On the Radio: Water quality meetings begin this week


A rock in the Cedar River near Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)
A rock in the Cedar River near Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment introduces a series of meetings being held by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on state water quality. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Water Meetings

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is seeking the public’s input on water quality through a series of meetings beginning in early September.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The meetings happen every three years, as part of a review process mandated by the Federal Clean Water Act. The DNR hopes to gather feedback from Iowans on what issues are important to them in order to set new water quality goals for Iowa’s rivers and streams.

The DNR will then consider the public’s responses and use the information to form an updated action plan for the next three years. This updated plan will also be available for public evaluation.

Meetings will begin on September 3rd, and one will be held in each of the six field office regions.

For more information and to find a meeting near you, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/RegulatoryWater/WaterQualityStandards/TriennialReview.aspx

http://www.iowadnr.gov/insidednr/ctl/detail/mid/2805/itemid/2091

Iowa Lakes Community College opens new green building for studies in energy, environment


The new Sustainable Energy Resources and Technologies (SERT) building  on the Iowa Lakes Community College Esterville campus was not only built with the environment in mind but also aims to prepare students for careers in energy and environmental fields.

The 30,000-square foot facility opened its doors last week and nearly everything on the inside is built from recycled or repurposed materials. The building was originally purchased during a sheriff’s auction in 2010 and was initially used for vehicle storage. Renovation of the new facility began in May of 2013 which included adding an “energy-efficient geothermal and photovoltaic HVAC system.” The building also has solar panels that not only generate energy but also teach students how photovoltaic systems work.

SERT is equipped with classroom spaces and other resources for two-year degrees in Engineering Technology, Electrical Technology, HVAC, Water Quality and Sustainable Aquatic Resources, Environmental Studies as well as Wind Energy and Turbine Technology classes. The college currently has about 60 students preparing to be wind turbine technicians as the industry continues to grow, particularly in Iowa. WindTest, a company based out of Germany, will also test prototype wind turnbines within a 25-mile radius of the campus. The opening of the new facility marked the 10th year anniversary of the college’s wind energy program.

Iowa Lakes Community College enrolls more than 3,000 students and has campuses in  Algona, Emmetsburg, Estherville, Spencer and Spirit Lake. The school opened its doors in 1966 and mostly serves students in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

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.

University of Iowa hosts international conference about environmental contamination


Water pollution in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)
Water contamination in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)

Beginning today and continuing through Friday, the University of Iowa is hosting a conference to discuss emerging contaminants and their effect on the environment.

EmCon 2014: Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment will feature speakers from all across the world, including a keynote speech from University of Iowa engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor. Representatives from various Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin) as well as Iowa State, Stanford and several other educational and governmental entities are scheduled to give speeches or other presentations. The event “will focus on the most recent developments and findings concerning the source, occurrence, fate, effects, and analysis of emerging contaminants in the environment, providing an ideal venue for exchange of cutting-edge ideas and information in this rapidly evolving research area.”

The first conference, EmCon 2007, was held in York, United Kingdom and brought in more than 100 attendees from all around the world. EmCon 2009 was in Fort Collins, Colorado and EmCon 2011 was in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The National Hydraulic Engineering Conference 2014 is also taking place in Iowa City this week. This event will focus on “sustainability in the design of infrastructure in a rapidly changing environment.”

EmCon 2014 begins at 4 p.m. today and the full schedule of events is available here.

On the Radio: Superweed spreads into Iowa fields


Palmer amaranth, an aggressive superweed found in five southern Iowa counties. (University of Delaware Carvel REC/Flickr
Palmer amaranth, an aggressive plant found in five southern Iowa counties so far. (University of Delaware Carvel REC/Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at palmer amaranth, an invasive superweed that has recently been spotted in five Iowa counties. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Superweed

A new superweed that can now be found in five southern Iowa border counties may pose a serious threat to Iowa farmers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Palmer amaranth is an extremely aggressive plant that can grow up to seven feet tall in a matter of weeks. It has only reached Iowa in the past year, but it has been seen in Southern states since as early as 2005.

Farmers who have dealt with the weed report that it has significantly reduced their crop yield. The weed’s rapid growth and superior size allow it to spread quickly and outcompete other plants.

Research is in progress to determine if Palmer amaranth may be herbicide resistant. If so, the plant would join the ranks of 20 other Iowa weeds that are unaffected by most weedkillers.

Herbicide resistant weeds force farmers to use stronger chemicals and increased tillage to preserve their crops, tactics which cause concern among environmental experts.

For more information about Palmer amaranth, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2014/06/22/superweeds-choke-farms/11231231/
http://www.extension.iastate.edu/CropNews/2014/0220hartzler.htm

Construction begins on Iowa’s second-largest hydroelectric plant


An artist rendering of the $380 million  Red Rock Hydroelectric Project (Missouri River Energy Services)
Artist rendering of the $380 million Red Rock Hydroelectric Project (via Missouri River Energy Services)

Construction is underway on a $280 million hydroelectric project near Pella that will be the second-largest hydroelectric plant in the state once completed.

The $380 million Red Rock Hydroelectric Project will retrofit the current Red Rock Dam and is expected to produce enough energy to power up to 18,000 homes across four states. The project is a collaboration between Missouri River Energy Services and the city of Pella.

Iowa’s largest hydroelectric facility is the Keokuk Power Plant on the Mississippi River. At the time of its construction in 1913, it was largest hydropower project in the world.

A 2012 study by the Department of Energy found that Iowa ranked 10th in the nation for hydropower potential. Data from the Energy Information Administration shows that in Iowa hydroelectric power generated a mere 67 GWh during April 2014. This compared to 1,854 GWh from coal and 1,768 GWh from other renewables such as wind and solar.

Officials expect construction on the Red Rock project to be completed by 2018.

Hemp-based electrodes show promise


A ball of hemp twine, one of the plant's many uses. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol; Flickr
A ball of hemp twine. Photo by Emilian Robert Vicol; Flickr

According to new research recently presented at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting, hemp may be able to increase the amount of energy that can be stored in supercapacitors.

Supercapacitors store energy, similar to the batteries that power many electronic devices. Unlike batteries that may take hours to transfer their energy, supercapacitors reduce this time to mere seconds. However, they can only store a fraction of the energy that batteries are able to.

Researchers are trying to solve this problem by building electrodes out of different materials. Graphene has been used in the past, but it is expensive; the researchers found that hemp bast, a fiber taken from the plant’s inner bark, is a much cheaper alternative. They heated the hemp fibers to rearrange the carbon atoms, resulting in 2D nanosheets that were used to construct electrodes. The final product was highly successful, performing “far better than commercial supercapacitors.”

Hemp, a variety of the Cannabis plant, is used in a wide variety of products, including food, paper, cloth, and oil.