Flood sensor expansion continues


A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
A stream sensor attached to a bridge, placed by the Iowa Flood Center. (Iowa Flood Center photo / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | October 22, 2014

The Iowa Flood Center is dramatically expanding the scope of its river and stream sensor network across the state this fall.

The Flood Center, which has installed 200 river and stream gauges since 2010, will add an additional 50 sensors in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. These gauges monitor water levels in real time and send the data back to the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), which can be viewed by the public. Citizens, landowners and governments can then use this web-based tool to look for flood warnings, monitor water levels upstream from their location, and see exactly how far flood waters will reach in a given situation.

The sensors, which are usually installed on bridges, measure the distance to the water by sending an electronic pulse every 15 minutes. The availability of such precise measurements has already had a significant impact on local businesses, especially those located in floodplains. The sensors, which cost around $3,500 each, can save businesses thousands more by preventing losses in production and labor during flood season.

Iowa Flood Center staff and students will install the new sensors over the coming weeks. Watch the video below to learn more about how these sensors are installed across the state.

Study: Vitamin B12 may be key to removing PCBs, other toxins released into environment


Researchers at the University of Manchester may have found a way to remove PCBs and other toxins from the environment (Flickr/Seth Anderson)
Researchers at the University of Manchester may have found a way to remove PCBs and other toxins from the environment (Flickr/Seth Anderson)

Nick Fetty | October 21, 2014

A 15-year study by researchers at the University of Manchester finds that vitimin B12 could be the key to removing PCBs and other harmful pollutants already released into the environment.

“We already know that some of the most toxic pollutants contain halogen atoms and that most biological systems simply don’t know how to deal with these molecules,” University of Manchester professor David Leys said in a press release. “However, there are some organisms that can remove these halogen atoms using vitamin B12. Our research has identified that they use vitamin B12 in a very different way to how we currently understand it.”

The team from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology used x-ray crystallography to study 3D models of how halogen atoms are removed from organisms. These particular organisms are “microscopic deep sea creatures” which are also found in rivers and ponds.

While humans use vitamin B12 to maintain a functioning brain and nervous system, certain micro-organisms and bacterium are able to use it as a detoxifying agent. The rapid reproduction rate of these bacterium means they can remove “a huge quantity of chemical in a few weeks.”

Often times these toxins pollute the air and the water through direct disposal onto land and waterways as well as through burning household waste.

The study was published this month in the journal Nature. The project was made possible with funding from the European Research Council.

On the Radio: Iowa scientists connect state water quality issues to climate change


Morning fog rises off of Lake MacBride near Solon, IA. The lake reported a massive fish kill due in part to blue-green algae earlier this year. (KC McGinnis / for CGRER)
Morning fog rises off of Lake MacBride near Solon, IA. The lake reported a massive fish kill due in part to blue-green algae earlier this year. (KC McGinnis / for CGRER)
October 20, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at highlights from the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released Friday, October 10. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Climate Statement 2

Climate change causes extreme weather, increased flooding and resulting water pollution, which is threatening the health of Iowans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans, released in October, examined how repeated heavy rains and the resulting flooding have led to increased exposure to toxic chemicals and raw sewage, which can have negative effects on health for humans and animals.

The fourth annual statement was signed by 180 scientists and researchers from 38 colleges and universities across Iowa.

Heavy rains in agricultural areas causes phosphorus and nitrates to run off fields and into waterways. These polluted waterways coupled with increased water temperature have spurred algal blooms on still bodies of water during peak summer heats. These algal blooms make the water unsafe for human or animal consumption or recreation.

For more information about the Iowa Climate Statement 2014, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

 

Study: Pharmaceuticals from treated wastewater can contaminate groundwater


Duck Creek runs through Devils Glen Park in Bettendorf. (Pete Zarria/Flickr)
Duck Creek runs through Devils Glen Park in Bettendorf. (Pete Zarria/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | October 7, 2014

A report released by the United States Geological Survey last month suggests that pharmaceuticals and other potentially hazardous substances from treated wastewater can contaminate shallow groundwater after being released into streams and other waterways.

The research was conducted on Fourmile Creek and Watershed near Des Moines in 2012. In October of 2012 wastewater accounted for 99 percent of the creek’s flow and this number dropped to 71 percent in December 2012. During these months, the creek experienced persistent dry conditions which is when contaminates are most likely to seep into groundwater.

The study tested for 110 different pharmaceutical compounds in addition to hormones and chemicals from personal care products. The researchers concluded that between 48 and 61 pharmaceuticals were present in the water tested downstream from the wastewater discharge point. Concentrations were as high as 7,810 parts-per-trillion for metformin, a chemical used in antidiabetic medication.

This contamination was also taking place in groundwater up to 65 feet away from the banks of Fourmile Creek. Between 7 and 18 pharmaceutical compounds were detected in these groundwaters with concentrations of fexofenadine – an antihestemine – as high as 87 parts-per-trillion.

This study was part of USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program.

The Fourmile Creek Watershed covers 120 miles mostly in northern Polk County but also areas of Boone and Story Counties. Approximately 64 percent of the land in the watershed is used for agriculture while the remaining 36 percent is urban. In 1877, a train carrying members of the P.T. Barnum circus and other passengers crashed while crossing over Fourmile Creek, killing 20 and injuring 35 more.

On the Radio: Groundbreaking study examines changes in Iowa waterways


A stream in Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A stream in Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new University of Iowa study on the effects of climate and land use changes on Iowa waterways, using data recorded over the course of more than eight decades. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: River and Stream Study

Changes in climate and agricultural practice over the last century have had a significant impact on the flow of Iowa’s rivers and streams, according to a recent study.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Using data recorded over the course of more than eight decades, researchers at the University of Iowa IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering studied the effects of variable climate conditions and land use on Iowa’s Raccoon River watershed, which has been monitored almost daily since 1927.

The number of acres used to grow corn and soybeans roughly doubled over the last 100 years. The study found that these climate and land use changes exacerbate the effects of both high and low precipitation periods on river and stream levels by as much as seven times, increasing the likelihood of disastrous floods during wet seasons and empty waterways during dry seasons.

For more information about climate, land use and river levels, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880914001200

http://now.uiowa.edu/2014/04/researchers-find-changes-agriculture-increase-high-river-flow-rates

Iowa ag group outlines ways to reduce waterway pollution


Geese taking off from the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Geese taking off from the Des Moines River in downtown Des Moines. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | October 3, 2014

Members of the Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) agreed on their 2014 Code of Practice which outlines “guidelines for consistent and responsible application of nutrients” during a meeting in Ankeny earlier this week.

This is a formal agreement for retailers who say they will wait until soil temperatures exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit before applying anhydrous applications without a nitrification inhibitor. Farmers and other ACWA members can utilize soil temperature and weather maps compiled by the Iowa State University Extension to get accurate readings on soil temperatures. The softer or warmer the soil it is, the easier it retains fertilizer and other nutrients reducing the amount of runoff and waterway pollution.

The Code of Practice is one way farmers can abide with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy as set fourth by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The plan outlines scientifically- and technologically-based ways to reduce nitrate and phosphorus levels in Iowa waterways, many of which drain into the Gulf of Mexico and contribute to what is known as the “dead zone.” The goal is to reduce pollution from point and nonpoint sources by 45 percent.

The AWCA consists of 12 ag retailers and three associate members who operate in the Raccoon River and Des Moines River basins. The Ankeny-based organization focuses on the relationship between water, weather, landscape, and farm management. Since 1999 AWCA members have invested more than $1 million to study water quality in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers.

Iowa agriculture groups back water quality alliance


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)

KC McGinnis | October 1, 2014

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.