Earth Day marks rally for end of 400-mile pipeline walk


Former state Rep. Ed Fallon near the end of his 400-mile pipeline walk across Iowa.
KC McGinnis | April 22, 2015

Former state Rep. Ed Fallon will conclude his 400-mile hike across Iowa with an Earth Day rally in Des Moines today.

For 39 days, Fallon walked along the path of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, talking with landowners and activists about their concerns over the environment and property management. Fallon supports an eminent domain bill in the Iowa Legislature that would prevent Energy Transfer Partners from condemning Iowa farmland without consent. He will host an Earth Day Rally to Stop the Pipeline today at the State Capital’s west lawn (People’s Park).

Fallon documented his conversations with Iowans along the pipeline route through a daily blog. He recalled conversations with farmers whose land was repeatedly trespassed by surveyors, residents whose homes would be within a few hundred feet of the pipeline, and town hall meetings where people discussed the issue at length.

In his meetings with Iowans along the pipeline route, Fallon had to counter the sense of inevitability created by pipeline representatives, who frequently met with landowners to inform them that the pipeline construction was unavoidable, and that they should sell their land to the company instead of waiting for it to buy at a lower price through eminent domain. Fallon assured these residents that the company proposing the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, still lacks authority to use eminent domain, and that legislation currently in the House and Senate would prevent them from using it as a ground for construction. While some Iowans have already settled with the oil companies, many are still holding out despite aggressive persuasion.

The rally will take place at 5 p.m., with talks by Fallon, two legislators and two family farmers. There will also be an open mic available for people to share their thoughts.

On the Radio: Iowans favor water works suit


The Des Moines skyline (Scott Grissom / Flickr)
The Des Moines skyline (Scott Grissom / Flickr)
April 20, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at favorable public opinion of the currently underway Des Moines Water Works lawsuit. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Water Works Suit

A strong majority of Iowans favor the current Des Moines Water Works lawsuit aimed at  counties with high nutrient runoff, according to a recent survey.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A Des Moines Register poll conducted in February found that 63 percent of Iowans believe the Des Moines water utility is right to pursue a lawsuit against three northwest Iowa drainage districts. The Water Works has recorded nitrate levels six times higher than the federal limit for drinking water in parts of the Raccoon River that are fed by drainages in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties. These high nitrate levels create headaches for the utility, which is required to activate a facility to remove the nutrients at a cost of about 4,000 dollars per day.

The lawsuit intends to bring farmers in the northwest Iowa counties under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Farmers are currently applying Iowa’s voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy as an attempt to reduce nutrient runoff.

For continued updates on the Water Works lawsuit, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

https://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/257077948?access_key=key-37ieSUtkBIFSOhDkvuF3&allow_share=true&escape=false&view_mode=scroll

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2015/02/26/iowa-poll-water-quality/24091173/

Feeding the World symposium takes place tomorrow


png

A special symposium on food sustainability and water quality will take place in Iowa City this week.

“Feeding the World: Challenges for Water Quality and Quantity,” a day-long series hosted by the UI Public Policy Center, will be held at Old Brick Church & Community Center on Thursday, April 9.

Agricultural practices, water conservation and climate change have strong impacts on food security in Iowa and around the world. The upcoming symposium will take a past-present-future approach to addressing these issues, starting with historical perspectives on agriculture and assessing Iowa’s food future based on current practice.

The symposium will feature more than a dozen experts and scholars in public health, engineering and conservation from around the state. It will open with a roundtable of University of Iowa researchers talking about water sustainability, followed by a keynote address by Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe. The symposium will then move to agricultural concerns, with panelists from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Drake University and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship addressing historical perspectives on agriculture and how present farming practices affect our water resources. The day will conclude with a panel looking at the future of food production in Iowa and a Q&A session.

Early registration for the event is closed, but guests may still register at the door. For more information, visit the Iowa Public Policy Center.

On the Radio: UI study finds floods increasing in severity


A flooded field during the flood of 2008 ( Joe Germuska / Flickr)
A flooded field during the flood of 2008 (Joe Germuska / Flickr)
April 6, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent University of Iowa study which found that flooding events in the Midwest have increased in severity in the past half century compared to previous years. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

A recent University of Iowa study has found that flooding events in the Midwest have increased in severity in the past half century compared to previous years.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus

The report was recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change by CGRER member Gabriele Villarini. It examined 774 stream sensors in fourteen states from North Dakota to West Virginia. The researchers found that 34 percent of the sensors detected an increase in flooding events between 1962 and 2013. Nine percent of the sensors showed a decrease in floods during that same period. The region that experienced the highest frequency of floods included Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and North Dakota.

Serious floods have hit the Midwest repeatedly since 2008. FEMA data show that the nationwide flooding events caused more than $260 billion in damages between 1980 and 2013.

For more information about this study, visit IowaEnvironmentalResearch.org.

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

“Why should I care what happens downstream?” Why topsoil preservation matters


An example of healthy soil in Iowa (Natural Resources Conservation Service / Flickr)
An example of healthy soil in Iowa (Natural Resources Conservation Service / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | March 18, 2015

Starting tonight, Iowans will have their say on the proposed relaxing of topsoil preservation rules for newly constructed sites.

