DNR looking for Iowans’ input on water quality

Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced a series of public meetings to review the state’s water quality standards. The open discussions, which occur triennially in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, will be held throughout Iowa in early September.

Iowans with ideas and opinions about state water quality goals are encouraged to attend one of the events. After the meetings, the department will review the public’s suggestions and adjust their work plan accordingly.

Rochelle Weiss, DNR water quality standards coordinator, describes the meetings as “the public’s opportunity to tell us what is important to them.”

Visit the DNR’s website to find a meeting near you, and find out more about the review process here.

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Iowa’s largest solar farm opens in Kalona

The largest solar array in Iowa will host its grand opening today in rural Kalona, approximately 25 miles southwest of Iowa City.

The array will feature 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This is almost three times the size of the state’s current largest solar array located on the north edge of the Luther College campus in Decorah. The Kalona farm is expected to generate about 1.1 million kilowatt hours per year which is enough energy to power roughly 120 homes.

The project is a collaboration between Farmers Electric Cooperative and Eagle Point Solar. Farmers Electric Cooperative was formed in 1916 and is based out of Frytown just north of Kalona. The cooperative provides electricity for about 650 members in rural eastern Iowa and aims to generate 15% of its energy using renewable sources by 2025.

Eagle Point Solar is a Dubuque-based solar panel company with more than a dozen projects in Dubuque, Peosta and New Vienna in Iowa as well as Galena and East Dubuque in Illinois. Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Eagle Point Solar was not violating state law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque generated by solar panels on the roofs of city buildings. The ruling was viewed as a major win for solar energy advocates.

In an editorial published in the Des Moines Register, CNA Corp.’s Military Advisory Board member Ronald Keys said renewable energy sources such as the Kalona solar farm “is good not just for Iowa’s economy and environment, but it also helps set the tone for how to secure our nation’s energy, economic and security future.”

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West Nile virus arrives early in Iowa

Photo by Gerald Yuvallos; Flickr

Photo by Gerald Yuvallos; Flickr

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, three cases of the West Nile virus have been reported in Iowa so far this year. The mosquito-borne virus has appeared in the state during early autumn since 2002.

So far, one human case has been reported in each of three counties: Clay, Monona, and Woodbury. The State Hygienic Laboratory, which also tests mosquitos, reports that one mosquito pool has tested positive for the virus.

Symptoms of the virus may include fever, aches and vomiting. More serious symptoms, including brain swelling, affect less than one percent of infected people.

Officials encourage Iowans to use insect repellent when outdoors, especially during evenings, and to avoid standing water.

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Video highlights Iowa farmer challenged by weather extremes

Wet fields in Centerville, Iowa. (David Morris/Flickr)

Wet fields in Centerville, Iowa. (David Morris/Flickr)

Extreme weather is taking a toll on Corning, Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser, as seen in a recent video produced by documentary organization The Story Group.

Gaesser, who has been farming for over 45 years, said extreme weather has become more common over the last ten years, during which his costs of growing crops have gone up almost five times. Among the added expenses were new machinery and costly soil infrastructure investments.

The extreme weather also means lost time for farmers in Iowa, where heavy rain in June and July reduced suitable fieldwork days to less than two per week in some parts of the state, making it more difficult for farmers like Gaesser to maintain their crops.

According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, human-induced global warming is responsible for the increased number and strength of extreme weather events like heavy downpours. These increases are attributed to warmer air, which can hold more water vapor than cooler air. The greatest increase in heavy rain has been seen in the Northeast and Midwest.

With the National Climate Assessment predicting an increase in climate disruptions to agricultural production over the next 25 years, farmers like Gaesser will need to further adapt to lost days in the field and added stresses like crop disease and soil erosion. These adaptation measures will be necessary to prevent serious consequences for food security in the United States.

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University of Michigan wins 2014 American Solar Challenge, Iowa State University finishes 3rd

The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge which ended Tuesday. Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr

The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge.
Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr

For the fifth-straight year, the University of Michigan took first place at the American Solar Challenge which concluded Monday.

Michigan’s race team – which included roughly 20 students – overcame its fair share of setbacks including various mechanical problems earlier in the summer as well as acceleration issues at the start of the race. The Wolverines persevered though and finished just 10 minutes ahead of Big Ten rival Minnesota to take the gold. Team PrISUm from Iowa State University finished third. The Cyclone team was briefly slowed down after being pulled over by law enforcement while driving through Wisconsin.

The eight-day race – which went from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis this year – gives engineering students from across the country the opportunity to design, build, and race a solar-powered car. The first American Solar Challenge was in 1990 and has occurred every other year since with some irregularity. This year’s event featured teams from 22 different universities including representation from countries as far away as Germany, Iran, and Taiwan.

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Iowa State University researchers find new potential in miscanthus

A miscanthus field in Japan. Photo via Wikipedia

A miscanthus field in Japan.
Photo via Wikipedia

Researchers at Iowa State University have discovered that Iowa’s soil may help miscanthus – a perennial tall grass – to produce higher yields of biomass than once thought.

Iowa State Agronomists think that this Asian plant will not only provide a source for biomass energy but will also help to protect the environment. The study focused specifically on miscanthus x giganteus, “a sterile hybrid of the plant that cannot reproduce from seed and spreads slowly.”

The study found that this hybrid plant has a low mortality rate even in Iowa’s harsh winters. Agronomists also found that crop yields in the second year were similar to yields in the third year, which is when the plant generally hits its peak production. The full report was published in June in the journal Industrial Crops and Products and additional information about biomass production from miscanthus is also available through the ISU Department of Agronomy.

The University of Iowa has utilized the plant as part of its Biomass Fuel Project which aims to achieve 40 percent renewable energy by 2020. In 2013, 16 acres of miscanthus were planted in Muscatine County and earlier this year an additional 15 acres were planted just south of Iowa City.

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New biomedical building features first green rooftop on University of Iowa campus

The Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa campus. Photo by Matthew Anderson; Flickr

The Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa campus.
Photo by Matthew Anderson; Flickr

The University of Iowa’s new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building (PBDB) is the first building on campus to feature a green rooftop.

Crews began planting various perennial sedums – such as black-eyed Susan alliums, liatris, and hostas – in the spring. These plants are expected to provide several perks from a social and aesthetic perspective to environmental and sustainability benefits. The green rooftop is expected to not only save money on energy costs but also help to control water runoff and mitigate erosion. This rooftop greenery was key to the PBDB receiving gold-level LEED certification.

The University of Iowa has two buildings with platinum-level LEED certification and six that have achieved gold status. A recent list compiled by College Prowler ranked the University of Iowa the 279th greenest college campus in the nation and 6th amongst colleges in Iowa.

However, the PBDB will not be the only building on campus to utilize a green roof. The new Art Building – which is expected to be completed by 2016 – is projected to include a 14,600-square-foot rooftop garden, more than double the size the garden (6,440-square feet) on PBDB’s roof. The PBDB open earlier this month and is expected to be fully operational in the coming months.

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