Report surveys water recreation in Iowa, U.S.

Summer Fun Index vIA-page-001

Nick Fetty | September 2, 2015

A recent report by the Environment America Research & Policy Center analyzes outdoor water recreation in Iowa and the rest of the country.

The 8-page report – entitled Summer Fun Index: Counting the Ways We Enjoy Clean Water – was released on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Water Rule which went into effect August 28.

John Rumpler – a senior attorney for Environment America – was the lead author of the report which surveyed outdoor water recreation in 28 states. The researchers found that nearly half a million Americans visited 2,201 state and national parks (includes various types of national park units) with waterways during the summer of 2015. Additionally, nearly 17 million Americans registered for fishing licenses while nearly 8 million registered boats during 2015. The report ranked the top-five states in the following categories: number of visitors to state and national parks with waterways, summer camps with water activities, licensed fishers, and registered boaters. Iowa did not crack the top-five in any of the categories.

The report concluded with several recommendations for ways to keep American waterways safe or to make them safer. Recommendations included requiring “permits with stringent, enforceable standards” for facilities that threaten waterways, implementing stricter fines so that it “no longer pays to pollute,” disallowing projects that “pave over or otherwise degrade our wetlands,” “establishing numeric pollution limits and enforceable clean up plans for all waters too polluted” for recreation or wildlife, and providing tools and resources so communities can “prevent runoff pollution and end sewage overflows.”

This marks the second year Environment America has released its Summer Fun Index.

Iowa Stats

  • State & national parks* with waterways: 69
  • Visitors to state & national parks* with waterways: 14,317,288
  • Summer camps offering water activities: 22
  • Licensed fishers: 359,767
  • Registered boats: 221,939

* For these purposes, “national parks” include various types of national park units

November U.N. climate conference aims for universal agreement

(Elliot Gilfix/Flickr)
(Elliot Gilfix/Flickr)
KC McGinnis | September 1, 2015

World leaders will gather in Paris this November in hopes of reaching an international agreement on climate change and mitigation standards.

The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from the 196 states that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will seek to reach a unanimous and legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2°C that can be implemented by 2020.

“We therefore have a historic responsibility, as we are the first generation to really become aware of the problem and yet the last generation that can deal with it,” said French minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development in a Youtube statement.

To reach this agreement, member countries will be required to submit documentation of their contributions to greenhouse gas reductions, which will be summarized to give a broad picture of their efforts. Participants will then discuss tangible steps and options for reducing their carbon footprints, such as renewable energy, carbon taxes, technological innovations and sustainable agricultural practices.

The challenge for COP21 will be to prove that international negotiations between large member states with complex agendas can in fact be fruitful. Last year’s COP20 conference in Lima, Peru was blasted by the convention’s Women & Gender Constituency, who claimed that it “failed to move substantially forward towards the ultimate goal of agreeing on a plan to avert climate catastrophe.”

“Governments should be immediately implementing a renewable and safe energy transformation,” wrote Bridget Burns, of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, “but here at COP 20 in Lima, in spite of working almost 2 days overtime, they did not come close to reaching this goal.”

COP21 could prove to be either a crucial point in the fight against climate change or another failed attempt at the kind of global cooperation scientists agree is necessary to prevent catastrophic effects of climate change like rapid sea level rise.

On The Radio: Iowa cattle producers honored with environmental award

Glenn and Bev Rowe on their Union County farm. (IowaAgribusiness/YouTube)
Bev and Glenn Rowe on their Union County farm. (IowaAgribusiness/YouTube)
August 31, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at two Iowa cattle producers and their efforts to maintain an environmentally-sustainable operation. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Iowa cattle producers honored with environmental award

Two southwest Iowa cattle producers were recently honored for their efforts to maintain an environmentally-sustainable operation.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Earlier this year, Glenn and Bev Rowe of Lorimor  were named regional winners of the National Cattle Association’s Environmental Stewardship Award Program. The Rowes were honored because of several sustainability projects they partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for, including rotational grazing, rural pipeline installation, and stream bank stabilization.

The couple first started with a small cattle herd in rural Dallas County in 1969 and now manage roughly 1,000 acres in Union County. In addition to cattle grazing land, the farm also includes 250 acres of no-till cropland as well as about 40 acres of wildlife refuge.

The Rowes will now compete with the winners from six other regions for a change to take the top spot in the nation which will be announced during the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in San Diego this January.

For more information about the Rowes and their award visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Rhawn Denniston

Rhawn Denniston is a CGRER members and a professor of geology at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. (Cornell College)
Rhawn Denniston is a CGRER member and a professor of geology at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Cornell College)

Nick Fetty | August 28, 2015

Rhawn Denniston first got involved with CGRER as a PhD student at the University of Iowa and continues to remain a member now on the faculty at Cornell College. He worked closely with CGRER co-founder Greg Carmichael while at the UI and said the connections he established at CGRER helped to make his current research possible.

“Two of my recent National Science Foundation grants were made possible because CGRER provided me the financial support to perform the preliminary fieldwork and obtain some initial data,” he said. “I published a paper two months ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on the nature and origins of Australian hurricane activity over last two millennia, and CGRER funding was instrumental in getting this project up and running. Similarly, CGRER support has jump-started a project with colleagues from Iowa State on the North Atlantic Oscillation, a major driver of European rainfall variability.”

While many of CGRER’s members come from large research-based universities, Denniston represents a small liberal arts college with approximately 1,100 undergraduate students. He said the partnership between the two institutions helps CGRER to serve as a resource for the entire state of Iowa.

