Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mesquakie/Meskwaki: World Between Rivers


Meskwaki artist and advocate Adeline Wanatee, the first woman to serve on the Meskwaki Tribal Council, contributed an essay on Education, Family and Schools, in The Worlds between Two Rivers, originally published in 1978,which attempted “to reflect a wide spectrum of views on Native Americans in Iowa: those of Native Americans themselves and of Euro-Americans, those of laypeople, and those of professional educators, social scientists, and humanists. Now, more than twenty years later, this expanded edition reflects the far-reaching and complicated changes for American Indians in this region.

Two new essays—one discussing the issues surrounding the reburial of disinterred American Indian skeletal remains and the repatriation of bones and cultural objects, the other dealing with the native people from whom the state of Iowa took its name—express not only the continuing American Indian presence in Iowa but also extend the bridge for non-Indian people to better understand those Iowans who represent the state’s first nations.”

Iowa Flood Center


Based at the University of Iowa, the Iowa Flood Center is engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state; have developed a library of flood-inundation maps for several Iowa communities; and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain map for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Check out their projects, mapping tools and research here.

Spring Flood Forecast: Press-Citizen on Iowa River


Today’s Press-Citizen looks at the first forecasts for spring flooding along the Iowa River:

“The Iowa River through Iowa City has less than a 5 percent chance of flooding through late May, which is about on par with what it typically is this time of year, according to the report, which was issued last week.

Dave Wilson, Johnson County’s Emergency Management Agency coordinator, is putting little stock in that early flood forecast, however.

“Last year the flood outlook was pretty good, that we weren’t going to have one. Then we did,” Wilson said. “So meteorology is far from accurate; it’s more art than science. They’re trying hard to make forecasts as accurate as possible, but Mother Nature is going to do what Mother Nature does.”

Who are the literary voices of the Iowa River? Wilma Dykeman on the French Broad

In Iowa City, the city of literature, who are some of the voices of the Iowa River?

Novelists and chroniclers like Wilma Dykeman have spent a lifetime exploring the rivers in their regions. In “French Broad,” Dykeman writes: “This is the chronicle of a river and a watershed, and a way of life where yesterday and tomorrow meet in odd and fascinating harmony… Dwellers of the French Broad country are learning an ancient lesson in all their natural resources; it is easy to destroy overnight treasures that cannot be replaced in a generation, easy to destroy in a generation that which cannot be restored in centuries.”


Check out this old but still valuable website on Rivers of Life: River Voices

And here’s an except from Dykeman:


Trees- evergreens, oaks, poplars, birches- and plants as varied as thick clusters of rhododendron, ferns, and delicate lady’s slippers- surrounded the home where I grew up in Western north Carolina.

The living web of roots stored water from the abundant rainfall of our Appalachian Mountains to feed the stream that flowed in front of my home. I fell asleep to its friendly voice tumbling over rocks, whispering under our bridge, and I was awed by its fierce strength in seasons of flood.

One morning when I was at play my father watched me maneuver a heavy stone to change the course of the creek’s flow. I didn’t understand all that he was telling me when he said, “Sometimes an obstacle can send a stream, or a person, in a whole new direction.” Another time he and my mother discussed the marvelous possibility that moisture from this little creek could be sucked up into clouds and returned to earth as rain, perhaps joining the great oceans of the world to be gathered up again in clouds and someday returned to this very place. I pondered this revelation; I could stand in one small corner of the world and be part of its vast design.

Little wonder that my first book was about a river; The French Broad in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. (And I came to think of a book as another kind of river, beginning with one small effort, gathering force, reaching out to what distant place, what unknown person.) Through miles of walking and driving along unmarked trails and crowded highways threading the French Broad country, I discovered its riches of plant and animal life. I made acquaintance with the diversity of its people, from Cherokees in their native homeland to mountain-born and exotic adopted natives, revealing a wealth of talent and creativity, humor and tragedy. Their stories are the river’s voices.

Since those long, precious days beside headwaters of the French Broad I have watched two children trying to dig a bit of water out of a dry river-bed in Kenya, stood beside the mighty Yangtze and the lovely Rhine and Thames, and from the Nile to the Colorado wondered about the harnessed waters of the world. Now I return again and again to my mountain stream, watch it grow smaller than when I was a child due to the forest sponge disappearing under development on the slopes where it is born. But here I know that my place and river is not an isolated corner of the world. It is an artery at its heart.

(And, of course, the French Broad is a major tributary of the Mississippi, joining the Holston to form the Tennessee which flows into the Ohio, and the Mississippi.)

Explorations in Environment and Technology

I set out looking to understand how students at the UI understand their relationship to the river, but based on interviews I’ve already conducted, have unwittingly started a project that gets at the question: “how does technology dislocate us in 2014?”  A common theme so far among students has been the idea that we are a transient community; we don’t stay long enough in one place to see the repercussions of our actions.  This results in a lack of physical sense of place and ownership for our neighborhoods. In a highly technologically-connected world, we are everywhere all at once, causing us to lose focus and fail to notice what is going on right where we are.

