Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa


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Trees are reflected in a clear Iowa pond. (Richard Hermann/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2018

A recent report from Iowa State University argues that removing nutrient pollution from Iowa’s water would provide economic benefits for the state.

Economists with ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) first summarize the cost of nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways. They write that forty-nine public water systems treat water for nitrate pollution either by using nitrate removal equipment or blending the water; these systems serve more than 10 percent of Iowa citizens. The report estimates that Iowa’s public water systems have paid $1.8 million to treat nitrate in the water since 2000.

Smaller communities and rural areas are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of polluted water. Many small town public water systems do not have the resources to purchase costly nitrate removal equipment and as a result, may not be able to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality regulations. Private wells go largely unregulated, so consumers are responsible for picking up the water treatment costs. Findings suggest that as many as a quarter of Iowa’s wells have unsafe nitrate levels in them.

The report also comments on the lost revenue from water recreation income for the state. The number of beaches and waterways under advisory or closed each summer because of harmful algae blooms, which are fed by nitrate, continues to grow. Economists estimate that improving water quality in Iowa’s lakes by meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals would increase recreational benefits for all Iowans by $30 million per year.

Iowa Legislators recently passed a bill that will allocate $282 million to water quality improvement projects in the state over the next 12 years. Critics recognize, however, that scientists with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to adequately remove nutrient runoff from waterways in Iowa.

To read CARD’s full report, click here.

Scientists set off for discoveries in Antarctica


 

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New ecosystems in Antarctica can provide valuable evidence for climate change research (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 20th 2018

A group of British scientists are due to set off soon to explore one of the largest icebergs discovered yet in Antarctica.

Led by the British Antarctic Survey and marine biologist Dr. Katrin Linse, the exploration will take researchers and field workers to the Larson C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula–and the findings might uncover vital new information about how the ecosystem of that region responds to climate change.

The team is racing to reach the newly formed iceberg before light changes the ecosystem underneath.

Melting ice from the Arctic and Antarctic regions are vastly speeding up the already rising sea levels. Researching the Antarctic is difficult, but when ice sheets split to form smaller icebergs, as with Larson C, biologists and other scientists are presented with a unique opportunity to explore the waters underneath the ice.

The group hopes their findings will provide more valuable information about climate change and its effects globally.

On The Radio- 2017 Water Summary


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Blue in Iowa river (UI International Programs/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 19, 2018

This week’s segment summaries the report from the 2017 Iowa DNR’s Water Summary.

Transcript: 

The Iowa DNR’s Water Summary Update reported less rainfall than normal for 2017.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In 2017, Iowa received 33 inches of rainfall which is 2 inches less than the 30 year average. The beginning of the year was drought free but by August the Drought Mitigation Center recorded most of the state showing some form of drought. Most of the dryness was concentrated in South and South East Iowa.

In areas like Marion, Washington, Lee and Wayne counties, annual precipitation deficits of 10 inches or more were common. The annual precipitation levels of 2017 were the lowest since Iowa’s record 2012 drought.

In terms of streamflow, the year started off with high levels after a rainy fall season in 2016. Throughout  the rest of the year streamflow levels remained normal and are currently normal for the majority of the state.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

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

 

Plea for Iowa to join U.S. Climate Alliance


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An Iowa wind farm extends as far as the eye can see. (News/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2018

President Trump decided to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord in September, and since then numerous U.S. governors have expressed their desire to stay in the treaty through the U.S. Climate Alliance.

The bi-partisan Climate Alliance is “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” Its members represent 40 percent of the total U.S. population and at least $7.4 trillion dollars in U.S. gross domestic product. Sixteen governors are members of the alliance currently, and a democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives is hoping to add Governor Reynolds to that list. Representative Charles Isenhart of Dubuque presented a letter to the Iowa Energy Center on Monday, asking that Iowa join the alliance. Isenhart also proposed a bill in the House of Representatives that would require Iowa’s membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Isenhart said to The Register,“We’ve already done a lot and are doing a lot and have some of the mechanisms in place to do more. We should be joining if for no other reason than to take credit for what we’ve already done.” The state of Iowa leads the nation in wind energy production, and is expected to generate more than forty percent of its energy from the wind by 2020.

Julie Cerqueira is executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. She said in a letter,

“As I read the Iowa Energy Plan, it is clear that many of the state’s energy priorities align with the priorities of the Alliance — a focus on innovation, workforce development, modernizing our electrical grids and promoting the expansion of electric vehicles. Furthermore, Iowa’s long history of leadership in clean energy, in particular the successful deployment of wind power at scale, makes its membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance both logical and valuable.”

