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April 18, 2023


Hooded Merganser
Ty Smedes Nature Photography

This Edition:

  • Greene County Water testing—Bob Rye—surprising findings

  • April 29, 8:00 a.m. Dunbar Slough Birding Outing

  • May 13 Life in the Raccoon River

  • May 23 Clean Water Snapshot

  • Chris Jones—Last Blog

  • Dues

Greene County Water Testing

On April 13 RRWA Board Member Bob Rye organized the kickoff  Raccoon River Water Testing Effort for 2023.


Two teams set off to assess Stream Health in Buttrick and Harden Creeks. These are two major tributaries to the North Raccoon River in Greene County. They enter the Raccoon above Squirrel Hollow Park, Dam and Swimming Hole. This is beautiful county park east of Cooper, Iowa with a view of the river and boulder dam from a high bluff. Members are concerned about the pollution potential of the many hog confinements up stream.


One crew tested nine locations on the two streams. Clarity was low on Harden Creek below Hwy 30 with readings between 25 and 30 cm. North of Hwy. 30 a reading of 60+ was measured in a channelized portion of a tributary to Harden Creek. Chemical readings for Chloride, Nitrogen and Phosphorus were good. Buttrick Creek Nitrate was 5 mg/l in two locations. Nitrite also showed up on the test strip—unusual in our experience, However, Buttrick water was clear and other chemical readings were in the “good” range.


Mussels were found where the Raccoons had left them at many locations. Species found included: Pistol Grip (Endangered in Iowa), Three Ridge (Delaney had not seen a live one in the Raccoon before), Maple Leaf, Pimpleback, Pink Heal Splitter, Fragile shell, Pocketbook, Pig Toe, Black Sand Shell (? Need help Jennier). Another great fact is that most of the recently live shells were small (about an inch across) indicating that these species are reproducing. For a long while after the  massive flood of 93 we were not finding any young mussels. Flooding shifts sands burying mussels so deep they die from lack of oxygen.


River lovers! Watch for the impact of the opening of the Scott Street dam in Des Moines. Red Rock fish will be coming up the Raccoon River branches. They will carry mussels from the Des Moines River where there are large numbers in the stable substrate between Scott Street and Center Street dams.

Saturday April 29, 2023--A Guided Birding Expedition at Dunbar Slough,

The public is invited to a guided birding expedition at Dunbar Slough on Saturday, April 29, 2023, from 8:00 a.m. until noon.  Activities include stopping at different sites to watch and enjoy birds, as well as to hear some bird identification tips and information about some of the birds passing through during their migration.  

Dunbar Slough is a 2,134-acre State Wildlife Management area located in western Greene County southwest of Scranton and east of the border between Greene and Carroll counties.  Dunbar Slough is considered an Important Bird Area by the national Audubon Society. Eighty percent of the 285 bird species recorded in Greene County have been detected there.

Participants are encouraged to carpool from the park south of Casey’s General Store in Scranton.  Or you can meet 15-20 minutes later at the bridge on 270th St. (100 yards east of A Avenue).

This FREE event is sponsored by Jefferson Matters, Raccoon River Watershed Association (RRWA), and lowa Ornithological Union (IOU) in partnership with Carroll and Greene County Conservation Boards.  Matt Wetrich, Jefferson Matters executive director, will lead the outdoor event.  Colleen Radebaugh, Tanner Scheuermann, and Kristen Bieret will assist.

Matt Wetrich’s experience as nature photographer and naturalist has him head over heels into birding for over 25 years.  Dunbar Slough Wildlife Area has been his adopted birding ‘patch’ since moving to Jefferson over a decade ago.

Colleen Radebaugh is an amateur bird watcher and all-around nature lover from the rural Rippey area and has been an active member of RRWA for years.

Tanner Scheuermann, Greene County Conservation Board Director, oversees and manages all of Greene County’s wildlife management areas, prairie areas, and wetland areas where birds and other species congregate and thrive.

Kristen Bieret is the Carroll County Conservation Board environmental education coordinator, where she teaches people of all ages about nature and wildlife.

For more information, see the Raccoon River Watershed Website:, or call Bob Rye, RRWA Citizen Science Committee chairman, 515-370-5753

May 13, 2023--  Life in the Raccoon River

Des Moines Area Community College

Urban Campus Bldg. 7 Room 170

1144 7th Street, Des Moines, Iowa




8:00 Registration

9:00 Welcome—Chris Henning

9:10 Prairie Conservation—Tom Rosburg

10:00 Birds of the Raccoon Watershed –Ray Harden

10:30 break (photos from the Raccoon)

10:45 What the River Knows and Iowa Nature Summit—Neil Hamilton

11:30 Lunch break (photos from the Raccoon)

1:00  "Paddling the North Raccoon”—Jim Pease

1:45 break (photos from the Raccoon)

2:00 RRWA members meeting

2:30 RRWA board meeting



Book Signing: The Land Remains by Neil Hamilton

Water Awareness T-shirts and Sweatshirts (Karen Kelleher)

