Millions in damages from 2020 Derecho coming out of farmers’ pockets


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 28, 2021

The derecho and drought last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures with farmers absorbing nearly one-third of the losses, according to a new report.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is lobbying congress for additional disaster aid for US growers due to insurance being unable to total cover the cost of damages. Federal crop insurance covered $560 million in losses leaving $243 million in damages farmers were responsible to pay for out of pocket. 

Across the country, damages caused by natural disasters totaled $6.5 billion last year. Federal crop insurance is only able to cover around $2.9 billion in losses with $3.6 left to farmers. Farm Bureau crop damage estimates do not include other ag losses such as loss of livestock or additional equipment costs farmers experienced. Regardless, it was the fourth-most expensive year of natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The derecho’s powerful winds reached 140 mph on August 10 as it traveled 770 miles across eight states. While most of the damages to homes, businesses and farmers centered in Iowa and Illinois, total damage reached $11.5 billion. 

U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, voted in favor of an $8.5 billion disaster bill to provide coverage for the derecho and other high wind events which the House agriculture committee approved Tuesday according to the Des Moines Register. The bill would provide assistance to farmers and ranchers seeking natural disaster assistance for last year and 2021. 

Iowa climate scientists predicted extreme summer heat, extreme rainfall expected


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 27, 2021

In 1991, scientists accurately predicted climate change would lead to a warmer and wetter Midwest in the spring and summer. Now, 5-day heat wave temperatures in Iowa are anticipated to increase around 7° F in an average year and 13° F once per decade, in comparison to the late 20th century. 

The impact of these findings go beyond weather patterns, degraded public infrastructure is one major ways everyday life will be altered by the new climate. In 2018, a group of climate scientists and researchers from across the state focused the Iowa Climate Statement on infrastructure to emphasize their concerns. In the statement, they explain how daily total rainfall is expected to double in intensity by 2025. 

Flooding along Iowa’s eastern and western borders in 2019 alone resulted in $1.6 billion in damages, according to the Des Moines Register. “…This type of flooding in this region is expected to become even more likely in the future if we do not take immediate actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” said University of Iowa Researcher Wei Zhang

Scientists recommend buildings be designed to withstand heavier rain by integrating rain screens, large gutters and downspouts. For the hot summer greater insulation, improved ventilation, planting of shade trees and more are needed.

Since 2011, the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has co-produced an annual Iowa Climate Statement to explain the impact of climate change on Iowa. Released in early October early, nearly every Iowa college and university has agreed to the statement. 

Climate Crises Occur Around the World


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Josie Taylor | July 25, 2021

Climate crises around the world are occurring. Last week Zhengzhou, China experienced catastrophic floods that accumulated the amount of rain normally expected in a year, in just 72 hours. Already 63 people have been found dead, and irreversible damage has been made on buildings, roads and houses. These floods are being called by some- once-in-a-thousand-year floods. 

China is not the only place experiencing flooding. Europe is also seeing deathly flooding in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. In Germany, at least 158 people are missing, and in Belgium 18 people are missing. These floods have killed at least 205 people in Europe. 

On the other end of crises, fires are rapidly destroying areas in Oregon and Canada. Oregon’s fire, which is being referred to as the Bootleg fire, is so far the third largest fire in United States history. 67 homes have been destroyed, and 2,500 people were advised to evacuate their area. 

In Canada, even more people were evacuated and entire villages have been burned. Two weeks ago, British Columbia declared a state of emergency. The wildfire smoke become so thick that many places in Canada issued air quality warnings. Those in areas not burning were still greatly affected. 

Livestock may be reason for Lake Red Rock pollution


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 23, 2021

University of Iowa scientists are suggesting Lake Red Rock’s pollution is from livestock.

Des Moines Water Works saw a spike of E. coli bacteria in water in recent weeks, which is likely to be from the upstream Lake Red Rock. A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chelsea Tyler, told KCCI that the outbreak was caused by geese in the area. However, Director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination David Cwiertny said this is unlikely.

