safe as they traversed this path

and many others.

Was that freedom?

Nostalgia is not memory

but from sea to shining sea,

follow the hood ornament

until you’ve reached the terminus

the Golden Gate, so named

by a pathfinder-colonizer

All that’s left is the open ocean.

Think of this place

where we stand

as a bead strung on a necklace

that adorns the decolletage of our country

some jewels bigger or more intricate than others

but hanging on the same chain

and just as precious.

Traveled to this day,

the roads were the pride of ancient Rome

a piece of history, yes

but to us

this road leads home.

About the author :

Amelia Kibbie is an author, poet, and lifelong educator. Her debut novel Legendary was published in 2019 by Running Wild Press. Amelia’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including the pro-human sci-fi collection Humans Wanted, We Cryptids, Enter the Rebirth, and My American Nightmare: Women in Horror. The literary journals Saw Palm, Quantum Fairy Tales, Wizards in Space, and Intellectual Refuge have featured her work. Her next project is to renovate the turn-of-the-century church she just purchased into a home with the help of her husband, daughter, and four cats. She served on the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission and as Mt. Vernon/Lisbon Poet Laureate in 2020. Her most recent publication is a book of poems paired with and inspired by the photography of Robert Campagna, a local photographer who was once her teacher. Final Elegance is available by special order — email ameliamk1983@gmail.com for details or visit ameliakibbie.com.

Amelia Kibbie