Environmentally-friendly dam modification proves to be a recreational boom for Manchester


Unpassable dams like this one along the Maquoketa River are being revamped to create aquatic attractions (Matthew Hoelscher/Flickr)
Unpassable dams like this one along the Maquoketa River are being revamped to create aquatic attractions (Matthew Hoelscher/Flickr)

The removal and modification of an obsolete low-head dam in Manchester is proving to be a big hit for the community.

Manchester is now home to the state’s largest white-water course, which runs through the Maquoketa River right through downtown. The 800-foot white water course with six moderate, tubing and kayak-friendly drops has attracted hundreds of visitors from around the country since its official opening in mid June. Charles City and Elkader have also completed similar white-water projects from derelict dams.

Rock arch rapids like Manchester’s simulate natural rapids using re-engineered or modified low-head dams, many of which have deteriorated over time and were previously not passable for aquatic life, canoes and kayaks. In addition to becoming new destinations for kayaks and canoes, these projects also remove barriers to fish migration and improve recreational safety. The projects may prevent tragedies like a tubing accident at a low-head dam that claimed one life in the summer of 2014.

The Iowa Legislature recently increased its annual budget for small-scale dam removal and water trails to $2 million, according to a recent report in The Gazette. Manchester’s white-water rapids, which have brought in visitors from other cities and other states, may prove to be a model for future projects that wish to combine environmental sustainability with economic development.

 

On the Radio: Invasive zebra mussels found in another Iowa lake


A zebra mussel cluster (D. Jude, Univ. of Michigan). Zebra mussels are known to attach to hard surfaces like pipes and even other mussels, including native species.
A zebra mussel cluster (D. Jude, Univ. of Michigan). Zebra mussels are known to attach to hard surfaces like pipes and even other mussels, including native species.
June 15, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at the rise of an invasive species in another Iowa lake. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Zebra Mussels

An invasive aquatic species may wreak havoc on another Iowa lake this summer.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Zebra mussels, fingernail-sized creatures that attach to hard surfaces in water, have been found in larval form in Big Spirit Lake in far northwest Iowa. These were most likely spread by the bottoms of boats or trailers from East and West Okoboji lakes, which reported infestations in 2012.

While small, zebra mussels can present big problems by clogging pipes for the water supply and attaching to boat motors. They can also create biodiversity problems by attaching to and smothering native mussels and by reducing available food supplies for fish and other animals.

While eliminating the mussels from the ecosystem is difficult, it is possible to contain the spread. The Department of Natural Resources recommends that boaters thoroughly wash their boats and equipment and let it dry for several days before moving them to other bodies of water. It may be necessary to search for mussels in or on boats and remove them manually.

For more information about invasive species, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Poll shows majority of Iowa farmers support Nutrient Reduction Strategy


Riparian buffers are one way to protect waterways from agriculture run off such as this one on Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism Press Release/Flickr)
Riparian buffers are one way to protect waterways from agricultural runoff such as this one on Bear Creek in Story County, Iowa. (Merrill College of Journalism Press Release/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | June 12, 2015

A recent poll by researchers at Iowa State University shows that many Iowa farmers are aware of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and support its objectives.

The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll has been conducted each year since 1982 and is “the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation.” The 2014 edition asked farmers about their awareness and knowledge of the 2013 nutrient reduction strategy, their awareness and concern about nutrient-related water quality issues, attitudes toward the strategy, and perceived barriers to action. Surveys were sent out to 2,218 farmers in February 2014 and 1,128 (51 percent) replied with usable data.

Just over 20 percent of farmers surveyed identified as “not at all knowledgeable” in regard to the nutrient reduction strategy while 21.6 percent identified as “knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable.” More than 75 percent of farmers either agreed (60.8 percent) or strongly agreed (15.3 percent) that agriculture is impacting Iowa water quality. When asked if they think nutrients from Iowa farms contribute to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, just over 50 percent said they either agree (40.9 percent) or strongly agree (11.2 percent) while roughly 40 percent said they were uncertain. Nearly 85 percent of respondents said they agree (63.3 percent) or strongly agree (20.3 percent) that “Iowa farmers should do more to reduce nutrient and sediment run-off into waterways.”

“Viewed as a whole, the results of the 2014 Farm Poll indicate that substantial progress has been made in raising farmers’ awareness of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This is a critical step. However, the challenge going forward will be to translate awareness and positive attitudes into much more widespread use of conservation practices and farming systems that lead to sustained progress toward nutrient loss reduction goals,” the poll’s authors concluded.

The poll was collaboration by the ISU Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service.

Wet conditions hamper fieldwork in May


Fall crops and standing water from rains in 2009 in Polk County (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
Fall crops and standing water from rains in 2009 in Polk County (Carl Wycoff / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | June 2, 2015

Rain, cool temperatures and standing water halted Iowa farmers for parts of last month, slowing crop progress by limiting suitable days in the field.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that in the last week of May just 2.3 days were suitable for fieldwork across the state, with only 1.7 suitable days for southwest Iowa. Topsoil moisture was rated at above surplus for 50% of southwest and south central Iowa, and 22% across the state. That’s compared to last year, when only 7% of Iowa topsoil was at surplus moisture.

