USDA awards Iowa more than $1M for job growth and economic development


U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack during an event hosted by the Great Green Fleet on Jan. 20, 2016. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 22, 2016

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will award more than $1 million for job growth and economic development efforts in Iowa.

Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative was awarded a $300,000 grant so the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development can construct a facility in the Spirit Lake Industrial Park and attract new businesses to the area. Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association will receive a loan of $780,000 to help All States Ag Parts purchase machinery, equipment and inventory for business expansion and relocation to a new building. The investment is expected to create 51 jobs.

The funding is part of more than $9 million in grants and loans for 15 projects dispersed across 12 states. Other states to receive funding include Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. The funding is part of USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program which offers “zero-interest loans and grants to utilities that lend funds to local businesses for projects to create and retain employment.”

“Small businesses are the cornerstone of the rural economy,” said Vilsack, who is among the finalists for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton’s vice president pick. “During the Obama Administration, USDA’s investments have directly helped more than 100,000 small business get off the ground or expand, and the projects announced today will help 15 more rural communities see job growth and economic development.”

Funding for each project is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreement.

Iowa State’s solar car team prepares for 1,800-mile trek across Midwest


Members of Team PrISUm -- from left, Charlotte Brandenburg, Garret Coleman, Philip Gates, Arun Sondhi and Matt Goode -- are preparing their solar racing car for this summer's two races. Larger photo. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)
Members of Team PrISUm — from left, Charlotte Brandenburg, Garret Coleman, Philip Gates, Arun Sondhi and Matt Goode — are preparing their solar racing car for this summer’s two races. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)
Nick Fetty | July 21, 2016

Members of Iowa State University’s solar car team – PrISUm – are preparing for an 1,800-mile trek from Ohio to South Dakota.

Later this month Team PrISUm will compete in the Amesican Solar Challenge road race which will begin at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio and end at Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The race is in collaboration with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and will include stops at national battlefields, monuments and historical parks. The route does not go through Iowa and instead cuts south across Missouri.

Prior to the American Solar Challenge (July 30-August 6), Team PrISUm will compete in a qualifying race at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex July 26-28. The team hopes to use these races to prepare them for the 2017 World Solar Challenge, a 1,900-mile trek across the Australian outback scheduled for next October.

Team PrISUm claimed its first overall victory last year during the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The team and its car, Phaëton, bested the second place team by more than 31 laps and also recording the fastest lap of any of its competitors by about 14 seconds. The car, Phaëton, is named for the son of Greek sun god, Helios.

The team’s newest model, Phaëton 2, improved upon several aspects from the previous design including a new motor, new batteries, and live telemetry which allows the public to use the internet to track location, speed, and other metrics measured by the car.

PrISUm team members Charlotte Brandenburg, right, and Matt Goode look over the car's batteries and fuses outside the team's Sweeney Hall garage. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)
PrISUm team members Charlotte Brandenburg, right, and Matt Goode look over the car’s batteries and fuses outside the team’s Sweeney Hall garage. (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University News Service)

Technical assessment evaluates compliance with 2012 fuel economy, greenhouse gas standards


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(Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 20, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft of the Technical Assessment Report (TAR) to evaluate the compliance of the automobile industry with the Obama administration’s 2012 fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.

The standards, finalized in 2012, covered all cars and light weight trucks sold in the United States between 2012 and 2025. The regulations were put in place to save Americans money at the fuel pump, reduce dependency on foreign oil, and to protect the environment. Initial goals required that vehicles get 54.5 miles per gallon and cut greenhouse gas emissions to 163 grams per mile.

EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) released an in-depth TAR draft earlier this month in order to highlight sustainable automobile advances and to determine reasonable standards for future model year (MY) automobiles. TAR considers fuel-economy advancement cost, technologies, and market-changes in order to provide EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with necessary information to write updated standards for MY 2022-2025 vehicles.

A recent EPA blog post outlined major findings of the industry assessment.

TAR found that many automakers are meeting fuel-economy and emissions standards several years ahead of schedule. There are upwards of 100 cars, SUVs, and trucks currently on the market that meet 2020 or later standards already. There was evidence that manufacturers can comply with standards “at a similar or even lower cost,” corroborating a 2015 study by that National Academy of Sciences. Finally, TAR concluded that automakers are seeing “record sales and fuel economy levels.” For the first time since the 1920’s, auto sales have increased for six consecutive years leading up to 2015.

A 60 day public comment period for all interested stakeholders has been established.

fuel economy standards
Fuel economy standards infographic (The White House)

July marks peak season for blue-green algal blooms in Iowa


A blue green algae outbreak on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
A blue green algae outbreak on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 19, 2016

While not expected to be as severe as last summer, Iowa outdoor recreation enthusiasts should be mindful of blue-green algal blooms this time of the year.

Warm July temperatures coupled with excess phosphorus that often runs off of farm fields into lakes and waterways creates the ideal breeding ground for blue-green algae. These conditions lead to the creation of microcystin toxins which can cause skin rashes and asthma-like symptoms for humans and potential fatalities for dogs, livestock, and other animals.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources monitor state beaches and other waterways to determine if the water is safe for recreational activities. The state’s first instances of blue-green algae were reported at the end of June. Last summer, blue-green algae blooms led to a record closure of Iowa beaches. Iowa DNR officials have also recorded bacteria growth – such as E. coli – at some state beaches this summer.

