Endangered mussel may be making a comeback in the Iowa River


The Higgins' eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year's Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)
The Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year’s Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)

After a week of scouring along the Iowa River, researchers and volunteers from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources made promising findings regarding Iowa River’s mussel population, a critical indicator of the waterway’s aquatic health.

The experts found 20 different species during the 2014 Mussel Blitz, an annual research project to assess the health and diversity of Iowa’s mussels. Among them was the Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was reintroduced to the river in 2003 by stocking fish with young specimens, at the time just the size of a grain of salt. Researchers found six adult Higgins’ eyes in the Iowa River during the Mussel Blitz, indicating that the species was able to mature in the waterway.

While mussels thrived in Iowa waterways for centuries, most have faced heavy setbacks due to damming, fluctuations in water levels and chemicals in the water. 43% of North America’s 300 mussel species are in danger of extinction, including 78 endangered or threatened species in the Midwest.

Since their primary threats are sedimentation and pollutants, mussels are important to Iowa’s waterways as indicators of aquatic health. Reproducing populations of mussels indicate good water quality and wildlife diversity, and mussels help purify the aquatic system by acting as natural filters. They’re also an important food source for otters, herons and some fish.

Research finds that carbon emissions from power plants are being underestimated


A power plant in Avedøre, Hovedstaden, Denmark. (Martin Nikolaj Bech/Flickr)
A power plant in Avedøre, Hovedstaden, Denmark. (Martin Nikolaj Bech/Flickr)

Scientists from Princeton University and the University of California-Irvine published a report earlier this week which suggests that carbon emission estimates are likely higher than previously estimated.

The study states that all of the world’s power plants will produce an additional 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide during their lifetime which “isn’t taken into account by current schemes to regulate these emissions.” Developing countries such as China and India are constructing new power plants which is dwarfing efforts by the U.S. and European countries to reduce carbon emissions.

The study’s authors Robert Socolow (professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton) and Steven Davis (professor of earth system science at UC-Irvine) developed a system they called “commitment accounting” which “assigns all the future emissions of a facility to the year when it begins working.” This method suggested that fossil fuel-burning power plants built worldwide in 2012 alone will produce 19 billion tons of carbon dioxide over a lifetime, factoring in that the plants operate for at least 40 years.

Prof. Socolow said the “Chinese power plant construction binge” has been going on since 1995. Power plants in China make up 42 percent of committed future emissions. India accounts for 8 percent while the U.S. and Europe combine for 20 percent.

Prof. Davis said that these projected emissions rates are not set in stone and could be lessened with the implementation of carbon capture technology or by retiring plants early.

On the Radio: Climate change puts corn yields at higher risk


Ears of corn ready to be eaten. ( Michael Dorausch/Flickr)
Corn, the United States’ biggest cash crop, is facing threats from multiple fronts. (Michael Dorausch/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new study which highlights the risks facing Iowa’s corn crops caused by changing environmental conditions. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Corn risk

The effects of climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices on corn production spell disaster for more than just farmers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Corn is the United States’ biggest cash crop, essential to products including meat, cereal, soda and ethanol.
This is why sustainable business consortium Ceres suggests that corn’s entire supply chain should be taking action to address changing environmental conditions.

Ceres recently released a report that provides guidelines for farmers, companies and investors seeking to preserve resources and increase long-term yields.

The study cites pollution from agricultural runoff, along with recent droughts and water shortages across the country that are predicted to increase. Ceres contends that these factors are combining to form a sizeable threat to the corn industry.

For more information about the Ceres study, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/12/321218265/study-climate-change-is-a-growing-threat-to-corn-production
http://www.ceres.org/issues/water/agriculture/the-cost-of-corn
http://www.ceres.org/about-us/who-we-are

Climate change could lead to increased mosquito, tick populations in Iowa


Environmental advocates warm that mosquito and tick populations in Iowa could increase because of climate change. (naturegirl 78/Flickr)
Environmental advocates warn that mosquito and tick populations in Iowa could increase because of climate change. (naturegirl 78/Flickr)

A report by the National Wildlife Federation released earlier this week finds that climate change could lead to an increase in mosquito and tick populations as well as stronger strains of poison ivy and more green algae blooms.

