Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Hello and Happy Fall,

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has had a busy and productive 2023 in Iowa, working on a variety of important initiatives related to creating a healthier natural environment and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Iowa.   As we end this year, we have touched kids, families, landowners, historic homeowners and business owners, communities, natural resource professionals, like-minded not-for-profits and oversaw a national prairie conference in Iowa.

Here’s a summary of some of the key accomplishments and initiatives this year:

EDUCATIONAL VIDEO SERIES – We created a weekly video series for YouTube and Instagram The Clean Water Act: 50 Years, 50 Facts. We produced 45 short videos filmed at dozens of locations (including knee deep in a marsh) and featuring 5 music parodies.  The educational videos covered various aspects of water conservation, law and policy.

Water Testing Ioway Creek Near Stratford in Hamitlon County

MONTHLY STREAM MONITORINGConducted monthly monitoring of at least 15 streams, providing updates in the Prairie Rivers monthly newsletter.  Additionally, coordinated volunteer “snapshots” with neighboring counties and supported school groups interested in water monitoring. Additionally, we published a 65-page report analyzing water quality data, including a novel way of looking at the data.

SECURED A NATIONAL FOUNDATION GRANT – This grant assists us in building a network for interpreting water quality monitoring data.  Seven partners joined Prairie Rivers to focus at sharing best practices, looking for tools to monitor E. coli in our streams, providing a monthly opportunity to express their concerns and planning for an Iowa Water Summit in 2024.

Ioway Creek Cleanup

TWO TRASH CLEANUPS — (1) May 2023 — Cleaned Ioway Creek by canoe, S. Grand to S. 16th St (Ames), 40 participants.  The trash collected weighed 3,020 pounds and included 20 tires and three rims. Partners included: Story County Conservation, Skunk River Paddlers, the City of Ames, Outdoor Alliance of Story County.  (2) August 14, 2023 – Cleaned a tributary of Ioway Creek in Stuart Smith Park (Ames), on foot, nine volunteers, 350 pounds of trash removed.  Partners included Iowa Rivers Revival, Green Iowa AmeriCorps and the City of Ames.

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION Launched a 10-year plan involving over 40 persons serving on a committee to support pollinator conservation.  This plan is aimed at conserving pollinators and their habitats, which are crucial for the environment.  You can see the plan at www.prrcd.org.

Monarch Magic Family Fun Event on September 9th, 2023

MONARCH MAGIC Held the first Monarch tagging event in September, where over 300 kids, their families, and others learned about pollinators and tagged 146 Monarchs.  We had 10 sponsors and partners at Ada Hayden Heritage Park and plan to do it again in 2024.

HISTORIC RESOURCE PRESERVATIONReceived a grant from Iowa Cultural Affairs and successfully surveyed 319 historic listings on the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.  In 2024, we will present the findings to elected officials and other interested persons in the 43 communities along the Byway to inform and develop a plan for the restoration and preservation of these important Iowa heritage properties.

BYWAY COORDINATOR AND PROJECTS – Hired a new Byway Coordinator, Jeanie Hau, who is actively working to support our Byway projects.  Prairie Rivers signed a new contract with the Iowa DOT to support work on the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway extending our efforts to preserve Iowa’s heritage.  This Byway begins on Highway 30, Montour turnoff, and travels through the Amana Colonies for a total of 77 miles.

TRAVELING EXHIBITThe Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway traveling exhibit called The Promise Road:  How the Lincoln Highway Changed America has been displayed at various locations, allowing visitors to learn about the rich history of this historic road.  It’s available for display in museums, libraries, and other community spaces.  So far the exhibit has traveled to Jefferson, Grand Junction, State Center, Nevada, Linn County Historical Society: The History Center, Cedar Rapids History Museum, Nevada Library, Marion Public Library, Carroll Public Library, Harrison County Welcome Center, and currently at the Council Bluffs Public Library.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Traveling Exhibit

We cannot do this work without your support!