In an interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch, Cwiertny said the number of geese in Des Moines does not correlate to them being the main source of the E. coli in the water. Iowa livestock is more likely to be the culprit.

Research Engineer at the university, Chris Jones, agreed with Cwiertny. He said there are more than 25 million hogs, which are individually larger than the 100,000 geese in the state.

Within the past few weeks, Des Moines Water Works has seen an increase in fecal bacteria levels in the Des Moines River. The river runs into Lake Red Rock.

Issues in Iowa’s waterways are often blamed on geese, the Dispatch reported. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources have also said geese are at fault for pollution issues in lakes and other waterways in the past few years.

MIT study finds medical was is impacting the environment


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 22, 2021

After 16 months in the COVID-19 pandemic, disposable masks are taking their toll on the environment.

A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 7,200 tons of medical waste has been generated every day during the pandemic. A significant amount of the waste is from disposable masks that are used by health care professionals to help mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus.

If reusable masks were adopted by more people—including health care workers—the waste could be decreased by 75 percent. An MIT Assistant Professor, Giovanni Traverso, developed a reusable N95 mask that can be sterilized and reused. If these masks were used by health care workers in the United States, it would cut down 84 million kilograms of waste alongside decreasing the financial cost to medical centers and hospitals across the country.

In May, Swansea University found harmful chemicals and pollutants that can be released if disposable masks are submerged in water. The researchers called the rise of single-use masks in today’s society a “new cause of pollution.” Mainly, the masks pose a plastic pollution problem.

In a March study from the University of Southern Denmark, researchers found that disposable masks are now on a similar production mass as plastic bottles. Since nonreusable masks cannot be recycled, their use is adding to a significant accumulation of waste across the globe. Some of these masks have plastic microfibers as well. No data on mask degradation in nature exists yet, so the long-term effects of theses fibers is unknown.

EPA begins demolition at Des Moines Superfund Site


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 21, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began tearing down contaminated buildings at the Des Moines Superfund site, on Monday. 

The 43-acre site has been chosen for the development of a professional soccer stadium, hotel, businesses and residential areas. At the site, groundwater pollution with the cancer-causing solvent TCE had prompted the EPA to begin removing hazardous substances and update the 35-year-old groundwater treatment system in June 2021. 

The project is one in a series that were approved to receive a portion of $100 million in state aid aimed at creating jobs and infrastructure development, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority

Previously owned by Dico Inc. and Titan Tire Company, the site was used to manufacture pesticides, steel wheels, and tires. Operations resulted in the release of trichloroethene (TCE), 1,2-dichloroethene (1,2-DCE) and vinyl chloride into the groundwater before remaining vacant for over 25 years. 

In February, a court approved a settlement between Dico Inc. and Titan Tire Co. resulting in the city taking over the property. With the Superfund law used in the settlement, the EPA is able to enforce a “polluter pays” principle which holds Dico and Titan accountable for cleanup and oversight costs. $3 million of the $11.5 million in settlement funds will pay for the EPA’s demolition of the buildings and replacement of the water treatment system. 

Demolition is expected to take a month.

Biden nominates former Iowa Governor Chet Culver to federal rural lending board


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 20, 2021

Former Iowa Governor Chet Culver has been nominated by President Joe Biden to the board of directors for the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, also known as Farmer Mac. 

Culver served as Governor of Iowa from 2007 to 2011. During his governorship Culver built up a large budget surplus and earned Iowa a ‘Triple A’ bond rating, which helped the renewable energy industry grow in Iowa. Culver also served as the Iowa Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007 and founded the Chet Culver group, a renewable energy consulting firm, in 2011. 

Farmer Mac is a federally chartered organization aimed at increasing access to capital in rural and agricultural communities. Created in response to the 1980’s farm crisis, the organization is now the largest secondary market investor of USDA loan guarantees in the U.S. and has provided over $63 billion in loans to rural borrowers. 