In hearings over the last year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has considered comments from home developers and homebuilders who wish to amend a current rule regarding topsoil conservation. While the current rule requires companies to maintain or replace at least 4 inches of topsoil on new construction sites, the industry is asking to be able to choose for themselves how much soil – if any – is to be replaced on such lots. Homeowners and conservationists have come out in defense of the current rule, which preserves soil health and prevents the headaches of flooding and runoff from land lacking in topsoil, while saving homeowners the added expense of adding the soil themselves.

At one of the initial hearings on the rule, however, a contractor is reported to have asked, “Why should I care what happens downstream?” For some, the benefits of topsoil preservation seem far off, and not worth the added $3,500-$6,000 in replacement costs per lot the industry estimates. However, all Iowans would feel the effects of relaxed soil conservation rules. Here are a few reasons topsoil matters:

  • Healthy topsoil is Iowa’s first and best defense against excessive flooding. When topsoil is removed from a lot, the land can’t hold nearly as much moisture. As a result, water from storms and snow melts simply runs off, causing increased flash flood concerns. During warm seasons, standing water on stripped land can also attract mosquitos and disease-carrying organisms.
  • In addition to moisture, land with healthy topsoil holds fertilizer better than land without it. This means that when storms come, landowners are at less risk for nutrient runoff, preventing them from incurring the added cost of applying additional fertilizers. This is also good for our rivers and streams, which are already inundated with excessive nitrates and phosphorus from nutrient runoff.
  • Healthy topsoil is an absolute necessity for growing grass, trees and gardens. Without it, homeowners will often have to haul in their own topsoil, adding unexpected costs to their home purchase which could have been folded into their mortgage in the first place (and probably at a much lower rate).
  • Topsoil protects Iowa’s water quality and reduces costs for water utilities. The Des Moines Water Works, which is suing three Iowa counties over nutrient runoff disputes, spent over half a million dollars in nutrient replacement this winter.

The Iowa DNR will hear comments regarding the proposed rule change at public hearings starting Wednesday, March 18, at the Cedar Rapids City Services Center. The DNR will also conduct hearings on March 25 in Davenport and March 27 in Des Moines. Iowans can give written comments by mail to Joe Griffin, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 502 E. Ninth St., Des Moines, IA 50319-0034. They can also send comments by email to joe.griffin@dnr.iowa.gov .

 

CGRER documentary shows need for statewide flood sensor network


A still from a documentary on the development of a flood sensor network in Iowa produced by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research.
A still from a documentary on the development of a flood sensor network in Iowa produced by the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research.
KC McGinnis | March 4, 2015

A new documentary produced by the University of Iowa Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research shows how one technology developed by Iowa scientists could help Iowans prepare for floods better than ever before.

The video (below) includes interviews with Iowa landowners, scientists and watershed authorities who are taking advantage of experimental flood sensors being installed in locations around northeast Iowa. The new technology, which has been under development since the 1990s, is groundbreaking in both its arrangement and scope, and has influenced similar networks across the country.

The sensors, which can be installed on farms or other land, record rainfall on the ground, rather than from radar, resulting in more accurate readings. Each sensor is actually a set of two sensors, which can help explain discrepancies in data better than single sensors. Data from these sensors is sent to the Iowa Flood Information System, an interactive website that’s free to the public, and is an important resource for landowners and municipalities during heavy rainstorms and other flood events.

Since rainfall can vary over small distances, the Iowa Flood Center is currently seeking funding to install new flood sensors in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. To see the history of the technology and to learn more, watch the video below.

Proposed bill would tighten Iowa manure application laws


With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
With over 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows, Iowa farms and livestock operations produce large quantities of manure each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)

 

Nick Fetty | March 3, 2015

An Iowa Senate subcommittee has approved a bill it hopes will improve water quality by tightening manure application laws.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) from the Natural Resources and Environment Subcommittee introduced the bill last month. If passed, the bill would bar farmers from applying fertilizer when (1) the ground is frozen or snow-covered; (2) the ground is water-saturated; (3) the 24-hour weather forecast calls for a half-inch of rain or more; or (4) the ground is sloped at 20 percent or greater. The currently law – which was added to the Iowa Code in 2010 – states that farmers cannot apply fertilizer to their soil between December 21 and April 1.

The proposed bill is also supported by the non-profit Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. ICCI organizer Jess Mazour believes the proposed bill will be more effective at cleaning up Iowa’s waterways compared to the current voluntary system.

“It is very much needed because voluntary compliance is not working,” Mazour said in an interview with WNAX. “And if we just leave it up to farmers to pick and choose what they think is safe it’s showing us that our water is just going to keep getting dirtier. We have to be very specific about what we want.”

An identical bill was also introduced to the Iowa House by Rep. Dan Kelly (D-Newton). These proposals come on the heels of a recent measure drafted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which allows the DNR to inspect manure-handling practices by farmers and to issue fines for those not in compliance with current codes.

Approximately 76 manure spills were reported in 2013. In 2014, a dairy farm was fined $160,000 after improper manure disposal killed hundreds of thousands of fish.