by Mike Kellner | Aug 31, 2022
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.
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 demonstration at water plant open house.
Haug helping with Ioway Creek cleanup.
Watershed education at Ames Eco Fair.
by Dan Haug | Aug 23, 2022
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!
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!
by Mike Kellner | Jul 28, 2022
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.
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.
by Dan Haug | Jun 22, 2022
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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!
by Dan Haug | Mar 30, 2022
“Is this pollution?” I received this photo, taken at 1PM on March 24, from Ames High School student Oskar Niesen. I met Oskar and other students in Mr. Todd’s environmental science classes for the first time in February, when we talked in the classroom about issues and solutions in Iowa waterways. The class was interested in testing water quality, so I met them again at the creek on March 22 and showed them how.
Let’s call the site of the incident “Ames High Creek.” It joins Ioway Creek near the disk golf course and originates with a 60 inch storm sewer pipe near the Richard Pohl Memorial Preserve (Ames High Prairie). The pipe drains several neighborhoods in north Ames (including mine) that were built before modern development ordinances requiring detention ponds. I’ve taken video of the torrent of water that comes out of the storm sewer after a heavy rain, and have seen the bank erosion it causes. I’ve also tested the water after rains and found high levels of bacteria, sediment and phosphorus levels in this creek during heavy rains. If people don’t pick up their trash, pet waste, or yard waste, there’s nothing to stop it from washing into to the creek. So I was prepared to answer “yes, the orange-brown color must be pollution.”
Later that evening, I visited the site and chatted with Jake Moore and Liz Calhoun with the City’s stormwater program. If someone had let muddy water wash off a construction site, or someone was pouring chemicals down the storm sewer, this would violate city ordinances and they would be the people to check up on it. But the timing wasn’t consistent with construction site runoff. There hadn’t been more than trace rain since Tuesday March 22nd.
Oskar had talked with a geology professor at Iowa State (Dr. Elizabeth Swanner) and suggested another possibility: iron oxide (rust), perhaps formed by naturally occurring bacteria. As Oskar explained “there are generally 3 types of iron oxide formations. One is a stain that we see now, the second is called flocculent iron which is a cloud that I saw then, the third is an iridescent film on the top. Bacteria tend to form all three.” At 5:00 on March 24, when I followed up on Oskar’s tip, the water had cleared up and there was no iridescent film, but there was stain on the rocks and at the water’s edge all the way up to the storm sewer outlet.
Hydrant flushing is done every year with the express purpose of flushing out iron oxide and other mineral deposits that can clog water mains. Liz Calhoun confirmed that crews flushed hydrants in neighborhoods connected to this storm sewer on March 24. A little rust in water can stain laundry but is harmless to people and fish. A release of drinking water can kill fish if it causes a sudden temperature change (this happened last summer when a water main broke) but in this case, we think there’s nothing to worry about. Mystery solved! The only thing more gratifying than working with curious young people and helpful colleagues is a happy ending for water quality!