Earlier this month, Florida governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency because of harmful algal blooms on bodies of water in the Sunshine State. NASA satellites captured images of algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee in May.

Check out the Iowa DNR website for reports of blue-green algae and other bacteria at state-owned beaches. Mary Skopec with the Iowa DNR advises swimmers, boaters, others to be cautious of water that is green in color or scummy in texture.

“When in doubt, stay out,” Skopec said.

On The Radio – USDA, EPA aim to curb food waste


food recovery
(Food Recovery Hierarchy/Environmental Protection Agency)
Jenna Ladd | July 18, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers a call to action released by the USDA and EPA to reduce food waste nationwide. 

Transcript: USDA and EPA announce food waste reduction goal

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced the first food waste reduction goals in U.S. history.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Released on July 1st, the U.S. 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal: A Call to Action by Stakeholders seeks to galvanize farmers, food manufacturers, grocers, consumers, and policy makers to reduce food waste by 50 percent before 2030. The initiative outlines best practices as identified by stakeholders including the creation of markets for aesthetically unappealing produce, implementation of community composting systems, and the development of new food storage technology that would prevent spoilage. The document is the direct result of a Food Recovery Summit that was held last November in Charleston, South Carolina.

Iowa City Recycling Coordinator Jen Jordan organizes the commercial composting program at the Iowa City Landfill.

Jordan: “Fifteen percent of what goes into the Iowa City landfill is food waste so the city is definitely on board with efforts to help individuals and businesses reduce food waste, and not only to save the food waste from going to the landfill but to save money as well.”

Participation in the national 50% reduction goal is voluntary, but states like Massachusetts and Vermont have already instituted commercial food waste bans. Food waste makes up a majority of U.S. landfills and quickly generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. EPA notes that food loss reduction would help to mitigate climate change, address food insecurity, and save producers money.

For more information about food waste reduction in the U.S., visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.

For the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Study finds consumers, retailers waste about half the produce grown in the U.S.


(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
(Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 15, 2016

New research suggests that as much as half of the food produce in the United States is wasted.

“demand for unattainable perfection” in the appearance of fruits and vegetables is largely to blame for the vast amount of wasted food. Fruits and vegetables are often led in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or shipped directly to landfills when deemed unsellable because of cosmetic imperfections. According to government data, about 60 million tons of produce, worth about $160 billion, is wasted by American retailers and consumers annually. Globally, about 1.6 billion tons, valued at about $1 trillion, is wasted each year.

Despite these findings, researchers recognize that there is currently no clear way to account for food loss in U.S. However, the World Resources Institute and other thinktanks are developing methods to more accurately account for food waste. Wasteful food production practices are detrimental to efforts to fight global hunger and climate change.

Last year U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack called for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030. However, one expert argues that Vilsack’s goal could have a negative effect on food economics. Roger Gordon – founder of the Food Cowboy – told The Guardian that a 50 percent reduction in food waste could reduce the profit margin of produce at grocery stores by half. He added that fresh produce accounts for about 15 percent of supermarket profits.

The University of Northern Iowa’s Iowa Waste Reduction Center was established in 1988 with the intention of helping businesses reduce food waste in the Hawkeye State. In 2013, the center released a report entitled “Iowa Food Waste Reduction Program Market Analysis.”

CGRER researcher awarded for developing self-cleaning culvert


Dr. Marian Muste with his self-cleaning culvert design. (IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering/University of Iowa)
Dr. Marian Muste with his self-cleaning culvert design to the left. (IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering/University of Iowa)
Nick Fetty | July 14, 2016

University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research member Marian Muste was recognized earlier this year for his efforts in developing a self-cleaning culvert.

Region 3 of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Research Advisory Council recognized Muste’s project along with three others in the Midwest region. Muste’s project is among 16 nationwide to be dubbed the “‘Sweet Sixteen’ High Value Research Projects” of 2016.

Muste’s research – “Development of Self-Cleaning Box Culvert Design: Phase II” – examines a system that uses the natural power of a stream flow to flush out sediment deposits in culverts. The system does not require intensive maintenance and can be constructed in new culverts or retrofitted for old ones. The design prevents buildup of sedimentation or vegetation in culverts which during rain events can cause culverts to overflow and damage adjacent property.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has implemented Muste’s design in a culvert along Highway 1 in Iowa City. Muste and his research team have monitored the site since the new design was installed in 2013 and he said it has been “working very well.”

Muste – who also serves on the faculty of the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Geography – concluded his report by outlining the benefits of his design.

“Besides their primary role in sediment mitigation, the designed self-cleaning structure maintains a clean and clear area upstream the culvert, keeps a healthy flow through the central barrel offering hydraulic and aquatic habitat similar with that in the undisturbed stream reaches upstream and downstream the culvert. It can be concluded that the proposed self-cleaning structural solution ‘streamlines’ the area adjacent to the culvert in a way that secures the safety of the culvert structure at high flows while disturbing the stream behavior less compared with the traditional constructive approaches.”