Midwest corn sweat, extra air moisture is harming crops


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Grace Smith | August 12, 2022

Corn sweat, a term referred to as plants giving off water through evapotranspiration, is increasing moisture in Midwest air, which is harming crops. The humidity in the air can increase temperatures between five and 15 degrees Fahrenheit over corn fields during mid-July and August.  

Iowa harvested over 13.1 million acres of corn and produced 2.58 billion bushels in 2019. One acre of corn can give off up to 4,000 gallons of water per day, contributing to extreme humidity, or, corn sweat. 

Midwest humidity isn’t just caused by corn sweat. Climate change has pushed the global surface temperature in 2022 to become the sixth hottest June in 143 years, being 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. In addition, humidity is accounting for warmer nights because the extra moisture makes it more challenging for temperatures to shift higher or lower.

This corn sweat and increased temperatures from climate change create a possible breeding area for pathogens and pests near growing plants and grain, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment. Bacteria can cause crops to fail and pests can impact crop growth by feeding on plant roots when humidity increases. 

The climate assessment also said increased humidity and precipitation contribute to soil erosion potential and reduces planting workdays because of waterlogged soil.

Iowa’s first outbreak of koi herpes kills thousands of Storm Lake carp


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Grace Smith | August 11, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed on Aug. 9 that koi herpes killed thousands of carp at Storm Lake in Iowa in recent weeks. Although this virus has been detected in nearby states including Minnesota and Wisconsin, this outbreak is the first appearance of the virus in Iowa. 

Koi herpes is a very contagious and deadly viral disease that attacks fish gills and creates wounds in the bodies of the fish. The DNR said that although the virus is contagious, it is unlikely to completely eliminate the Storm Lake carp population. In addition, there are no instances of koi herpes affecting people or other fish species. 

DNR fisheries biologist Ben Wallace said Storm Lake created great conditions for the disease to spread, as many carp make direct contact with each other throughout the lake. “The virus could have been here a long time within the adult population with many having some level of immunity to the virus and were asymptomatic,” Wallace said in a DNR release.

The carp washing to shore, which began a couple of weeks ago, created a problem for the community regarding where to dispose of the fish’s bodies. On Aug. 6, Storm Lake’s public service workers took a few hours to collect the bodies and get rid of them in the local landfill. 

The DNR did tests on Storm Lake water at the end of July which did not display any algae toxins dangerous to people.

U.S. Senate Passes Groundbreaking Climate Bill


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Josie Taylor | August 10, 2022

The U.S. Senate, along party lines, passed a sweeping energy, health care, climate and tax package Sunday afternoon, following an overnight marathon of votes that resulted in just a handful of notable changes to the legislation.

The 755-page bill was passed after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the evenly divided Senate. It now heads to the House, where Democratic leaders have announced they will take it up on Friday. Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the bill.

The bill includes $369bn for climate action, the largest investment in the issue in US history. Some households could receive up to $7,500 in tax credits to buy an electric car, or $4,000 for a used car. Billions will also be spent in an effort to speed up the production of clean technology such as solar panels and wind turbines.

There will also be $60bn given to communities that have suffered the most from fossil fuel pollution. The authors of the bill say it will cut the country’s carbon emissions by 40% by 2030.

The action on climate comes as the US experiences a wave of extreme weather, including a recent heatwave as well as deadly flooding in Kentucky that left dozens dead.

Hawaii received final coal shipment before shutting down last coal-powered plant


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Grace Smith | August 8, 2022

Hawaii received its final coal shipment on July 27 before shutting down its last coal-powered power plant, pushing the state closer to its goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045

180 MW West Oahu Plant, the single largest electricity source in Oahu, is set to shut down in September, when its 30-year purchase agreement expires.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige went to Twitter to express his excitement for this step in history. “This is a huge step forward in Hawaiʻi’s transition to clean energy. In its time, coal was an important resource for Hawaii and I’d like to thank the workers who have run our last remaining coal plant.”

Like Hawaii, other states are pushing for net-zero emissions or 100 percent carbon-free electricity by midcentury, including Rhode Island, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Oregon, as of 2021. 

Common renewable energy sources including wind, solar power, and biogas can generate energy that will eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other types of air pollution. In addition, the economy will develop, including jobs in manufacturing and installation, like in San Diego, California. As a city dedicated to 100 percent renewable energy, it has formed 56,000 jobs in the industry of clean energy.

Iowa Seeks Funding for Coal Mine Mitigation


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Josie Taylor | August 5, 2022

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa will apply for up to $6 million of new federal funding to handle the pollution and other safety hazards posed by leftover coal mines in the southeastern part of the state.

The Interior Department invited states this week to apply for a portion of the $725 million set aside this year for abandoned mine cleanup from the 2021 infrastructure bill. States with more-substantial past mining are eligible for more than $100 million. Iowa’s eligibility was capped by the department at $6 million.

The funding would benefit Iowa’s Abandoned Mined Land Reclamation program, which began in 1983. It has mitigated about a third of the state’s roughly 300 sites so far, according to IDALS. The program is primarily funded through federal taxes on current coal mining, and the state gets about $2.9 million each year.

The extra funding is boost for abandoned mine cleanup efforts by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The extra funding in the infrastructure law was meant to both eliminate pollution from mining sites and to provide job opportunities in communities that have historically relied on coal mining.