These effects will likely have a direct impact on the Hawkeye State. Iowa has seen increased amounts of rainfall precipitation and higher humidity levels in recent years, much of which can be attributed to climate change. Cases of West Nile Virus – the mosquito-borne illness that can lead to fevers and even death – have also been on the rise in Iowa in recent years. There were nine cases of West Nile Virus in Iowa in 2011 and by 2013 that number had increased to 44.

Higher temperatures and greater levels of precipitation will also affect other blood-sucking pests such as deer ticks, an insect that can withstand mild winters. More than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in the U.S.

These climate changes will not only affect insect populations but also plants. Increased carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels is expected to cause poison ivy to spread more easily and also be more potent. Green algae blooms have also been problematic in Iowa and this too is expected to worsen.

To combat these issues, the report calls for a reduction in carbon pollution through more efficient utilization of renewable energy sources as well as the implantation of certain safeguards for wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Great March for Climate Action reaches Iowa


Ed Fallon speaking at a political event prior to embarking on the Great March. Photo by Mike Hiatt; Flickr
Ed Fallon speaking at a political event prior to embarking on the Great March. Photo by Mike Hiatt; Flickr

 A former Iowa state representative and a group of dedicated citizens are marching through Iowa this week on a cross-country trek to raise awareness about climate change.

Ed Fallon’s Great March for Climate Action began on March 1st in Los Angeles, and will conclude in Washington D.C. before the midterm elections. By this time, Fallon and five other marchers will have walked approximately 3,000 miles. This core group has been joined by many others along the way who walk as far as they are able.

The aim of the March is to inspire the general public as well as lawmakers to take action on climate issues. The marchers are holding rallies and events along the route, attempting to reach the largest possible audience.

The marchers will walk through Iowa City this Wednesday, with a rally at 11:30 AM in the Ped Mall and a discussion of the EPA’s Clean Power Plant Rule at 7:00 PM at the Iowa City Public Library.

Iowa farmer uses the sun to power irrigation system


A solar array (h080/Flickr)
A solar array. (h080/Flickr)

A farmer near Sioux City has turned to solar energy to power his irrigation system, according to a report from the Sioux City Journal.

Dolf Ivener recently designed a center pivot irrigation system that runs on a 22-panel solar array in his farm near Whiting, Iowa. The solar panels produce enough power to propel the system around the field while spraying water or fertilizer through its pipes.

While heavy rain and record flooding in the Sioux City area earlier this summer prevented Ivener from getting the most out of his system, he expects the innovation to pay off over the next ten years. Nearly half the cost of installing the solar panels was covered by federal and state grants designed to encourage solar energy use.

The agriculture industry has led the way in solar energy applications, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Farmers in remote areas were some of the first to turn to solar energy as an alternative to kerosene, diesel and propane when grid connections were unavailable. A switch to renewable energy sources like solar could drastically reduce carbon emissions from farms.

County supervisors: Coralville lake plan is out of date


Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr
Coralville Lake. Photo by Alan Light; Flickr

According to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Coralville Lake’s management plan is in need of an update. They have requested funding from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to research and write a new plan.

The reservoir’s current plan has been in place since 1995, and the Supervisors say that it does not account for new conditions due to climate change. Ideally, local Corps officials would be able to make decisions about water levels without having to wait for federal approval. The discretion to make such decisions without waiting for bureaucracy might have prevented some of the damage done by the flood events of the last decade.

The County Supervisors rely heavily on information provided by the University of Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which monitors local flood conditions. If the management plan is successfully rewritten, the Supervisors could act quickly on IFC information during any future flood situation, and more efficiently handle an emergency situation.