“The connection between CGRER and liberal arts colleges represents a wonderful cross-pollination of ideas and talents,” he said. “By linking and supporting people from a wide array of backgrounds and interests, CGRER acts as an amplifier for environmental research. And because a substantial percentage of students at small liberal arts colleges like Cornell College are Iowans, the work CGRER does with faculty from these institutions enriches the experience of undergraduates outside the U of I.”

This article is part of a series of stories profiling CGRER members in commemoration of the center’s 25th anniversary this October.

UI Study: More consumers choosing locally-produced foods

A shot from the Iowa City Farmers Market in 2011. (Alan Light/Flickr)
A shot from the Iowa City Farmers Market in 2011. (Alan Light/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | August 27, 2015

A new study by researchers at the University of Iowa finds that American consumers are choosing to shop at local food markets more than ever before.

The study was led by Ion Vasi, an associate professor with joint appointments in the Department of Sociology and the Tippie College of Business, who shared his findings during the American Sociology Association Annual meeting in Chicago last weekend. Vasi found that consumers are supporting local food producers not just because they think the food tastes better but also because they like knowing who grows their food.

“It’s not just about the economical exchange; it’s a relational and ideological exchange as well,” Vasi told Iowa Now.

Farmers markets, food cooperatives, community-supported agriculture providers (CSAs), and other local food markets create what sociologists call a “moralized market,” which allows consumers to combine economic activities with their social values. Vasi’s research found that communities with a strong commitment to civic participation, health, and the environment were more likely to be supportive of local food markets. These markets were also more likely to thrive in areas with higher levels of education and income and where institutions of higher education are located. Researchers on this project conducted 40 interviews with producers and consumers in different local food markets in Iowa and New York.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show there were 8,268 farmers markets in the U.S. in 2014 compared to 3,706 in 2004. The data also show that Iowa currently has 229 farmers markets.

Public tours UI power plant, miscanthus fields

(Clarity R. Guerra/UI Office of Strategic Communications)

Nick Fetty | August 26, 2015

The University of Iowa on Tuesday hosted a field day to allow members of the public to tour the power plant as well as plots of a renewable energy source known as miscanthus.

Tuesday’s event was the third field day the UI has hosted for its Biomass Fuel Project which “aims to assess and improve university power plant facilities, biomass feedstock, and community awareness and education in biomass energy.” The Biomass Fuel Project is one part of the UI’s 2020 Vision which outlines ways for the UI to generate 40 percent of its on-campus energy usage from renewable sources by the 2020.

U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack spoke at Tuesday’s event and lauded the UI’s efforts on this project.

“It’s about making sure we create energy that is cleaner than what we did traditionally, and what we do to some extent today,” he said. “Economically it’s the right thing to do, and in so many other ways it’s the right thing to do.”

Loebsack also praised the UI for its effort to collaborate with Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa on the project. Emily Heaton is a professor of agronomy at ISU and she also spoke at Tuesday’s event. Heaton studies the science behind miscanthus, a perennial tall grass native to Asia, which the UI hopes to begin using to fuel the power plant. She said miscanthus offers “ecosystem services” not available with other renewable energy sources. Those services include miscanthus’ ability to pull carbon dioxide from the air and return it to the soil. Additionally, miscanthus’ deep root system helps prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff into nearby waterways.

In addition to partnering with the other regent universities, UI has also partnered with landowners and growers in Johnson, Linn, and Muscatine counties to harvest the crop. The project started with a 16-acre plot in 2013 and today the UI maintains approximately 350 acres. Miscanthus’ height (at 10 to 12 feet) allows it to produce a higher yield per acre when compared to other similar biomass options.

Though UI officials are still in the experimental stages for using miscanthus as a fuel source, they hope that it will eventually be able to supply 10 percent of the campus’ energy usage.

VIDEO: KGAN – UI Using More Sustainable Energy

Hewitt Creek farmers work together to improve water quality

Jeff Pape, chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, talks to media and the public during a recent tour of the Hewitt Creek watershed group (
Jeff Pape, chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, talks to media and the public during a recent tour of the Hewitt Creek watershed group (
KC McGinnis | August 25, 2015

A group of farmers and residents in northeast Iowa believes it has developed an effective model for restoring water quality in their watershed.

The Hewitt Creek watershed, located near Dyersville, consists of about 23,000 acres, mostly used for agriculture. After being added to Iowa’s list of impaired waters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, residents and producers formed the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association in 2006, with funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Water Improvement fund. The group gives incentives to farmers to implement the Hewitt Creek Model, a performance-based environmental management plan that seeks sustainability through cooperation and the sharing of information among residents and producers to reach common water quality goals.

Jeff Pape, chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Improvement Association, spoke to a group of citizens, journalists and elected officials during a bus tour of the watershed in August. He recounted the disappearance of predatory birds that once used the Hewitt Creek waterway as a source of food, and the reappearance of these birds after the watershed group’s efforts helped restore water quality.

The group seeks to start discussions with area farmers about water quality, as well as with researchers who can help them assess factors like nitrogen and phosphorus output and soil erosion. They then incentivize various forms of sustainable practice including cover crops and tillage alternatives including no-till.

Project participation in the watershed has reached 85% among local farmers, according to Pape. That’s led to season-long average nitrate levels below 10 parts per million for four of the past five years, an improvement over the first five years of the program. Phosphorus levels also took a dip in recent years, dropping to 1 parts per million after rain events.

Improvements to the Hewitt Creek Watershed will likely lead to increased plant and aquatic biodiversity, which can in turn lead to increased recreational uses like fishing. Click here for more information about the Hewitt Creek Model.