Iowa agriculture groups back water quality alliance


KC McGinnis | October 1, 2014
Standing water in an Iowa field during the summer of 2014 (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Standing water in an Iowa field during the summer of 2014 (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)

A recently launched nonprofit organization backed by three of Iowa’s largest agricultural groups hopes it can help Iowa farmers protect water quality.

Funded by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) was launched in late August to assist Iowa farmers in implementing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The strategy, developed after a request from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2008, is an initiative by farmers, scientists and water treatment plants to reduce the amount of nitrate and phosphorus being released into Iowa waterways. Most of these nutrients are released from farms and other agricultural producers, and can cause significant problems for habitats all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The IAWA intends to work with researchers and agriculture stakeholders to increase understanding of nutrient reduction methods. It stresses continued flexibility for farmers, who are encouraged but not mandated to implement the elements of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

A recent report, however, casts doubt on the effectiveness of this voluntary approach for agricultural producers, who contribute the vast majority of phosphorus and nitrate to Iowa waterways. This could be because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the program. Last year, only half of Iowa farmers surveyed who were aware of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy chose to participate, and about a third were unaware of the program altogether.

On the Radio: Miscanthus shows promise as an Iowa biomass crop


Miscanthus shows increasing promise as a viable biomass crop in Iowa.  (Aikawa Ke/Flickr)
Miscanthus shows increasing promise as a viable biomass crop in Iowa. (Aikawa Ke/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at miscanthus, an Asian biomass crop with multiple environmental benefits which may produce high yields in Iowa, according to a recent report. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Miscanthus

An Asian biomass crop with multiple environmental benefits may produce high yields in Iowa, according to a recent report.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa State University researchers recently found that a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus, a tall perennial grass related to sugarcane, may have higher yield potential in Iowa than once thought. While the plants showed difficulty getting established in experimental fields, once planted most were able to withstand two Iowa winters. Miscanthus usually hits peak production in its third year.

The plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields which usually produce lower yields for corn. This would not only increase field productivity but could also help reduce runoff and improve water quality.

For more information about miscanthus, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926669014001411

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092666901400140X

http://dailyfusion.net/2014/07/miscanthus-iowa-agriculture-30804/

On the Radio: Algae blooms present hazards in Iowa waters


A blue-green algae bloom along the shore of Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, late June 2014. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
A blue-green algae bloom along the shore of Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, late June 2014. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a type of hazardous algae that’s become increasingly common in Iowa waterways. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Algae

As the summer comes to an end, late season beach-goers are advised to take extra precaution as algae blooms in Iowa lakes can be at peak levels.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Hot August temperatures coupled with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Iowa waterways provides the ideal breeding ground for algae. Certain forms of blue green algae can contain toxins that are harmful to humans and have even been known to kill dogs, livestock, and other animals.

Blue green algae are generally visible on the surface and can give the water a consistency similar to paint. The Iowa Department of Public Health advises any persons to immediately wash algae off themselves or pets that come in contact with it.

So far this summer, Saylorville Lake and Lake Red Rock, both in central Iowa, have reported high levels of blue green algae, and at least six other state-operated beaches across the state have seen high enough algae levels that swimming was not recommended.

For more information about blue green algae, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://iaenvironment.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/late-summer-is-peak-season-for-harmful-algae-iowans-encouraged-to-stay-safe-at-area-lakes/

http://www.idph.state.ia.us/eh/common/pdf/env/algae_factsheet.pdf

http://www.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/BeachMonitoring.aspx

Iowa farm hosting Bio-Renewables Field Day


Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)
Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)

A tall perennial grass called miscanthus may be the future of bioenergy in Iowa, and an upcoming event is highlighting its unique potential.

Iowa State University assistant professor of agronmy Emily Heaton and Iowa City landowner Dan Black will speak at a field day and seminar on Wednesday, September 10, to discuss their findings regarding miscanthus, which is currently being explored as a potential biomass crop in experimental fields.

The event will take place at the University of Iowa miscanthus test plot and is hosted by Iowa Learning Farms, the second in a series of four field days that will cover innovations in Iowa agriculture. The event includes a meal prepared by Johnson County Cattlemen and features Ben Anderson, power plant manager at the University of Iowa, who will talk about how miscanthus could be used in the UI power plant’s solid fuel boilers.

Researchers working with a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus have so far observed a high success rate in surviving Iowa winters, which is necessary for it to reach peak production in its third year. This means the plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields that usually produce lower yields for corn, meaning it could also help reduce runoff and preserve water quality.

RSVPs are being accepted until September 5 by calling (515) 294-8912 or by emailing ilf@iastate.edu. For more information, visit extension.iastate.edu/ilf.

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

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 Minnesota research shows grassland-to-cropland conversion is contributing to groundwater contamination


Nick Fetty | August 14, 2014
A southern Minnesota farm just before harvest. (keeva999/Flickr)
A southern Minnesota farm just before harvest. (keeva999/Flickr)

Southeast Minnesota farmers converting their grassland into cropland could be contributing to increased nitrate levels in groundwater, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.

The research estimates that it will cost between $700,000 and $12 million over the next 20 years to address increased nitrate levels in private wells throughout southeastern Minnesota. Researchers Bonnie Keeler and Stephen Polasky used biophysical models and economic valuation to draw their conclusions.

Between 2007 and 2012, more than one-quarter of grassland in southeastern Minnesota were converted into cropland. This led to higher amounts of fertilizer being used which then led to higher nitrate levels in waterways. This creates both health and financial risks for 70 percent of Minnesotans who rely on groundwater as well as for the 1 million residents who get their water from public wells.

The southeastern portion of Minnesota is especially vulnerable to groundwater contamination because of its karst geology which contains cracks and fissures in underground rock formations that can easily be penetrated and jeopardize the quality of the water. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Extension found tillage to be the most effective method to protect water quality in southeastern Minnesota.

Both the Upper Iowa River and Cedar River Watersheds begin in southeastern Minnesota and travel down through portions of eastern Iowa before draining into the Mississippi River.