Today, we are asking you as a supporter to make an end-of-year gift of $50.00 to Prairie Rivers of Iowa.  Your support shows us to keep up the good work!   You can make a gift here online or by going to our donation page for additional options. We know that as good stewards of the land, you see how important this work is today.

It is so important for a not-for-profit to receive gifts from individuals. Hearing from you encourages and supports our very difficult work in support of the natural and cultural resources in Iowa.
Thank you!

Board of Directors
Reed Riskedahl, President
Mark Rasmussen, Treasurer
Doug Cooper, Secretary
Erv Klaas
Bob Ausberger
Chuck Stewart
Rick Dietz
Jim Richardson
Christopher Barber

Staff
Penny Brown Huber, Executive Director
Mike Kellner, Marketing and Public Relations
Dan Haug, Water Quality Specialist
Jessica Butters, Pollinator Conservation Specialist
Jeanie Hau, Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway & Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Coordinator
Carman Rosburg, Office Manager
Daniel Huber, Technology
Shellie Orngard, Historic Properties Consultant

One-Time Donate to Prairie Rivers of Iowa
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.

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 spending time by a lake, whether you’re fishing, swimming, paddling, watching wildlife, or watching the sunset.  But it’s hard to enjoy a lake if it’s choked with toxic blue-green algae. Cleaning up Iowa lakes so we can enjoy them 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 in 2022 (both fatal), contracted at the Lake of the Three Fires and the Elkhorn River, respectively. While scary, cases are also extremely rare. Nationwide there have only been 157 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 is sometimes closed 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 in Story County

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 when I wrote this article. 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

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Participating in Iowa Gives Green – A Day of Giving

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Participating in Iowa Gives Green – A Day of Giving

This article was produced in conjunction with the Iowa Environmental Council

The natural beauty of Iowa is a gift to behold. We have a picturesque landscape like no other. We have incredible soils. We’ve had a stable climate. We’ve had diverse flora and fauna in the tallgrass prairie. The Iowa of today may look different than it did 200 years ago, but our state remains a beauteous marvel that deserves to be celebrated.

Too often in Iowa, we’ve put productivity ahead of beauty. We’ve put efficiency ahead of diversity. On August 3 nearly 30 environmental organizations across the state, including Prairie Rivers of Iowa and the Iowa Environmental Council will participate in Iowa Gives Green, a day of giving that shows Iowans’ commitment to our environmental promise.

PRI board member and founder Erv Klaas teaching Iowa youth water quality testing

Prairie Rivers of Iowa board member and founder Erv Klaas working with youth to teach water quality monitoring as part of our efforts to address water quality issues in the state. 

This environmentally-focused day of giving empowers diverse groups to work together to support conservation, preservation, and recreation, and to engage Iowans on the same day with intentional action to support those efforts.

Gifts to Prairie Rivers Iowa and other organizations participating in Iowa Gives Green clean and protect Iowa’s waterways.  During Iowa Gives Green and throughout the month of August a gift to Prairie Rivers will have twice the impact due to a matching gift by one of its founders and well-known and respected champion for the environment ISU Professor Emeritus of Animal Ecology Erv Klaas.

Ag leadership has been touting the same ‘solutions’ for Iowa water quality, without results to show for it. Our environmental and conservation groups have ideas to bring to the table. Your support will help these groups implement new ideas and practices to deliver real results.

