On the Radio: Water demand strains Jordan Aquifer


Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at recent news surrounding Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Jordan Aquifer

Increased water demand in Iowa is straining one of the state’s largest underground aquifers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Des Moines Register reports that the Jordan Aquifer – which supplies about half a million Iowans with water – is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself.

Last year Iowa drew nearly 26 billion gallons from the aquifer which is a 72 percent increase since the 1970s. Nearly 200 businesses, municipalities, universities, and other entities tap into the Jordan Aquifer with about 345 wells across the state. Parts of southwest Iowa need to drill as deep as 2,500 feet underground to extract water from the aquifer.

This increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuels industry, which requires large quantities of purified water during the production process. Roughly 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production with some facilities using as much as 200 million gallons of water each year.

For more information about the Jordan Aquifer and water use in Iowa visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom talks environment, agriculture


Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom presented for the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition on Lecture Series at the Iowa Memorial Union on Thursday, November 20. (Photo by Nick Fetty)
Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom presented for the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Lecture Series at the Iowa Memorial Union on Thursday, November 20. (Photo by Nick Fetty)

Nick Fetty | November 21, 2014

Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom discussed environmental issues affecting Iowans as part of the montly University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Lecture Series Thurday night in the Iowa Memorial Union.

Bolkcom – who also serves as the Outreach and Community Education Director for the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research as well as the Iowa Flood Center – highlighted issues that farmers face with climate change in a state where agriculture drives the local economy.

“Keeping soil where it is is one of our top, if not our top challenge economically, water quality wise, and to address climate,” Bolkcom said.

By “keeping our soil” he is referred to runoff of topsoil which has been exacerbated by extreme weather events. Topsoil runoff and poor fertilizer application practices has also lead to increased pollution in Iowa waterways.

“The challenge for Iowa is we haven’t had the resources and when we have had the resources, we’ve not made the investments,” he said “If you want ag producers to do more conservation we have to come up with some more resources.”

Bolkcom said the state appropriated $4 million this year for resources to address topsoil runoff though more money will likely be necessary to fully correct the issue. He said the state legislature recently changed the state constitution so that next time there is a sale tax increase, three-eighths of a cent would go toward a fund to address environmental issues. Roughly 70 percent of Iowans expressed support for this environmental protection fund which is expected to generate about $150 million per year. Even though the state has not yet raised the three-eighths of a cent, Bolkcom said it would be a “game-changing investment.”

“It would create a bunch of jobs and it would start the work of cleaning up Iowa’s rivers, lakes, [and] streams,” he said. “It would start the work of putting together the kind of infrastructure on farms that we need because it’s going to take 10 or 20 years and our work’s never done.”

In addition to environmental issues affecting farmers, Bolkcom also discussed renewable energy.

“On the mitigation side its about trying to think about ways to produce energy more efficiently and in environmentally sound ways,” he said.

The wind energy industry is strong in Iowa and there has been a recent increase in solar energy as well. However Bolkcom said more can be done to embrace solar energy in the Hawkeye State.

“We’re kind of behind a number of other states. We’re behind a bunch of other countries in terms of the implementation of more solar technology,” he said.

Currently there are tax credits available at both the state and federal level to help businesses and individuals subsidize the cost for installing solar panels. The federal tax credit covers 30 percent of the cost while the state credit is 15 percent. However the federal credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016. Bolkcom said at this point its unclear whether the federal credit will be extended beyond 2016 which also leaves the future of the state-level credit uncertain.

“It’s not clear. Will the federal credits be extended? Don’t know. Can Iowa extend its credit in the absence of a federal credit? Yes, it would just be worth less money if it’s just Iowa’s credit but it might still be worth doing” he said, adding that this past year funding was boosted by $3 million.

Bolkcom concluded his lecture by returning to the topic of climate change. He said further focus on and acceptance of the effects of climate change are crucial for the future of Iowa.

“We’ve had this kind of debate where 50 percent of the time is for the 98 scientists that say we’ve got a big problem on our hands and 50 percent of the time to the two scientists that say no we don’t. So I’m fatigued by that and it’s time to move on.”

For more information about Thursday night’s lecture check out The Daily Iowan.

Community group aims to turn Iowa City into an “ecopolis”


Turning Iowa City into an "ecopolis" includes utilizing local renewable energy sources and constructing environmentally-friendly building (Tom Jacobs/Flickr)
Turning Iowa City into an “ecopolis” includes installing and utilizing local renewable energy sources as well as focusing on locally-grown agriculture (Tom Jacobs/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | November 20, 2014

A group of community members gathered in downtown Iowa City Tuesday to discuss ways in which Iowa City can become “the first regenerative city of the arts, food, renewable energy, and commerce in the heartland.”

The group aims to turn Iowa City into an “ecopolis” through increased renewable energy usage, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and local agriculture initiatives. These efforts would reduce fossil fuel usage between both local commuters and food being transported.

Jeff Biggers – writer in residence for the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability – is a major proponent of the Iowa City ecopolis project. Earlier this month he presented “An Evening at the Ecopolis: Rethinking Iowa City, Regenerating Food, Energy, Trees and the Way We Get Around,” a fictional narrative which “envisions Iowa City full of walkable and vibrant neighborhoods, milkweed to bring back the butterflies, high-tech architecture, easy public transportation, solar power, personal connections to nature and organic urban agriculture.” Biggers also points out that over a century ago, foreign visitors compared Iowa City to St. Omer in France, which has since embraced renewable energy methods and has developed pedestrian-friendly infrastructure.

Grant Schultz – owner of Versaland farm just outside of Iowa City – was the event’s keynote speaker and said that by May 2016 he hopes 90 percent of Iowa City residents live within 16 block (or one mile) of a community garden plot. On his own farm Schultz practices and teaches sustainable techniques such agroforestry and silvopasture.