Photo by Kelsey Zlevor

Photo by Kelsey Zlevor

Hog Wild Report: Factory Farms and Iowa’s Drinking Water


A new report released this week in On Earth magazine explores the impact of factory hog farms on Iowa’s drinking water:

“According to David Goodner, a spokesman for the watchdog group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Iowa’s factory farms now produce well over five billion gallons of liquid manure a year. The laws governing application of manure may mask the problem by reducing the level of harmful gases in the air, he said, but vast quantities of waste are being injected directly into the drought-stricken and highly erodible soil. The ground simply can’t hold all the nitrates and bacteria being produced by so many hogs.”

What’s the “nitrogen pulse” of the Iowa River?

Two local news reports examine the impact of farm fertilizers and nitrates on our drinking water:

“The world’s strongest man opening and dumping bag after bag of nitrogen fertilizer into the Mississippi River could not begin to keep up with the stream of nitrogen flowing this spring from the Iowa River into the main conduit to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.

A near-record pulse of nitrogen, driven by last year’s drought and this spring’s record rainfall, has been leaving Iowa farm fields, bound for ecological and economic damage in the gulf and along the way, according to researchers studying the phenomenon in the watershed of the Cedar and Iowa rivers.

A real-time nitrate gauge near Wapello, 20 miles above the Iowa’s confluence with the Mississippi, was recording 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of nitrate per second during the first week of June, said Amy Burgin of the University of Nebraska School of Natural Resources, one of several scientists studying the nitrate pulse.

It is a prime example of innocents downstream paying for actions upstream in the same watershed, said Burgin, the lead researcher on the project, which also involves scientists from Coe College and the University of Iowa.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires nitrate in drinking water be kept at less than 10 milligrams per liter to avoid potential human health problems, especially for infants and pregnant mothers.

A large study of children in Iowa and Texas, published in late June, found that babies whose mothers consume nitrates in drinking water have a higher risk of spina bifida, cleft palate and other birth defects.

May nitrate readings reached record levels in the Raccoon River (24 milligrams per liter) and the Des Moines River (18 milligrams per liter), both water sources for the Des Moines water plant, which has spent more than half a million dollars this year to operate its treatment facility.

The state of Iowa typically leads the nation in corn production, and the Agriculture Department reports the average statewide yield in 2011 was 172 bushels per acre. While Iowa growers enjoy some of the most fertile soils in the nation, that kind of production would not be possible without fertilizer.

But the same amendments that yield such abundance pose a threat to the environment if they find their way into local waterways. And that’s a “growing problem” in the Hawkeye State.

So much of a problem, in fact, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission announced this week it will pay Iowa State University more than $500,000 to test and monitor water quality in 130 Iowa lakes over the next three years.

Three Days on the Iowa River: Has Much Changed Since 2011?


In 2011, Press-Citizen reporter B.A. Morelli and photographer Matthew Holst spent three days canoeing, camping and portaging their way down the Iowa River as it stretches through Johnson County. Check out his report:

“The Iowa River is one of the oldest, most powerful and most valuable resources in Johnson County, but its health is threatened by the hand of humans and nature. The river remains a popular getaway, but it faces many problems as it flows through the rich agricultural land near the Amana Colonies and the decommissioned 1922 Greencastle Bridge before filling Coralville Reservoir, which serves as an attraction for hundreds of campers and boaters daily during the summer.

The reservoir catches some of the sediment and pollution before the river continues moving south through the urban stretches of Iowa City and Coralville.

Pollution and erosion can be seen downstream as well. By some measures, progress is being made, but by others conditions are worsening, most notably through increased erosion and nitrate levels.

Five segments of the Iowa River in Johnson County and eight of its local tributaries are considered impaired by Environmental Protection Agency standards. The river also is a key contributor, via the Mississippi River, to the pollution that has created an expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Like a lot of rivers in Eastern Iowa, the Iowa River is suffering from a long period of neglect. We haven’t invested in resources. The river is muddy, and there is a low level of quality. Runoff from farms and other things are preventable,” said Mark Langgin, executive director of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy.”

Ralston Creek

ralston creek


Ralston Creek on February 21, 2014. The previous day there were heavy rains which caused the creek to rise significantly. After the rain that day temperatures returned to freezing and the level of the creek fell slightly to the level pictured.

Living Downstream: Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s Journey

What is the journey of invisible toxins in our water resources–and ultimately, in our bodies?

Based on the acclaimed book by ecologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., Livin Downstream is an eloquent and cinematic feature-length documentary. This poetic and character-driven film follows Sandra during one pivotal year as she travels across North America, working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links.

As our journey begins, we follow Sandra in her professional life. After a routine cancer screening, Sandra receives some worrying results and is thrust into a period of medical uncertainty. Thus, we begin two journeys with Sandra: the private and the public.

But Sandra is not the only one who is on a journey the chemicals against which she is fighting are also on the move. We follow these invisible toxins as they migrate to some of the most beautiful places in North America. We see how these chemicals enter our bodies and how, once inside, scientists believe they may be working to cause cancer.

At once Sandra’s personal journey and her scientific exploration, Living Downstream is a powerful reminder of the intimate connection between the health of our bodies and the health of our air, land and water.