“Any rural-based business or industry can benefit from Farmer Mac. I want to make sure that continues into the future, and that’s another reason I’m privileged and honored to serve,” said Culver. 

The president is able to appoint five members to the board of fifteen as representatives for farmers, the Farm Credit System and commercial banks. If approved by Congress this will be Culver’s second term serving on Farmer Mac. 

U.S. House Will Vote on PFAS Regulation


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Josie Taylor | July 19, 2021

PFAS chemicals, often referred to as forever chemicals, which have been found in many places in Iowa, are not currently regulated federally. Members of Congress, along with Biden administration officials at a conference on Wednesday explained that they are trying to start regulation for toxic chemicals found in water, like PFAS, starting with a vote in the U.S. House this week. 

Two representatives from Michigan, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, said that House Democratic leaders will introduce the PFAS Action Act of 2021. This has the goal of reducing Americans’ exposure to the toxic chemicals in air, water and consumer products.

Rep. Dingell’s bill would define PFOA and PFOS chemicals as hazardous substances, which would make it so federal cleanup would have to occur. This clean up would likely start on military bases. 

There are currently no EPA regulations that restrict manufacturers and companies from releasing PFAS chemicals into the environment.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency is currently in the process of regulating PFOS and PFOA.

“We recognize PFAS is an urgent health challenge,” Regan said. “We’re committed to working with all stakeholders to protect the health and safety of all of our communities.”

The bill introduced this week would also identify nine industries for which EPA must set standards. These industries are: organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers; pulp, paper, and paperboard; textile mills; electroplating; metal finishing; leather tanning and finishing; paint formulating; electrical and electrical components; and plastics molding and forming.

Des Moines sees rain, lifts voluntary water cutbacks


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 16, 2021

After several days of rain, Des Moines Water Works suspended its ask for voluntary cutbacks on water usage in central Iowa on Thursday.

Des Moines Water Works began asking people to cut their water usage on June 14. The voluntary cutbacks asked Iowans to limit lawn-watering by 25 percent. The ask came after high temperatures and a lack of rain across the state. With removal of these voluntary cutbacks, the utility continues to encourage customers to water on specific days of the week based on their address. It also asks residents to not water their lawn between 10 am and 5 pm.

As of July 1, 85 percent of Iowa was in a drought at multiple levels. Recent rains have lessened drought conditions, but the U.S. Drought Monitor showed the drought had only dropped by 12 percent. 32 percent of the state is still experiencing a severe drought, specifically in the northern counties of Iowa.

Alongside water conservation efforts, Des Moines Water Works is still concerned about water quality in central Iowa. Algae blooms from runoff in the area has led to unclean water around Saylorville Lake, which runs into the Des Moines River.

With Iowa seeing more wet weather, the Western United States could see its severe drought lasting until October. The heat on the coast could lead to an extended wildfire season as well.

New solar projects proposed in Iowa


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 15, 2021

Two solar energy projects have been proposed this month in Iowa. One project will take place in Linn County, the other in Dubuque County.

Coggon Solar LLC filed an application last week for permission to build a 640-acre facility in Linn County. The planned acreage would meet the electricity needs of more than 16,000 households. The land is currently utilized for farming. The LLC is a partnership between the Clenera and Central Iowa Power Cooperative. If the application is approved, the county would receive nearly $4.8 million in property taxes. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that long-term leases have already been signed by Coggon Solar and property owners on the land where the project plans to be.

Linn County isn’t the only area in Iowa preparing for a new solar energy project. Dubuque’s city council approved funding for a pilot program to help install solar panels on a few residents’ homes. The program will select 10 residents to participate this year, and each will receive $3,285. The program aims to decrease the burden of energy costs on low- to moderate-income households in the city.

Both programs come months after solar tax credits were not renewed by the Iowa Legislature. Hundreds of Iowans lost an average of $3,200 after the credits failed to pass, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.