How to put Bird ID aps. on your smart phone. (Colleen Radebaugh)

Iowa Farmer’s Union

May 23 Interstate Snapshot

The RRWA will cooperate with Polk County, Iowa Rivers Revival and the Izaak Walton League in a Snapshot of the condition of our rivers on May 23. Ginney Malcolmson, Polk County Conservation, will continue nearly 20 years of water data collection in Polk County. Lynette Sigley of IOWATER, Susan Heathcote and the Des Moines Ikes have carried that ball up to recently. All of the IOWATER data is now on the Izaak Walton Leagues Clean Water Hub ( Heather Wilson, IWLA water quality trainer, will help prepare participants on April 25 at the Des Moines IWLA Crum Clean Water Center. RRWA Board member, Bob Rye, organized sampling of 100 locations on Buttick and Harden Creeks upstream of Squirrel Hollow in 2022. He has agreed to collect samples and report findings on the HUB as part of the Snapshot. Dale Braun of the Linn County Chapter is coordinating activities in the Iowa portion of the Cedar River. Mark Owns plans to collect 20 samples from the Minnesota portion of the Cedar. Zack Moss of Dallas County Conservation may be able to collect some samples as well as others around the state. More on this effort in the next newsletter.


Mike Delaney

Chris Jones last Blog--maybe

Sunday, April 2, 2023


Arguably the most beautiful part of Iowa is the 100-mile-long sliver of bluff land that lies along the Mississippi River from Bellevue to the Minnesota border. The northernmost part of this river corridor is also where Sauk Chief Blackhawk was defeated in 1832, opening the state to white settlement. Blackhawk's people had wandered across the river into what is now Wisconsin, violating a treaty they misunderstood, to access their traditional summering ground. U.S. troops drove women and children of Blackhawk’s tribe into the Mississippi where they drowned just north of what is now Lansing, Iowa. 

Blackhawk died six years later and was buried in a grave overlooking the Des Moines River in southeast Iowa. His corpse was stolen shortly after, however, and the flesh boiled off so his skeleton could be exhibited. His remains were eventually moved to a Burlington, Iowa historical society at the request of territorial Governor Robert Lucas, where they were later lost in a fire. After the fire, a memorial to Blackhawk was constructed in the Iowaville Cemetery near Selma, Iowa. Governor Lucas’ Iowa City home, known as Plum Grove, is maintained as a historical site and he is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. Lucas Street runs north to south on the east side of town.

Winnebago Chief Winneshiek (Coming Thunder) was an advisor and confidante of Blackhawk whose people occupied areas of northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin, and they were known to have encampments along the Upper Iowa River. Winneshiek was asked to side with U.S. troops in the Blackhawk War; he refused. The tiny Mississippi River village of DeSoto, Wisconsin is thought to have been built upon the burial ground of Winneshiek’s tribe, and Winneshiek himself is rumored to have been buried on the bluff that overlooks the village, aptly named Mount Winneshiek. 


Blackhawk bridge and Mississippi River seen from Lansing's Mt. Hosmer Park

The names of Winneshiek and Blackhawk are familiar to Iowans mainly because they were attached to two of our counties. Numerous places, schools, sports teams, military weapons, and even a community college and a country club bear the Blackhawk name. Blackhawk helicopters have been used by the U.S. Army since 1979 and a movie and book were named after one that was shot down. The iconic Blackhawk bridge, made famous by the movie The Straight Story, is one of a series of four bridges that span the Mississippi between Lansing (IA) and DeSoto (WI); one of the other three is named for Winneshiek. The Mississippi River sloughs around both towns are known as the Winneshiek Bottoms, now a National Wildlife Refuge that was saved (barely) from agriculture’s insatiable appetite for land by the 2-year-old Izaak Walton League in 1924. There have been multiple failed attempts to turn the area into a national park. 

I think a lot these days how these events are relevant to my own life. My ancestors were among those that poured into an Iowa made ‘open’ by Blackhawk’s defeat. They farmed in Des Moines, Davis, and Wapello (another Native American chief) Counties in southeast Iowa, and Warren County in south central Iowa. My uncle had a museum quality collection of Native American artifacts unearthed by his uncle’s plow in Davis County. I sometimes wonder if fate might have had me farming now, had my ancestors been better at it. My Iowa City home was in the same neighborhood as Governor Lucas’; I sold it to buy an old Amish cabin on the edge of DeSoto, WI, although I’m still pretty much anchored in Iowa City.


DeSoto Wisconsin area. Winneshiek bridge is in the lower right. Mt. Winneshiek is the bluff farthest to the left.

I often hear farmers proudly boast that they are the 5thor 6th on Nth generation of their family to earn a living off their patch of Iowa. “Never sell the home section” is a deathbed command made by many to their heirs across the generations, a concept foreign to the peoples of Blackhawk and Winneshiek. 

