On the Radio: New rule to curb agricultural pollution


A tractor sprays liquid manure onto an Iowa field (Mark Evans / Flickr)
A tractor sprays liquid manure onto an Iowa field (Mark Evans / Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a new measure that provide stricter enforcement of rules against manure spills. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: New Rule

A new rule to curb agricultural pollution in Iowa waterways is now in effect.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as part of a deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has developed a new measure which will provide stricter enforcement of rules against manure spills on livestock farms. More than 60 such spills have been reported over the last year, which have caused contamination leading to fish kills and water pollution.

The DNR is poised to inspect farms’ handling of manure more stringently, issuing fines to operations that don’t cooperate. Earlier this year, a dairy farm was ordered to pay over $160,000 for a spill that killed hundreds of thousands of fish in a nearby lake.

Iowa farms produce waste from 60 million chickens, 20 million pigs, 9 million turkeys, and 4 million cows.

For more information about the new environmental measure, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Farming conservation techniques catching on in Iowa


A mixture of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish and New York style turnip is used as cover crops on this farm in Eastern South Dakota. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)
A cover crop mixture of crimson clover, oats, common vetch, radish, and New York style turnip is used on this farm in Eastern South Dakota. (USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 5, 2014

A recent study by the international consulting firm Datu Research finds that Iowa farmers are beginning to better utilize cover crops, crop rotation, and no-till practices.

The 53-page report  concluded that 23 percent of Iowa farmers who responded to the survey said they utilized cover crops. Seventy percent were using minimum or conservation tillage while 47 percent said they practiced no-till techniques. The study also found that 80 percent of respondents rotated between corn and soybeans each year.

Practices such as cover crop use, crop rotation, and reduced tillage can help to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff which leads to water pollution. These practices also improve soil health and help to manage moisture content while saving farmers money on fertilizer costs. Currently agriculture accounts for over 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. This has threatened the aquatic ecosystem in one of the nation’s largest and most productive fisheries.

A separate ongoing study by researchers at the University of Illinois suggests that cover crops do not increase crop yields but do “increase the amount of sequestered soil organic carbon.” This study finds that tillage techniques also affect the soil organic carbon content.

The Datu study was conducted on Iowa farmers and landowners in June of 2014. Approximately 1,500 farmers were surveyed and of those 212 were considered eligible respondents.

Water quality a top issue at 2014 Iowa Farm Bureau convention


Wetlands (such as this one) have been used in Iowa as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient runoff that pollutes Iowa's waterways. (Green Fire Productions/Flickr)
Wetlands such as this one have been used in Iowa as a way to reduce the amount of nutrient runoff that pollutes Iowa’s waterways. (Green Fire Productions/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 4, 2014

Water quality was a major focus at the annual Iowa Farm Bureau convention which took place in Des Moines this week.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Annual Meeting 2014: Seeds of Growth included two days of educational seminars, panel discussions, and a concert by country music artist and Iowa-native Jason Brown. Another highlight of the event was a keynote speech from British author and journalist Mark Lynas who has recently come out in support genetically-modified organisms or GMOs after previously opposing the controversial practice.

The convention – which took place Tuesday and Wednesday – came on the heels of a request from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey for $7.5 million to go toward the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. Northey said the funding will be used over the next two years for a soil conservation cost share program.

To combat the issue of water pollution caused by nutrient runoff from crop fields, researchers at Iowa State University have recently been experimenting with using strips of prairie land to mitigate soil runoff. The researchers found that converting just 10 percent of cropland into prairie can reduce 95 percent of soil and sediment from running off. It also allows fields to retain 90 percent of phosphorus and 85 percent of nitrogen.

The Iowa Farm Bureau has been around since 1918 and is currently active in all 99 counties in Iowa.

Study: Mining can affect fish habitats miles downstream


XXX (Wesley Daniel, Michigan State University)
Mining occurs in all 50 states for natural resources ranging from coal to salt. (Wesley Daniel; Michigan State University)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2014

A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University finds that mining can have adverse effects on fish habitats many miles downstream from the mine itself.

The study was published in this week’s issue of the journal Ecological Indicators with funding provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of the study’s focus was on heavy mining areas in the United States, such as the Appalachia region, but also included relatively unstudied areas such as Illinois and Iowa.

Mining occurs in every state for wide range of natural resources from coal and precious metals to sand and salt. While larger rivers are able to dilute the damage caused by mining operations, smaller streams are more susceptible to pollution. These smaller streams often feed into larger watersheds which then affects fish habitats and causes other ecological concerns.

The Northern Appalachian (NAP) ecoregion encompasses most of Illinois and Iowa as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Compared to the Southern Appalachian (SAP) and Temperate Plains (TPL) ecoregions, the NAP ecoregion has the highest density of mines with nearly 40 mines per square kilometer, including 714 mineral mines and 1,041 major coal mines.

