Pipeline deliberations: Easements rejected by nearly 300 Iowa landowners

A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
KC McGinnis | February 10, 2016

As Iowa utility regulators continue to debate a proposed pipeline from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota that would run diagonally through the state, nearly 300 Iowa landowners have already rejected offers for the pipeline to run through their land.

The owners of 296 parcels of Iowa land have so far refused attempts by Texas-based Dakota Access LLC to provide easements in exchange for permission to build the 30-inch-diameter pipeline on their land. Concerns range from the pipeline’s safety to its effects on crops and limitations on expansion. Along with the risks associated with increasing fossil fuel use, farmers are worried the pipeline could affect their tile drainage lines or the yields of plants grown above the pipeline. Pipeline builders would need to replace significant amounts of valuable topsoil for the crops to stay viable — something developers have been told they are no longer required to do if it is “infeasible” to do so according to a rule change last year.

According to a report in the Des Moines Register regulators spent part of Tuesday looking at maps of Boone, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, where farmers have either refused to sell their land or suggested the pipeline be built around their land. Landowners and opponents of the pipeline are skeptical that it would bring any tangible benefits to Iowans, a key argument at stake in whether or not to grant the company eminent domain, or the right to seize private land for use that contributes to a public good.

Hy-Vee seafood now fully sourced from environmentally responsible producers

A recently constructed Hy-Vee store in New Hope, Minnesota. (Flickr)
A Hy-Vee store in New Hope, Minnesota. (Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 10, 2016

Hy-Vee Inc. announced this month that it has met its goal of procuring 100 percent of its seafood from environmentally responsible producers.

The Midwestern grocery store chain – which has more than 230 stores in eight states – set the goal in 2011 to procure 100 percent of its seafood from environmentally sustainable sources by 2015. As of December of 2015, “100% of Hy-Vee’s fresh and private label frozen seafood met the goal of being responsibly sourced.”

For this initiative, Hy-Vee partnered with FishWise, an environmental nonprofit that promotes the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems and the people that depend on them through environmentally and socially responsible business practices. Together the two entities have transitioned nearly 5 million pounds of seafood to responsible sources.

Seafood purchased is rated as Green ‘Best Choice’ or a Yellow ‘Good Alternative’ according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Responsible sourcing of seafood is just part of Hy-Vee’s commitment to sustainability which also includes efficient store design, energy and resources conservation, and waste reduction and recycling efforts.

Hy-Vee was founded in Beaconsfield, Iowa in 1930. Today the employee-owned company is headquartered in West Des Moines and has more than 140 stores across the Hawkeye State.


Pipeline deliberations: Iowa regulators, not just federal, can uphold environmental standards

A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
A map of the pipeline route proposed by Texas-based Dakota Access, LLC
KC McGinnis | February 9, 2016

During the first of four days of deliberations, an attorney for the Iowa Utilities Board contested the claim that Iowa utility regulators are not authorized to enforce environmental regulations on the proposed Bakken pipeline beyond what the federal government requires, according to the Globe Gazette.

The Iowa Utilities Board began discussions Monday over the possibility of granting a pipeline permit to Texas-based Dakota Access LLC for the construction of an oil pipeline starting in North Dakota and terminating in Illinois. Dakota Access has claimed that the state’s environmental standards for the pipeline cannot exceed federal guidelines. Board general counsel David Lynch disagreed, arguing that state regulators can refuse a permit based on environmental concerns.

There is still disagreement on whether or not the Bakken pipeline meets environmental standards because Dakota Access has used a different organization to determine the environmental risks than the Iowa state archaeologist. According to the Sierra Club, only about 20% of the proposed pipeline route is sufficiently protected in environmental terms.

Board members are also being asked to consider the impacts of increased fossil fuel usage on the environment in Iowa and beyond. Studies have shown that more fossil fuels need to remain in the ground to prevent climate change reaching the 2 degree celsius threshold.

On The Radio – USDA announces new initiative for Iowa farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack speaks during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 8, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at an initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide farmers and livestock producers with more funding for conservation efforts.

Transcript: USDA announces new initiative for Iowa farmers

Iowa farmers and livestock producers could receive additional funding to implement soil and water conservation practices thanks to a recent initiative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In January, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will expand access to its conservation programs to include an additional 85,000 acres of sensitive lands in Iowa. Additionally, the initiative will provide more funding for technical assistance and capital improvements and encourage state partners to identify priorities for an improved “watershed-based strategy” for nutrient management.