Crops Affected by Drought in Half of Iowa


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Josie Taylor | August 3, 2022

Drought conditions are likely to develop over the southern half of the state in August as the month starts with abnormally hot days with little chance for rain, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What started as a portion of the state being abnormally dry or in varying degrees of drought has expanded to more than half of the state. It’s the first time the dry area has been that large since April. The latest Drought Monitor report on Thursday showed an expansion of severe and extreme drought in northwest Iowa and the extension of abnormally dry conditions across much of southern Iowa.

Southwest Iowa previously led the state in available soil moisture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In early June, about 96% of its topsoil and subsoil had adequate or surplus moisture. As of Sunday, about 27% of topsoil and 36% of subsoil had adequate water for crops to grow.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Tuesday afternoon for the western half of the state. 

Last week, the state averaged temperatures of about 3 degrees cooler than normal with abysmal rainfall. Much of the south had no rain, and the highest reported rainfall accumulation was .89 inch near Churdan.

The state’s corn was rated 76% good or excellent, down from 80% the previous week. Soybeans were rated 73% good or excellent, down from 75%.

Iowa State University Introduces New Climate Science Major


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Josie Taylor | August 2, 2022

Students at Iowa State University will have the opportunity to study climate science in the 2022-2023 school year. This unique program aims to prepare students to solve climate-based challenges.

Chair of geological and atmospheric sciences, Kristie Franz, said she’s excited to introduce the new major to students. Although scientists have been talking about climate change for decades, Franz said it’s become an urgent issue to students in recent years.

The bachelor of science degree will allow students to choose from six areas of focus: advanced climate science, data visualization, design and planning for sustainability, policy and human behavior, science communication and agriculture, and natural resources. 

The coursework will consist of many classes within the university’s earth science department, but will go a step further and integrate economic and communications courses.

Associate professor Lindsay Maudlin who was brought on to teach climate science courses said an interdisciplinary look at climate change is vital to preparing students to tackle the issue.

Compostable food makes up 20% of Iowa waste


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Grace Smith | July 29, 2022

Iowans send 556,313 tons of wasted food goes to landfills yearly. The 2017 Iowa Statewide Waste Characterization Study showed that compostable food makes up for 20 percent of landfilled materials, which is a 50 percent increase since the last study, which was published in 2011. 

The compostable food takes up more space in landfills but also creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, worsening the climate. But, if food is composted correctly, less carbon dioxide equivalent will be generated. For example, for every metric dry ton of food that ends up in the landfill, 0.25 metric tons of methane can be generated in the first 120 days, but, if that ton of food is correctly composted, it could reduce those emissions by the equivalent of up to six metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In Iowa, six composting sites are allowed to accept over two tons of compostable food per week, including the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center. The Iowa City site is participating in multiple practices to ensure the facility stays environmentally cautious in its composting. Employees measure the temperatures of piles twice a week to confirm the heat is killing pathogens and diseases. The process of composting food waste into soil takes about a year. 

While the Iowa City composting site is remaining cautious in its practices, an Iowa improperly managed facility in Eddyville caused runoff to flow into the ground and through the community. Theresa Stiner, a senior environmental specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the Press-Citizen that the DNR encourages composting, but only if it is environmentally mindful.

Regent alerts Iowa State to permit free speech in ‘politically charged’ climate science classes


Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Grace Smith | July 28, 2022

At an Iowa State Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday, regent Nancy Boettger warned attending administrators to protect free speech for the new climate science major at ISU, a major that Boettger said includes a politically charged topic. 

Proposed by the Iowa State’s Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, this new major will require around 35 credits and will offer classes related to climate issues including natural science, sustainability planning, food, and more. 

“My main concern is that we go the extra mile to protect freedom of speech for opinions that differ in this politically charged topic,” Boettger said during the meeting.

During the meeting, regent Nancy Boettger said she used to receive books and other climate change-related materials when she was serving as a Republican state senator from Harlan for 20 years — from 1995-2015. Boettger plans to share those materials with ISU, which she said — although she hasn’t studied them a lot — are non-politically charged documented research.

ISU Associate Provost for Academic Programs Ann Marie VanDerZanden said the idea that climate change is viewed as political is something ISU faculty and staff have talked about. 

“We understand the political nature that some people do view climate change through,” VanDerZanden said in response. “…We’ll be really bringing forward the most current research as it relates to climate, climate change, climate science, and the intricacies of all the different systems that are involved in this.”

ISU requires freedom of speech and expression to be stated in class syllabi.

Des Moines Water Utilities Join “Forever Chemicals” Lawsuit


Josie Taylor | July 27, 2022

Trustees of two Des Moines metro area drinking water producers have voted to join hundreds of civil claims against manufacturers of firefighting foams that contain PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” which have contaminated Iowa water.

Des Moines Water Works and West Des Moines Water Works are pursuing the litigation to help offset anticipated future costs to remove the chemicals from their treated water. Tests of both systems’ drinking water in recent months have revealed concentrations of PFAS chemicals that exceed federal health advisories.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to set enforceable limits on the chemicals that could force water utilities to remove them as part of their treatment processes. Recent tests of the treated water that might again reveal PFAS contamination are pending.

Firefighting foam is a potential source of contamination in West Des Moines, and it’s the subject of the multi-state lawsuit that the two metro utilities recently voted to join. These utilities were approached by law firms that are helping litigate it.

The foam is believed to have contaminated groundwater near military bases, airports and other sites.