Biggers and Schultz both helped to organize Tuesday’s event along with Miriam Alarcón Avila, Rockne Cole, Erica Damman, Mara Kardas-Nelson, and Carla Paciotto.

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(Grant Schultz/Facebook)

 

NASA graphic paints vivid picture of carbon dioxide’s movement through the atmosphere


Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.
Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.

A new, high-resolution computer model from NASA offers a stunning view of how carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas released through human activity, moves through Earth’s atmosphere.

The video (below) shows plumes of gas swirling from concentrated sources through the rest of the atmosphere as winds disperse them. What’s interesting to note is the visible differences in distribution between industrialized areas in the northern hemisphere and those further south. Carbon dioxide is emitted mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

The NASA model is the first to simulate carbon dioxide measurements in such high definition. In addition to ground-based carbon-release measurements, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in July to make even more detailed, space-based observations. While scientists have plenty of data about the levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere (the gas’s concentration exceeded 400 parts per million across most of the northern hemisphere for the first time in modern history this year), relatively little is known about the paths carbon dioxide takes as moves from source to the atmosphere and to absorption points in forests and oceans.

The visualization was produced by an advanced computer model called GEOS-5, which simulated the behavior of Earth’s atmosphere based on measurements of carbon dioxide and other gases from May 2005 to June 2007.

Increased water consumption in Iowa strains Jordan Aquifer


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Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)

Nick Fetty | November 18, 2014

Water demands in Iowa are exceeding the predominate aquifer’s ability to replenish itself and this could have detrimental long term effects on the state’s economy, according to the Des Moines Register.

The Jordan Aquifer – which also supplies water for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin – is the water source for approximately half a million Iowans. Cities such as Cedar Rapids, Fort Dodge, and Iowa City in particular are drawing water from the aquifer faster than it can replenish itself which means these communities could see restrictions on water usage if proactive efforts to curb water usage are not implemented.

The recent increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuel industry which requires large amounts of purified water during the production process. Some older facilities in Iowa use as much as 200 million gallons of water each year. Approximately 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production.

Last year families and businesses in Iowa used nearly 26 billion gallons of water from the aquifer. This is a 72 percent increase compared to water usage in the 1970s. Again much of the water usage can be attributed to the biofuels industry in Iowa which went into operation in the 1990s.

The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday to hear recommendations about whether immediate action is needed to preserve the aquifer. Concerns for aquifer retention are not unique the Midwest and have also affected the western United States and even the Middle East.

On the Radio: New energy efficiency standards for refrigerators


A woman grabs groceries from her refrigerator. (Illustration: Michelle Tribe / Creative Commons)
A woman grabs groceries from her refrigerator. (Illustration: Michelle Tribe / Creative Commons)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at new standards for refrigerators which could reduce energy consumption by up to 25 percent. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Refrigerator standards

New energy efficiency standards that went into place for refrigerators in September are expected to save customers on utility bills while also reducing their carbon footprint.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Department of Energy estimates that the standards will reduce refrigerator energy consumption by 20 to 25 percent. This is expected to save households up to 200 dollars on electricity bills annually. This is the first update to energy standards for refrigerators since 2001.

Long-term estimates from the Department of Energy show that over the next 30 years the new standards will reduce national energy consumption the equivalent of five percent of total energy used in the U.S. in a single year. It is also estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 344 million tons during the same period.

For more information about the new refrigerator standards and appliance rebates from Iowa utility companies, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-15/pdf/2011-22329.pdf
http://www.appliance-standards.org/blog/how-your-refrigerator-has-kept-its-cool-over-40-years-efficiency-improvements
http://thehill.com/regulation/217600-green-groups-cheer-new-refrigerator-standards
http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-your-homes-energy-use
http://www.midamericanenergy.com/ee/include/pdf/ia_res_reference_sheet.pdf
http://www.ilec.coop/aspx/Products.aspx?ProductID=83
http://www.easterniowa.com/energy-efficiency/rebates
https://www.blackhillsenergy.com/save-money-energy/rebate-information

14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference coming to Iowa City


The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16 and 17 on the University of Iowa campus. (Photo courtesy UI Office of Sustainability)
The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will be held Nov. 16 and 17 on the University of Iowa campus. (Photo courtesy UI Office of Sustainability)

Nick Fetty | November 14, 2014

The 14th Annual Iowa Organic Conference will take place November 16 and 17 at the Iowa Memorial Union on the University of Iowa campus.

The conference’s keynote speaker is Mary Berry who is the daughter of Wendell Berry, an American cultural critic, environmental activist, farmer, novelist, and poet. Ms. Berry is the executive director of the Berry Center, an agriculture-focused foundation based in New Castle, Kentucky.

The event will begin with a reception featuring locally and organically grown food and drink beginning at 6 p.m. on Sunday, November 16. Following the reception will be a screening of the movie Fresh which looks at local and organic food markets in the U.S. Sunday night will conclude with a concert by The Slow Draws Band.

The conference will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, November 17 with breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. Ms. Berry will give her presentation, “Rekindling the Light Within: The Art and Science of Organic Farming.” The rest of the day will consist of “breakout sessions” which will include presentations from United States Department of Agriculture representatives, Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg, and others. Lunch will feature a gourmet meal by award-winning UI Executive Chef Barry Greenberg consisting of locally and organically grown produce, meat, and dairy products.

Officials from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the ISU Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the UI Office of Sustainability worked together to organize this year’s event.

Cost of attendance is $115 ($35 for students) for anyone who has not already preregistered. For more information visit the UI Office of Sustainability website or contact Kathleen Delate at kdelate@iastate.edu.