A spokesperson for Governor Reynolds says that the governor has not yet considered joining the U.S. Climate Alliance.

 

 

Link between climate change and conflict questioned


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The relationship between climate change and conflict has been studied in Kenya more than many other nations. (Viktor Dobai/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 15, 2018

It has been accepted in many scientific communities that climate change can lead to civil unrest and violence, but a recent editorial in the Journal Nature tells readers not to be so sure.

The editorial’s authors did a literature review of 124 studies which assessed the link between climate change and war or civil unrest. They claim to have found three kinds of sampling biases among the studies. First, researchers overwhelmingly looked at regions where violence was already happening or had happened recently. Second, they noted that the studies primarily included countries in Africa and left out other nations that have been severely impacted by climate change. Finally, the mostly-white, Western researchers usually chose to study countries that were easily accessible to them and where the locals spoke English; think countries like Kenya.

Tobias Ide studies peace and war at the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research and is one of the paper’s authors. He said to The Atlantic, “If we only look at places where violence is, can we learn anything about peaceful adaptation to climate change? And if we only look at those places where there is violence, do we tend to see a link because we are only focusing on the places where there is violence in the first place?”

Solomon Hsiang has been openly critical of the paper’s claims. Hsiang’s 2013 findings showed that for every standard deviation change in precipitation or temperature, the likelihood that an area will experience civil unrest rises by 14 percent. The University of California Berkeley economist and public policy professor said in an email to The Atlantic, “Studying conflict-prone regions isn’t a problem, it’s what you would expect. Nobody is studying Ebola outbreaks by studying why Ebola is not breaking out in cafés in Sydney today, we study what happened in West Africa when there was an actual event.”

Either way, the paper draws attention to the myriad opportunities for study of climate change and conflict in countries outside of Africa and the Middle East. Ide said, “I was a bit surprised that even within American studies, there’s not really a focus on Latin America, basically. You can be concerned about Iraq, Syria, or India because of geopolitical relevance—but why not look for [climate-related conflict] in Mexico, or Honduras, or Brazil? Because that would have much sharper consequences for the United States.”

Crop production linked to regional changes in climate


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Corn and soy plants can cool the climate on a regional level, but intensified conventional agriculture can harm water and soil quality. (Lana/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2018

A new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College detail the way intensive agriculture has influenced precipitation and temperature patterns in the midwest.

During the second half of the 20th century, corn production in the midwest increased by 400 percent and soybean yields doubled due to more intensive agricultural practices. The study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the midwest also saw significantly more precipitation and lower temperatures during the summer months over the same period of time. They concluded that the changes were not merely correlated, but that the land use change actually caused the regional climate changes.

The authors explain that each time plants take in carbon dioxide, they release moisture into the atmosphere through pore-like structures called stoma. With more plentiful and robust plants due to intensive agriculture, the amount of moisture corn and soy crops collectively release into the atmosphere has increased in the midwest since the 1950’s. This extra moisture, the study found, has caused summer air to cool and more precipitation to fall. In the last fifty years, average summertime rainfall in the midwest has increased by 15 percent and average summer temperatures have dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

Roger Pielke Sr., a senior researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder commented on the study, he said, “This is a really important, excellent study. The leadership of the climate science community has not yet accepted that human land management is at least as important on regional and local climate as the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activities.”

Since completing the study, the researchers have developed a formula that accounts for the causative relationship between plants and regional climate changes that can be entered into U.S. regional climate models. It correctly predicted those changes that have been observed in the midwest over the last 50 years.

The study opens the door for further research into land use changes and how they can affect local climate.

Almost 10% of the US still struggles for safe drinking water


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Low-income communities are often forced to buy expensive bottled water (files)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 13th, 2018

A recent study found that around 10% of towns, neighborhoods, and residences in the United States has consistently sub-par drinking water. Most of these numbers are concentrated in the deep south, where extreme poverty can make re-rigging water pipes and plants difficult.

When particularly small communities are impoverished, aging infrastructure and a general lack of access to new techniques can make cleaning water a nearly impossible task. The concern over clean drinking water gathered speed exponentially after Flint, when the U.S. was faced with the plight of a small town suffering the compounding health effects of unsanitary water.

Being a low-income community, Flint’s residents struggled to keep up with the added extra charge of buying a constant stream of bottled water that they were forced to drink and use, and menial tasks such as showering became difficult and dangerous when residents noted the negative effects that the water had on their skin. If nothing is done to help other, similarly low-income areas, the drinking water health crises will continue to grow.

While some states are proposing programs to financially aid smaller water plants, it’s only a matter of time before the problems faced in Flint are brought to light again.