Iowa State University ranked “greenest” college in Iowa

Image via eCollegeFinder

Image via eCollegeFinder

The annual Iowa-Iowa State football game is still seven weeks away but the Cyclones recently beat the Hawkeyes in a different kind of contest.

Iowa State was ranked as the “greenest” campus in Iowa according by a list compiled by College Prowler. The website did not provide the criteria used to judge each school but stated: “These days, schools boast a high number of LEED-certified facilities and sustainability initiatives. The following colleges and universities are striving for a more eco-friendly future.” Pitzer College – a liberal arts college with 1,084 undergraduates located in Claremont, Calif.  - took the top spot on the list with a perfect score of 10.

Iowa State was 46th overall with a score of 9.19. Other Iowa schools to make the list include Grinnell College at 64th (9.04), Luther College at 66th (9.01), Central College at 85th (8.93), the University of Northern Iowa at 134th (8.75), and the University of Iowa at 279th (8.45).

Iowa State University has two buildings that have achieved platinum-level LEED certification, three at the gold-level, and one at silver. The university also has several LEED projects currently under construction. In 2013, Iowa State received gold certification from STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) because of its sustainable programs and initiatives.

The University of Iowa has two buildings with platinum-level LEED certification, six at gold, and several projects in the works. Iowa also received golf certification from STARS and continues to work on various sustainability projects.

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will duke it out for state bragging rights on gridiron on September 13. This year’s contest is in Iowa City and kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

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$1.4 million towards water quality improvement

Skunk River east of Cambridge, IA.  Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

Skunk River east of Cambridge, IA.
Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

Last week, the state of Iowa made $1.4 million available to farmers in an effort to improve water quality through nutrient reduction practices. Farmers have now claimed all of these funds and will match the amount, bringing the total to $2.8 million.

The 597 farmers who received funds plan to either plant cover crops, utilize no-till or strip-till cultivation, or apply a nitrification inhibitor.

Earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated $11.2 million for environmental conservation, but the amount was vetoed by Gov. Terry Branstad.

According to a report by the Iowa Policy Project, the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy needs more funding in order to succeed.


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USGS study finds waterways have high levels of neonicotinoid in Iowa, Midwest

The Raccoon River near Water Works Park in Des Moines. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

The Raccoon River near Water Works Park in Des Moines.
Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

A new study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) finds that waterways in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest are experiencing particularly high levels of an insecticide known as neonicotinoid.

Farmers and gardeners use neonicotinoids – or neonics – because their effectiveness against a whole range of pests. However, the insecticide has been linked to decreased bee populations as well as a fall in the number of certain prairie bird species.

Neonics – which are chemically similar to nicotine - disolve in water quickly which means they’re susceptible to running off fields and polluting rivers, streams, and other waterways. A 2013 Dutch report found that imidacloprid – one of the chemicals in neonicotinoid – had harmful effects on “a wide range of non-target species.” Similarly, a 2014 Canadian study found neonics to be detrimental on wetland ecosystems.

The use of clothianidin – another chemical found in neonicotinoid – on corn in Iowa nearly doubled from 2011 to 2013. In 2013 the Iowa DNR released a 114-page report examining polluted waterways throughout the state.

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Agricultural and environmental interests may be at odds

Photo by OakleyOriginals; Flickr

Photo by OakleyOriginals; Flickr

Earlier this week, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and several other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee met with U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. The aim of the closed-door meeting was to clarify several intersections between environmental regulations and agricultural practices.

However, the meeting failed to resolve tensions between the two interests. Grassley released a statement noting his discontent with the EPA’s efforts, stating that “the meeting did little to alleviate [his] concerns.”

Issues discussed in the meeting included methane emission regulations, the amount of ethanol in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, and U. S. Supreme Court decisions on the 1972 Clean Water Act. EPA officials maintain that agricultural exemptions are still in place, while Republican senators claim that the Agency is overreaching.

Republican committee members had called for the meeting in a May 23 letter.

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Imagine Energy Traveler available to RAGBRAI riders

The Imagine Energy Traveler. Photo via

The Imagine Energy Traveler.
Photo via

The Imagine Energy Traveler – a mobile solar energy generator and educational tool – will be part of the 431-mile trek for this week’s RAGBRAI.

The trailer has amenities that allow RAGBRAI riders and other patrons to charge cell phones and other mobile devices using solar-generated energy. Patrons can also enjoy free popcorn made in a solar powered machine. The trailer also showcases various energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and aims to educate users about these practices.

The Iowa Renewable Energy Association began fundraising, planning, and designing the trailer in 2013 and the following year, Dr. Craig Lust, an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, joined the effort. Funding was made possible through a grant from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) – “a federal program designed to improve the research capacity of eligible states or regions, making them nationally competitive for future grants.”

The Imagine Energy Traveler has made stops at several county fairs and other festivals in eastern Iowa this summer. Currently the traveler can be reserved for free for various events on a first come first served basis. The trailer will be on the University of Iowa campus on October 15 and 16 as part of Meeting the Renewable Energy Challenge event.

Edit: Due to logistical issues, the Imagine Energy Traveler project was not completed on time and therefore not part of RAGBRAI or any other events. 

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Cooler temps offer needed relief for RAGBRAI bikers

Cyclists ride through rural Iowa during RAGBRAI (Dave Herholz/Flickr)

Cyclists ride through rural Iowa during RAGBRAI (Dave Herholz/Flickr)

After enduring two days of high temperatures and gusting winds, RAGBRAI cyclists will get a much-needed reprieve from the heat during Wednesday’s leg of the ride.

Today’s RAGBRAI route takes bikers from Forest City to Mason City, a distance of 38.5 miles. Conditions in both cities are dry and mild, with comfortable temperatures and low wind. Cyclists were greeted in Forest City yesterday by above-average temperatures and wind gusts at up to 30 miles per hour. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for western Iowa Monday and Tuesday which was lifted Tuesday night.

With average summer temperatures in Iowa expected to increase over the next few decades, RAGBRAI will become even more challenging for bikers who make the trek across the state. Extreme heat combined with exercise can cause elevated heart rate, and increased sweating can lead to dehydration and electrolyte depletion, putting even more strain on the heart. A respected cyclist suffered a fatal heart attack during Monday’s RAGBRAI route, the first cyclist to die during RAGBRAI since 2010.

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Australian engineering students aim to set world record for fastest solar-powered vehicle

Engineering students at the University of New South Wales have recently designed a solar-powered car that they hope will set the Guinness World Record for “highest average speed over a 500 km (310 mi) distance.”

Members of Sunswift, the team responsible for designing the car, are confident that its newest model – the eVe – will be able to beat the current record of 45 mph (73 km/h) set in 1988. The eVe has a top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h) and is capable of covering nearly 500 miles (800 km) on a single charge. The eVe is the fifth car the Sunswift team has built and raced since the group’s founding in 1996.

The record-breaking attempt will take place on Wednesday, July 23 at the Australian Automotive Research Centre in Anglesea, Victoria. The event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time. Follow Sunswift on Twitter for the latest information.

The American Solar Challenge will travel through Iowa later this week and will feature a solar-powered car built by students at Iowa State University.

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