EnvIowa Podcast: Talking "forever chemicals" with Dr. David Cwiertny


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Dr. David Cwiertny, photo taken by Tyler Chalfant

Tyler Chalfant | February 24th, 2020

Today’s episode features an interview recorded Feb. 19th with Dr. David Cwiertny, an environmental chemist in the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa, and Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC). Cwiertny talks about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, explaining how they can still enter our water years after they’ve been phased out of production, and how even minuscule amounts can pose a risk.

Listen here!

Measuring the carbon footprint of your booze


Photo by Ryan Harvey, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | February 21st, 2020

While heavy drinking is known to harm human health, it’s also hurting the planet. Between farming, production, packaging, and distribution, there are a number of ways in which getting your favorite booze is consuming valuable resources and emitting carbon. A 2008 study conducted by New Belgium Brewing Company found that one six-pack of their beer emits about the same amount of carbon as driving a car eight miles.

According to Tom Cumberlege, Associate Director of corporate carbon measuring company Carbon Trust, a general rule of thumb is: the higher the alcoholic content of a drink, the higher the carbon footprint per liter. However, the larger serving sizes of beer and wine, for instance, can increase their overall footprint to make them less environmentally-friendly than liquor. Packaging alone amounts to 40% of beer’s total carbon footprint, while distribution amounts to 14% and refrigeration for 9%.

The New York Times recently explored ways to reduce the environmental footprint of alcohol consumption. Buying locally, or at least domestically, is one way to reduce transportation costs. Choice of container also matters, as the production of aluminum cans emits less than that of glass bottles, and aluminum is more frequently recycled. Manufacturing the bottle accounts for 33% of a bottle of wine’s emissions, and a 2011 study found that boxes reduce the overall carbon footprint from wine by 40%.

Major flooding on Mississippi River likely again this spring


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Most of the Iowa/Mississippi River boundary can expect to see moderate flooding this spring (via NWS). 

Julia Poska | February 20, 2020

Iowa communities along the Mississippi River will most likely see major flooding this spring.

A National Weather Service flood outlook released last week shows an over 50% chance of extensive inundation all along the state’s eastern boundary. Probability of moderate flooding is at 95% in most areas. Western Iowa faces lower, but still significant risk.

Heavy precipitation in 2019, still-saturated soils and heavy snowpack to the north contribute to the elevated flood risk.

Radio Iowa reported that Gov. Kim Reynolds said official are coordinating with local emergency management teams. Reynolds said the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water already to make room for melted snow to the north.

Last summer’s Mississippi River flooding was the longest in recorded history, lasting nearly 200 days. A coalition of river city mayors estimated damage to be over $2 billion along the length of the river.

You can find 2020 flood outlook data at specific Iowa sites using the interactive feature at this NWS page. 

IFP says governor's tax proposal doesn't live up to voter's wishes to fund IWILL


Photo by Joshua Mayer, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | February 18th, 2020

A decade after Iowans approved a constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund (IWILL), Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed a sales tax increase to fund the program. The fund requires three-eighths of a cent from a sales tax increase to be set aside as a permanent and protected source of funding dedicated towards conserving and improving the state’s water quality, farmland, and natural wildlife habitats, and providing opportunities for recreation. Critics say that the governor’s plan provides much less funding than was promised. 

Peter Fisher, Research Director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project say that the new proposal would provide $82 million for environmental conservation and restoration programs, which should be $200 million based on what was passed in 2010. Another criticism is that the sales-tax increase has been paired with an income-tax decrease that favors the wealthy and results in a net loss in state tax revenue.


A report from the Iowa Fiscal Partnership found that the plan also excludes digital goods and services, resulting in a loss of $31 million for the fund. The new formula also transfers existing funds, rather than relying on new funding sources for new programs. It also gets rid of much of the outdoor recreation funding approved in 2010 amendment. You can read the full report here.

EnvIowa Podcast: Talking insect ecology with Dr. Andrew Forbes


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Dr. Andrew Forbes, contributed photo.

Julia Poska | February 17, 2020

Today’s installment of the EnvIowa podcast features an interview recorded Feb. 7 with Dr. Andrew Forbes, an evolutionary ecologist at in University of Iowa biology department. Forbes chats about the ecological importance of parasitic insects and shares insights about other creepy crawlies like emerald ash borers and periodical cicadas.

Listen to learn more about his work on insect diversity and speciation.

Listen here!

 

DNR confirms further spread of deer disease through Iowa


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Deer testing positive or chronic wasting disease in Iowa since 2013, via the Iowa DNR. 

Julia Poska | February 14, 2020

Forty-three deer killed by hunters and vehicles in Iowa during the 2019-2020 hunting season tested positive for chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease.”

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa’s wild deer population to 89 since 2013, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources press release. That’s a 93% increase in one year.

Chronic wasting disease is a 100% fatal neurological disease found primarily in deer and elk that causes loss of bodily functions. An abnormal protein causes the infection, spread via bodily fluids from deer to deer. Some symptoms include excessive salivation, weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head.

The disease is in the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as Mad Cow Disease. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there is no conclusive evidence of the disease transferring to humans, but the center recommends avoiding contacts with infected venison.

The Iowa DNR collected samples from about 7,000 deer hunted or killed by cars across the state during the 2019-2020 hunting season. Samples from Woodbury, Winneshiek, Fayette and Decatur counties tested positive for the first time.

Officials have identified chronic wasting disease in wild deer populations in eight counties overall. Deer in several captive populations have tested positive as well (see this interactive map for more information).

For more information on how hunters can help limit the spread of chronic wasting disease, check out this flyer.

AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming


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Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.