The report concluded that “the US has the world’s largest estimated recoverable reserves of coal, and production will increase over the next two decades, suggesting that alteration of stream fish assemblages may intensify in the future.”

On the Radio: Water demand strains Jordan Aquifer


Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)
Locations of Water Use Permits for Wells tapping the Jordan Aquifer (Iowa DNR)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at recent news surrounding Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer, which is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Jordan Aquifer

Increased water demand in Iowa is straining one of the state’s largest underground aquifers.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Des Moines Register reports that the Jordan Aquifer – which supplies about half a million Iowans with water – is being depleted faster than it can regenerate itself.

Last year Iowa drew nearly 26 billion gallons from the aquifer which is a 72 percent increase since the 1970s. Nearly 200 businesses, municipalities, universities, and other entities tap into the Jordan Aquifer with about 345 wells across the state. Parts of southwest Iowa need to drill as deep as 2,500 feet underground to extract water from the aquifer.

This increase in water usage can partially be attributed to Iowa’s biofuels industry, which requires large quantities of purified water during the production process. Roughly 15 percent of Iowa’s aquifer demand is for biofuel production with some facilities using as much as 200 million gallons of water each year.

For more information about the Jordan Aquifer and water use in Iowa visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

Photos + Video: Iowa Climate Statement 2014


The 4th annual Iowa Climate Statement, signed by 180 researchers and scientists from 38 colleges and universities across the state, was released last month during a press conference at the state capitol. The Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans examines public health risks associated with climate change. Video from the event is now available below, along with photos (above). Please feel free to share the video using the share buttons attached.

Climate and health experts discuss effects of climate change on Iowans


Nick Fetty | November 4, 2014

The 2014 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum took place on the University of Iowa Oakdale Campus in Coralville on Friday, October 31. The 2nd annual event was attended by approximately 50 climate and health experts from across the state.

Chris Anderson – Assistant Director Climate Science Program at Iowa State University – was the first to present at Friday’s event as he discussed the impact of climate change in Iowa.

“Climate change in Iowa is different from climate change on TV,” he said.

One example of this is the frequency of spring and summer rainfall combinations. There were approximately seven instances of spring and summer rainfall combinations between 1893 and 1980 compared to five instances between 2008 and 2014.

Mary Spokec – research geologist and program coordinator for IOWATER – along with David Osterberg – Associate Clinical Professor of Environmental Policy in the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health  – took the stage next to discuss water quality issues related to climate change. They said part of the reason for toxic algal blooms which can lead to water contamination is because there are no national standards for algal cyanotoxins.

This issue can be particularly problematic in Iowa other agricultural states where nitrogen and phosphorus can runoff of fields and into waterways which exacerbates the growth of hazardous algal blooms such as blue green algae. Extreme weather associated with climate change has also affected these algal growths. According to weekly monitoring of 38 state-owned beaches, there were 46 water quality advisories during 2013 and 2014 compared to seven in 2011 and two in 2010.

Peter Thorne – head of the UI’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health – presented next about climate-induced air quality issues affecting Iowans. Molds such as Aspergillus and Penicillium can grow on damp wood in houses and other structures that sustain flood damage. This can lead to a range of pulmonary conditions including mold allergies, asthma, inflammation of mucous membranes, Katrina cough, and Alveolitis. Climate change has also been attributed to more extreme weather events such as heavy rain falls which can lead to flooding.

Increased carbon dioxide levels, hotter temperatures, and a longer growing season (each of which can at least partially be attributed to climate change) is causing poison ivy plants to be more potent. Other allergenic plants have also seen increases in potency as well as an expanded range because conditions attributed to climate change.

Yogesh Shah – Associate Dean of Global Health at Des Moines University – discussed how has climate change has effected disease-carrying insect populations.

“This is the most deadly animal around,” Shah said of mosquitoes, adding that the disease-carrying insects have killed more humans than all other animals combined.

Approximately 600,000 deaths occur each year because of mosquitoes and reported cases of malaria are the greatest they’ve been since 1971. A relatively unheard of disease known as Chikungunya is on the rise, particularly in areas of Africa, India, China, and other parts of southeast Asia. Around 750,000 cases of Chikungunya have been reported in Caribbean and some cases have moved as far north into Florida and other parts of the U.S.

Two cases of Chikungunya has been reported in Iowa by people who contracted the disease while traveling. West Nile Virus is also carried by mosquitoes and in 2002 there were cases of either human or non-human WNV reported in every county in Iowa. Warmer temperatures and a longer growing season have also led to greater numbers of longer-living mosquitoes.

Peter Thorne concluded the morning session by discussing mental health affects caused by increased heat and particularly warmer nighttime temperatures. The group then broke for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon participating in a public health tracking portal presented by  environmental epidemiologists Tim Wickam and Rob Walker from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Many of the public health and environmental issues discussed at Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum were included in the Iowa Climate Statement 2014: Impacts on the Health of Iowans.