USDA has invested more than 2-point-2-billion-dollars in Iowa conservation efforts and has helped to enroll more than 4-point-5-million-acres of Iowa working lands in USDA conservation programs since 2009. USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program has led to a reduction of 260 million pounds of nitrogen and 534 million pounds of phosphorus in the Mississippi River Basin between 2008 and 2013.

In addition to protecting farmland, the initiative also encourages the restoration of wetlands and other natural habitats. The initiative also aims to strengthen cooperation between public and private entities working together on conservation efforts.

For more information about this initiative, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot org.

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

Drainage and water quality research site celebrates 25th year

A screen shot from an Iowa State University Extension video highlighting the Gilmore City research site. (YouTube)
A screen shot from an Iowa State University Extension video highlighting the Gilmore City research site. (YouTube)
KC McGinnis | January 5, 2016

In 1988, researchers at Iowa State University proposed a site that would measure the impacts of varying crop rotations and fertilizing techniques on water quality. This year the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Research and Demonstration Site near Gilmore City celebrates 25 years of operation, highlighted in a video released by the Iowa State University Extension.

“It’s probably one of the longest running drainage research facilities in the country,” said Iowa State University Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Matt Helmers in the video.

Researchers have used the experimental plot of land to analyze different nutrient techniques and their effects on water quality. Over the years they’ve had the advantage of observing the use of those strategies in a variety of weather conditions, making their findings useful around the country.

“That farm has been critical,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey in the video, “and now it’s been replicated at other farms around Iowa and other states as well.”

Perhaps what makes the Gilmore City research facility most special is its longevity, which allows researchers to see not just short-term effects but long-term as well.

“It takes studies like this that have been in place for 25 years and counting to be able to answer some of the important questions facing agriculture,” said Iowa State Associate Dean in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences John Lawrence in the video.

See the full video here:

UI speaker to talk urban food movement

Tim-McCollow, Project Manager of Milwaukee Home Gr/Own, City of Milwaukee, speaks at the UW-Milwaukee 2014 Henry W. Maier State of Milwaukee Summit. (Vimeo)
Tim McCollow, Project Manager of Milwaukee Home Gr/Own, City of Milwaukee, speaks at the UW-Milwaukee 2014 Henry W. Maier State of Milwaukee Summit. (Vimeo)
KC McGinnis | February 4, 2016

An influential voice in the urban food movement will speak at the University of Iowa tonight.

Tim McCollow, Project Manager of Milwaukee’s Home Gr/Own initiative, will speak at Phillips Hall at the University of Iowa campus at 7 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.

McCollow will speak from his experience transforming city vacancies into projects like community gardens that increase access to healthy produce and increase greenspace in cities. The Home Gr/Own initiative, in effect since 2013, attempts to solve both Milwaukee’s foreclosure crisis and the food crisis by using vacant lots and foreclosed homes to improve the community food system.

The program looks at Milwaukee’s over 2,400 vacant lots and foreclosed homes as spaces for forms of urban agriculture like raised bed gardens, plant nurseries, compost farms, food recycling sites and even Christmas tree farms. Old buildings can even be used to grow mushrooms.

The talk looks to be a valuable resource for community members and policy makers looking at new forms of sustainable agriculture that could solve current land use problems in urban areas.

Study by University of Iowa alumnus examines ability to feed communities with local food

This map shows the ability of people to eat locally in different parts of the country. (University of California-Merced)
Nick Fetty | February 3, 2016

A University of California-Merced environmental engineering professor recently published a study which found that most of the country could grow enough food within 50 miles to feed up to 100 percent of a particular area’s population.

Dr. Elliott Campbell’s study – “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States” – was published as the cover story in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this month. Campbell and his research team used data from a farmland-mapping project funded by the National Science Foundation and information about land productivity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map out the ability of different communities to feed their populations with locally-produced food. Campbell also used data from University of California Global Food Initiative in his study. The researchers examined data for the period between 1850 and 2000.

Campbell said his findings could have an affect on public policy.

“Going into this study, I expected some potential for local food systems and certainly some drawbacks. The overall result was very positive. It’s drawn a strong response from the public, the media and the academic community. And it definitely has the potential to shape public policy. It’s exciting,” he said in a Q&A with the UC Food Observer.

Campbell’s work was lauded by Michael Pollan, an author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC-Berkeley.

“Elliott Campbell’s research is making an important contribution to the national conversation on local food systems,” Pollan said in a press release. “That conversation has been hobbled by too much wishful thinking and not enough hard data — exactly what Campbell is bringing to the table.”

Campbell holds a B.S. and M.S. in environmental engineering from Stanford University and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. Elliott also served as a researcher for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research during his time at Iowa.