I too am a 5th or 6th generation Iowan and see my rights as a non-farming citizen as being no different from those that farm. And whether your genes have been here for two hours or two centuries, I think your right to enjoy nature, and especially, clean water, should not be debased by the fact that you’re surrounded by farmable land. It’s not uncommon to hear some variation of “we’re a farm state, get used to it.” I reject that. And I think if the state is to have a prosperous future, it needs to be rejected by the masses. That rejection has been out in front of every essay that I have posted here. 

I can sit in my humble little cabin and see the Iowa bluffs and the Blackhawk Bridge from seven miles away, the latter especially at night when it is decoratively lit. I wish I could put into words the irony I feel in being able to look up from typing this and see Iowa from afar. If you’ve never seen the Blackhawk Bridge, I suggest you plan a trip to Lansing because it will soon be gone and replaced with something better.


You’re reading the last essay that will be posted here. I’ve got some things to think about, one being a continuation of the blog (I hate the word blog) on another site. I have posted this essay on Blogspot; if you're so inclined you may want to bookmark the latter link. I've also preserved everything I've written over the past six months at Blogspot. Whether I write new ones to be posted at that site, I just don't know. My mind changes by the hour on this. 


If I return to writing essays, they may be different from what I have written here in noticeable ways, either in tone, subject matter or both. It's undeniable that the essays' presence on the university domain imparted a 'fearlessness' character to the pieces that added to their appeal and maybe caused some to judge the writing as better (or worse) than what it really is. This is something for me to consider. I’d like to try some different things when it comes to writing, but I don't know if I'd be good at writing about much else. I was asked to write the obituary for my uncle mentioned here in this essay, and that also has been posted at Blogspot. So call that one "Make Obituaries Great Again," I suppose. 

The pieces posted here have been read 200,000 times in total, and because of that, good fortune is among the feelings that I have right now.  Thank you for reading. I hope I helped you learn something.—CJ



Delaney re: Chris Jones


Thank you, Dr. Jones


Trout anglers can be a problem for polluters. Why? They fish-- in our best waters using imitation native flies and bugs to catch wonderful tasting fish. However, trout—like humans-- need cool, clean water. So, when industrial polluters were killing trout in the Midwest, trout anglers got together in Chicago to form the Izaak Walton League of America in 1922 to “call a halt” to the destruction of life in our waters. Burlington native, Aldo Leopold and Ding Darling of Des Moines were major early leaders.


Now we are faced with high cancer rates in Iowa. A rational person would ask whether chemical fertilizer spread on our land and pesticides used to kill so much life in our ecosystem might also be killing our friends and relatives.


Trout anglers are upset by the Iowa DNR allowing a huge cattle confinement on Bloody Run Creek, one of the best trout streams in Iowa. After bragging for a decade about our cold water streams, the DNR is unable to stop a cattle operation that threatens those streams and violates many rules. Why?


Those who care about human health and life in our waters have championed the writings of Chris Jones. Chris knows about our water. He ran the late Bill Stowe’s water quality lab at the Des Moines Water Works which processes Raccoon and Des Moines River water for a half million or so Iowans. He ran the lab for the Iowa Soybean Association. He has recently worked in the University of Iowa ‘s IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering department. He spoke and wrote the unpleasant truth about the impacts of industrial agriculture on Iowa water. His blog will no longer be supported by the University of Iowa. He has resigned his post to do more trout fishing in the wonderful streams of northeast Iowa that—at least for now-- are still supporting Browns, Brookies and Rainbows. Thanks Chris. It is a noble fight.


Mike Delaney

2023 Dues- It’s time to renew! 

The RRWA is an all-volunteer non-profit with almost no overhead. While other organizations struggle to pay staff, office space, printing etc. the RRWA puts most of its resources into networking, education and research. The board has decided to eliminate new Lifetime memberships. However, our 75 lifetime memberships will continue to be honored. Please contact me ( or Michael Murphy to let us know that your want to continue to be a member and receive newsletters like this one. We would like to thank our Lifetime members for being wonderful supporters for many years and helping us to get where we are.


Consider the Research and Education fund. Contributions are tax deductible. According to Mike Murphy: "We have given out almost $30,000 in grants since 2010, for research conducted in the watershed by students and staff at Drake University, ISU, Buena Vista University, and others.  Subjects included chemical, bacterial, and biological (BMIs)  water quality; insects, including bees, Monarchs, Dragonfly/Damselfly, etc.; prairie surveys and the effects of land use and agricultural best practices on lifeforms. The RRWA has also invested in water monitoring equipment.


Send your check to the below address.  Our dues are not tax deductible, but donations to the RRWA Research and Education Fund are.  


Dues- (Please make check out to RRWA)

Donation levels are: Basic--$10, Family--$20, Organization--$50,

Business--$50, Supporting--$100, Patron--$500


RRWA Research and Education Fund- Tax Deductible.  Please make your check out to the INHF/RRWA (Any amount or bequest welcomed) Direct payment to INHF/RRWA research and education fund.

 CLICK HERE!  to become a member or to renew your RRWA membership!

Or: send your check to: Michael Murphy, 6507 Del Matro, Windsor Heights, 50324

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