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Droughts happen

October 8, 2011
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

DROUGHTS HAPPEN. Even though most of Iowa has not been hit with a dry spell similar to the one currently underway from Florida to Arizona, we too have experienced droughts before. Interspersed between droughts are periods of too much water. So mankind, what are we to do? Answer: Just like we have done in times past, our options are to endure and adapt. We must take Mother Nature's mood swings in stride because we are powerless to do anything other than adapt.

A prime candidate for understanding drought cycles is related to our sun. It too has cycles, one being an eleven year +/- occurrence in which sun spots increase on the sun's surface. The results can and are felt on earth 93,000,000 miles away as our atmosphere reacts to increases in solar winds, cosmic rays and the resultant effects on water vapor concentrations in the upper atmosphere. When sun spot activity is high, solar wind is relatively stronger. More cosmic rays are deflected. Globally this results in less overall cloudiness, less precipitation and more sun radiation.

This scribe remembers vividly the local droughts of 1977, 1988 and 2000. Now, 11 years later we have a repeat of circumstances from past decades. I made photographs of the sand bars on the Iowa River in 1977 and 1988 that had been dry for so long during the summer that tree seeds and other vegetation began to grow on the sand. The sand bars were turning green. High water flows had been non-existent to scour the sand clean. It was all temporary, in geologic terms. High waters did return. They will return again. Endure and adapt.

Article Photos

The Iowa River is in its lazy mode at present. Almost all of its water is derived from “base flow,” a geologist’s term for the slow release of water from the water table of the surrounding lands. There is virtually no surface runoff from area streams and creeks. Right now the Iowa River is flowing past the Highway 14 gauging station at a mere 117 cubic feet per second. Compare that to the maximum flow rate recorded on June 13, 2008 of 22,388 cubic feet per second and one can begin to grasp the extremes of a river mood swings. This photo was taken last Wednesday looking downstream from the Indian Bridge area northwest of Albion.


Our current day length is 11 hours and 28 minutes long. During the transition to the fall season, Sept. 26 and 27, the day lengths were 12 hours 2 minutes and 11 hours 58 minutes, respectively. Our shortest daylight times will be during the period of Dec. 20 to the 24 at 9 hours 6 minutes.


LEAF COLOR is primarily influenced by daylight hours decreasing. Less light equals less time for photosynthesis work in leaves to produce sugars for the tree. Leaves are starting to shut down production for another year, their work largely done. Deciduous trees will take a winter nap and rest until longer days of spring trigger a new awakening for a new season.

In the meantime, us Iowegians can and should enjoy the colorful tapestry of color that tree leaves provide. People may travel great distances to view big valleys full of yellow, reds and fading greens of summer leaves. Or one can walk around any Marshall County park, wildlife area, trail or ankle-wetting stroll in the Iowa River to view great mosaics of fall tree beauty.

To learn more about scenic areas of Marshall County, do contact the staff at the Conservation Center at the Grimes Farm. They have brochures and many helpful hints of neat natural areas to enjoy during this fantastic fall season. Make good use of the opportunities close to home. You will be glad you did.


WATERFOWL are acutely aware of shortening day length too. Their urge to migrate is getting stronger by the minute. Some will hold out until cold winds, snow and ice force them to leave Canadian waters. Others, like teal, will head south as soon a first frost, or hint of frost, is in the air. For ducks and geese headed south, finding water this year will be a challenge. Area marshes have very low water levels. Hendrickson Marsh is ready for fall rains. Here is hoping we do get some water from the sky later this month. At Otter Creek Marsh in Tama County, many of the pool segments are dry or nearly so. Water can be pumped into this 3,000 acre wetland complex from the Iowa River. Pumping water from the river may actually be limited too due to natural circumstances. Check with DNR personnel at the marsh for their plans for water and the reality of what can be obtained.

The north zone duck season (north of US 30) in Iowa begins Oct.15 and goes through Dec. 8. South of US 30 zone ducks can be hunted from Oct. 22 through Dec. 15. Goose seasons are currently underway.


A campaign to "Double Up" for ducks is being encouraged this year by Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups. The idea is to buy two federal migratory bird stamps, not just one. Waterfowl duck stamps have been a stable tool in waterfowl habitat conservation for 77 years. The reality is that the funds derived from stamp sales is diminished by inflation and rising land prices. "The purpose of "Doubling Up" is to show that hunters support the program and are willing to pay more for duck stamps. It is viewed as an investment for conservation, not a tax on hunters," said DU Chief Executive Officer Dale Hall.

The federal duck stamp began in 1934. Funds have assisted in adding 5.3 million acres to waterfowl habitat in all 50 states to the National Wildlife Refuge System. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar goes to protect land for wetland dependent species. The cost of a federal duck stamp is $15, not changed from 1991. In today's dollars adjusted for consumer price indexing, that stamp should cost $24.26 to have equal purchasing power that it did in 1991. Also in 1991, the average cost per acre for wetland acquisition was $306. Today it is $1,091, a tripling of land costs in 20 years.

DU is one organization encouraging the adjustment of the Federal Migratory Bird Stamp from the present $15 to $25. It will take an act of Congress to allow this. It will take sportsmen and women rising to the occasion to support this and other conservation issues. It will take commitment for conservation's future to pay for it. Hunters have a long tradition of paying for wetland conservation.


PHEASANTS FOREVER meets tonight at the Central Iowa Fairgrounds. Tickets at the door are available but they will cost more. Even so, come on out to enjoy good times and the possibility of winning some great door prizes. Yes, there will be guns for the raffle too, youth models included. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Support PF and their work for upland wildlife conservation.


Fall Color Nature Sketching will be held Tuesday at 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. at the Grimes Farm & Conservation Center (2359 233rd Street). Capture the beauty of fall colors as a local artist shares simple sketching techniques. Bring colored pencils or watercolor pencils, small sketch pad and a lawn chair. Pre-register by calling 752-5490.

Iowater Snapshot will be held Oct. 15 from 9 a.m. to noon at various sites in Marshall County. Help us take a "snapshot" in time of water quality in the Central Iowa River watershed. You can assist IOWATER trained volunteers in sampling creeks that feed into the Iowa River; no previous experience is necessary. All monitoring kits will be provided. Dress for the weather. Pre-register by Oct. 11 by calling 752-5490.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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