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.

On the Radio: Bird flu leading to cleanup concerns

(Kusabi / Flickr)
(Kusabi / Flickr)
May 18, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at environmental concerns brought on by the massive bird flu cleanup across the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Bird flu cleanup

The recent bird flu outbreak is raising environmental questions about disposing of millions of dead birds.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Avian influenza has hit Iowa harder than any other state, with almost 25 million chickens and turkeys affected so far. The disease is known to claim a bird’s life within hours of showing symptoms, and is extremely pathogenic. The only way to stop the spread of the disease is to euthanize entire flocks, using a foam application that asphyxiates the birds.

This mass euthanization is leading to a disposal crisis in affected counties. While composting the dead birds is the quickest option, the process may pose risk for local health and water quality. The USDA has deployed hundreds of bio-bags capable of killing the virus until the birds can be moved to sanitary landfills, but concerns from nearby farmers have prevented movement of the birds so far. The only remaining option may be incineration.

For continued updates on the Iowa bird flu outbreak, visit

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

Study: Cattle hormones more environmentally damaging than previously thought

Iowa ranks 7th in the nation
The USDA reports there were approximately 3,800,000 head of cattle in Iowa in 2014. (Brad Smith/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | May 14, 2015

Hormones used to beef up cattle could be causing more environmental damage than once thought, according to a recent study in the journal Nature Communications.

The study – which was co-authored by University of Iowa environmental engineering professor David Cwiertny – found hormones associated with cattle production “persist in the environment at higher concentrations and for longer durations than previously thought.” The hormones eventually end up in streams and rivers which has affected the reproductive health and behavioral patterns of fish and other aquatic life.

“We’re releasing this into the environment at levels that are potentially problematic for the ecosystem,” said Adam Ward, lead author of the study. “If you’re an amphibian, a fish, a minnow, you spend your whole life being bathed in this sort of low dose of testosterone.”

The researchers examined trenbolone acetate (or TBA) which speeds up muscle growth in cattle and has been used in the industry for about 20 years. When the TBA is metabolized it breaks down into a compound known as 17-alpha-trenbolone which then runs off into waterways.

The study is a follow up to research Cwiertny published in 2013 which suggested that when 17-alpha-trenbolone was exposed to sunlight it broke down and resulted in lower concentrations in waterways however the most recent research now suggests that the compound doesn’t break down as much as previously thought.

According data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service, Iowa ranks 7th in the nation for cattle production.

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

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

Feeding the World symposium takes place tomorrow


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.