This excess moisture has made it difficult for farmers to get in their fields, leading to lags in soybean planting and alfalfa hay first cutting, which was only at about half the five-year average. Some operators reported standing water in their fields, and some fields will need to be replanted due to the excess water. The moisture also prevented spraying, and led to concerns over muddy feedlots.

While 92% of soybeans were planted by the end of May last year, this year’s numbers were at 50% or less for parts of the state, with southwest Iowa reaching only 37%.

Iowa faced a similar situation last year, with consistent heavy rains in June and July leading to less than three suitable field days for three consecutive weeks. “We just came through three of our most challenging years, as far as weather goes,” noted northeast Iowa farmer Travis Holthaus in a recent CGRER documentary. Heavy rains, flash flooding and challenging droughts continue to lead to increased unpredictability for Iowa farmers. These producers may need to prepare for decreased field days in the next week as well, with more storms predicted later this week.

On the Radio: New carbon reduction incentives for farmers


Carl Wycoff / Flickr
Carl Wycoff / Flickr
June 1, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new set of incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could help farmers combat global warming. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: USDA to give incentives for farmers

A new set of incentives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture may give farmers even more reasons to combat global warming.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In an effort to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration, the USDA has released new programs to persuade agricultural producers to generate renewable energy in their operations. The initiatives, carried out under the 2014 farm bill, are voluntary, but could lead to a 120 million metric ton reduction of greenhouse gases from the ag sector per year. Agriculture is one of the leading greenhouse gas emitting sectors in Iowa.

The programs will incentivize several GHG-lowering practices, like cover crops, lagoon covers (to manage methane emissions), tree planting and independent energy generation. These practices could coincide with Iowa’s existing nutrient reduction strategy.

For more information about incentive-based programs, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2015/04/0109.xml

Iowa farm groups concerned about new EPA water rules


The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)
The Raccoon River near Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. (Christine Warner Hawks/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 29, 2015

Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over new clean water rules unveiled Wednesday by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

Leaders of several Iowa farm groups have expressed concerns over the new rules – outlined in a nearly 300-page document – citing that would “infringe on their land rights and saddle them with higher costs.” Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill said the new rules fail to address concerns farmers expressed when the first draft of the new Clean Water Act regulations was released last.

“The permitting process is very cumbersome, awkward and expensive,” Hill said in an interview with Radio Iowa. “And, according to what we read in this new rule, farmers will be required to get permits for things they’ve never been required to get permits for before.”

At the national level, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and roughly 225 other organizations have teamed up to oppose the new rule. Some congressional republicans as well as farm state democrats have also voiced concerns about the new rule, including Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

Despite the criticism, the rule has been applauded by groups such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Sierra Club, Environment America,  and the Natural Resources Defense Council which called the rule “‘a significant fix’ for tens of millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of streams that contribute to the drinking water for 117 million Americans.”

The new rule is part of the 1972 Clean Water Act which gave the federal government authority to limit pollution in major major water bodies, such as the Mississippi River, as well as streams and rivers that drain into the larger water. The most revision to the rule applies to about 60 percent of the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

Report identifies top clean and sustainable technologies for 2015


No-flush urinals - such as these at a McDonalds in England - are just one of the environmentally-sustainable technologies discussed in the report. (Wikimedia)
No-flush urinals – such as these at a McDonalds in England – are just one of the environmentally-sustainable technologies discussed in the report. (Anna Smith/Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | May 22, 2015

A recent report identifies 2015’s most promising technologies for addressing climate and other environmental concerns.

The 157-page report – “Top Technologies in Clean & Green Environment – 2015″ was published earlier this month in Research and Markets. The authors examine ways to address environmental concerns such as water scarcity, energy depletion and global warming. Specifically the authors look at the top 10 innovations in the Clean and Green Environment sector: (1) Atmospheric Water Generation, (2) Waste-to-Energy, (3) Waterless Technologies, (4) Water-Energy Efficient Technologies, (5) Solid Waste Upcycling, (6) Indoor Air Purification, (7) Reverse Osmosis, (8) Air Filtration, (9) Membrane Distillation, and (10) Capacitive Deionization.

Water quality and water scarcity issues have forced innovators to develop waterless and water-efficient technologies such as no-flush urinals and waterless printers. In addition to water, the report also examined technologies to protect the land (composting, waste-to-energy), the air (atmospheric CO2 removal, particulate air pollution control), and the general environment (biomass energy with carbon capture storage, non-vapor HVAC compression technology).

The report also identified six key challenges that stand in the way of green technologies: (1) high energy intensity, (2) net environmental impact, (3) lack of funding, (4) lag in supporting technologies, (5) end-user skepticism, and (6) unknown effects.