  • protect and invest in habitat and landscapes. Iowa is one of the most changed landscapes on the planet. By supporting the efforts of groups that are preserving and rebuilding ecosystems through land management and conservancy helps, you can help to build rural economies and critical pollinator and wildlife habitat.
  • provide recreation and education opportunities. Iowa offers incredible recreation opportunities, but our state ranks one of the lowest in the nation for public land. Your support can help these organizations to expand and improve our recreational spaces.
  • take action on climate. Extreme weather events in Iowa are no longer the exception, they are the norm — hotter summers, intense but erratic rain events, or the December 2021 tornadoes. We need to address climate change together, now. With your support, organizations across Iowa can implement their plans and help you to get involved.
  • Grow clean sources of energy. Our state is a wind energy leader and solar power is poised to grow exponentially. These groups seek to improve the landscape for clean energy development, so our state can transition to true, 100% clean energy 24/7.
  • Address environmental injustices in Iowa. Right here at home, the majority burden of pollution from fossil fuels damages the health and well-being of lower-income and minority communities. Drinking water across the state is threatened by polluting chemicals, lead pipes, and aging infrastructure. Rural Iowans struggle to gain access to transportation improvements, recycling initiatives, and other environmental efforts. All Iowans stand to benefit when we address historical injustices.

Iowa Gives Green helps to create an environmental movement that makes access to Iowa’s natural beauty available to all Iowans regardless of their economic status or the communities where they live. Join us in celebrating and supporting Iowa’s environment on August 3 for Iowa Gives Green by coming together to show how much Iowans truly care about our environment at www.iowagivesgreen.org.

Iowa Gives Green/Erv Klaas Challenge
High nitrate this spring: where and why

High nitrate this spring: where and why

The Des Moines Waterworks was forced to use their nitrate removal system for the first time in five years. Our spring snapshot found high nitrate concentrations in streams across Story County. On my way to speak at the CCE Environmental Expo in Mitchell County, I dipped a test strip in the Cedar River near Osage and measured 16 mg/L. Looking at the Iowa Water Quality Information System there’s orange (nitrate greater than 10 mg/L) across much of the state and spots of dark red (nitrate greater than 20 mg/L) in Story, Hamilton, and Hardin counties. What’s going on?

 

 

flowing drain tile

Well, differences in land use, soils, topography, and farming practices make for strong regional differences in water quality.  For some streams like the North Raccoon River, this is a return to normal.  For some streams, like the Cedar River, current conditions are unusual. To illustrate this, I’ve invented my own graph, which compares highest nitrate concentrations observed this spring (the blue dot) to the entire 10-20 year record (a black band showing the range, and a black square showing the median). The data comes from Iowa DNR’s Ambient Stream Monitoring Network; I will update these graphs once June data is available. A sampling of sites is shown at right, but the entire graph can be downloaded as a PDF here.

nitrate in selected rivers

Northwest Iowa is still suffering from drought, and that means the Floyd River near Sioux City (which usually has some of the highest nitrate concentrations in the state) is barely flowing and has very low nitrate concentrations. As we saw last year, nutrient concentrations tend to be low during dry conditions except where there is a strong influence from point sources of pollution. Most of the rest of the state is back to normal, and nitrate that accumulated in the soil during two dry years is now getting flushed out. These maps are taken from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  I’ve drawn in the approximate location of the watersheds for the monitoring sites in my example.

map showing drought abating

Weather whiplash in agricultural regions drives deterioration of water quality.”  That’s the title and conclusion of a paper that studied previous episodes when a wet spring followed a dry summer and fall.  The 2012 drought was much more severe than 2021, impacting yields so that less nitrogen was taken up by the crop and removed in the grain, and maybe that’s why nitrate in 2013 and 2014 was so much higher than it is now.  I’ve compared spring highs for several sites and years, normalizing by the long-term average.  It’s not clear to me whether weather whiplash increases the overall mass (load) of nitrogen that gets washed away, or just alters the timing (moving in one year what would have been parceled out over two), but high concentrations are a concern for communities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids that get their drinking water from a river or river-influenced wells. 

map showing shift out of drought in 2013
map of weather whiplash in 2014
graph showing when nitrate was higher than usual for select sites

I’m procrastinating on the work I’m supposed to be doing because “Hey look!  Data!” and I have to satisfy my curiosity.  If you’d like to see us do more water quality analysis beyond Story County, let us know, and support us with a charitable donation so it can become work I’m supposed to be doing!