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.

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.

EPA awards Oskaloosa $400K grant


Swans swim on a pond near Forest Cemetery in Oskaloosa. (Aaron McIntyre/Fickr)
Swans swim on a pond at Forest Cemetery in Oskaloosa. (Aaron McIntyre/Fickr)

The Iowa city of Oskaloosa has been awarded a $400,000 grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which will be used to “to help eliminate waste and hazardous materials.”

The city was awarded the Brownfield Assessment Grant which aims “to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, successfully clean up, and reuse brownfields.” Brownfields are properties, expansions, developments, or reuses which may be compromised by the presence or suspected presence of hazardous pollutants, substances, or other contaminants. Officials with the City of Oskaloosa will seek public input for determining the community’s most polluted sites.

The grant is broken down into two categories: $200,000 for hazardous substances and $200,000 for petroleum specifically. An EPA study found that the grant has helped to improve residential property values by 5.1 percent to 12.8 percent near brownfields that were assessed or cleaned up. Since June of 2013, Brownfield Assessment Grants have made nearly 45,000 acres of land available for reuse while also leveraging 97,500 jobs. Oskaloosa – a town of about 11,463 located roughly 60 miles southeast of Des Moines – was the only place in the state to apply for and be awarded this grant for the fiscal year.

For more information about this project, contact the Oskaloosa Public Works Department at 641-673-7472 or visit www.epa.gov/brownfields.

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.

Are large mammals coming back to Iowa?


Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr
Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr

Sightings of large mammals such as bears, moose, mountain lions, and wolves have become increasingly common as of late. Many Iowans are beginning to wonder what would change if the mammals established breeding populations within the state.

In July, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed a set of bear tracks and scat outside of Wadena, Iowa after a sighting was reported. A beekeeper saw an adult female bear with two cubs destroy a set of beehives before vacating the area. If there are cubs, they are the first to be documented in Iowa in over a century. Other beekeepers have complained of damage to their bee yards as well. Black bears are not protected in Iowa and can legally be shot, although such extreme measures are rarely necessary.

A lone moose was spotted wandering through Iowa at the end of last year, and a wolf was shot by a coyote hunter in February. Both moose and wolves are protected by state law.

Several mountain lion sightings have been reported to the DNR in the past few weeks, but none have been confirmed.

Iowa fields are eroding at an unsustainable rate, study says


Agricultural runoff in Iowa (Lynn Betts/Flickr)
Agricultural runoff in Iowa (Lynn Betts/Flickr)

The rate of soil runoff from Iowa fields may be many times higher than previous estimates, according to a recent study.

The report, released by Environmental Working Group, shows that Iowa fields are eroding at unacceptable rates, depleting Iowa’s rich topsoil and sending sediment and chemicals into streams and rivers. Between 2002 and 2010, many fields consistently lost more than the sustainable rate of five tons of soil per acre from storms and other erosion events. A single storm in May of 2007 eroded up to 100 tons of soil per acre.

Much of the soil is carried away by gullies that are increasingly appearing in Iowa fields. These low channels are a telltale sign of high erosion, and are often refilled with soil only to be emptied again with the next storm.

High erosion creates high agricultural and environmental risks by carrying away Iowa’s rich topsoil and by polluting waterways with sediment and chemicals. An effective means of curbing this is to plant grass and trees along the edges of fields and in areas where gullies are likely to form. A series of buffers implemented in various fields reduced sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus by more than 90 percent in 2009.