On The Radio – Upper Cedar Watershed tour highlights benefits of watershed management practices

The spokesperson for the Iowa Watersheds Project explains progress and the work the Iowa Flood Center has done to farmers. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)

Cora Bern-Klug | September 12, 2016

Transcript: The Iowa Flood Center wrapped up the final phase of its Upper Cedar River Watershed Project with a tour of watershed management demonstration sites in the Floyd and Chickasaw counties last week.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The tour showcased completed flood prevention and water quality improvement projects along the Upper Cedar watershed. Ponds and wetlands were constructed on private lands as part of the Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Watersheds Project, which received one point five million dollars in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in two thousand and thirteen.

Beginning at the Colwell Community Center in Cowell, Iowa, attendants were bused to three separate watershed projects on the private lands in the area. Landowners received cost share assistance from the Iowa Flood Center to construct projects that reduce flooding and improve water quality.

After the tour, participants enjoyed a light dinner and attended the Upper Cedar Watershed Management Authority Meeting. At the meeting, officials from the Iowa Watersheds Project presented final updates on the impacts the built projects had on creek flow and water quality downstream.

For more information about the Iowa Watersheds Project’s work across the state and upcoming Iowa Flood Center Initiatives, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org

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

Northwest Iowa flood damage estimate at $5 million

A truck drives through flood water in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the flood of 2008. (USGS/flickr)

Cora Bern-Klug | September 7, 2016

Preliminary damage estimates are being released after near record flooding in northeastern Iowa. On August 23rd more than seven inches of rain blasted Decorah, Spillville, and other cities in Winneshiek county and the surrounding area. The flood left homes and streets in need of major repair.

The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management estimates that the flood produced 5 million dollars in damage to public infrastructure. This estimate does not include damage to private property which could also be in the millions for Iowa home owners. Winneshiek county suffered the most damage with estimates of $2.4 million for repairs. According to Lee Bjerke, Winneshiek county engineer, $500,000 will go towards county roads and bridges. The Department believes that 165 individual residences have been damaged. Ten being completely destroyed, 28 had major damage, and 75 suffered minor damage from the flood.

The other seven affected counties combined have around $2.6 million allocated for the damage. Most of the money will be used to restore gravel roads that were washed away. Fayette county is receiving $60,000 for road repairs, Clayton is at $40,000 and Allamakee at $200,000. Wastewater treatment plants were also greatly impacted: Fort Atkinson, $422,500; Clermont, $200,000; Spillville, $75,000; Waucoma, $50,000; and Freeport, $20,000.

Counties are looking to begin work on the repairs immediately. While some counties are preparing to rebuild, others are looking on the bright side. Elkader City Administrator, Jennifer Cowsert said, “we got lucky.”


Cover crops to stop the spread of superbugs

A western corn rootworm crawls through corn silks. (Sarah Zukoff/flickr)


Cora Bern-Klug | August 24, 2016

Despite seed producers’ research, superbugs are still making their way into Iowa farmer’s crops. Companies like Monsanto and DuPont have been selling genetically modified seeds since the 1990’s that are designed to thwart insects. Yet pests like rootworms have become resistant to the deadly bacteria in the seeds.

Rootworms are small yellow to green bugs that mate from late summer to early fall. The female deposits her eggs in the ground near corn. When rootworm larvae emerge in May the hungry larvae devour corn roots. This stunts the corn’s growth and according the the Wall Street Journal stunted American farmers’ bottom line by 2 billion dollars in 2015.

In February of 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new requirements that address the corn rootworm’s resistance to a strain of corn known as Bt Corn. The EPA stated that it is “concerned that if the resistance continues, it will lead farmers to use more synthetic chemicals to thwart the bug, creating environmental risks.” Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacteria that creates a natural insecticide and has been used for decades by organic farmers. Seed producing companies and labs have genetically modified corn seeds to have Bt incorporated in their genetic code. The companies can then have a pesticide that is designed solely for that seed. Making farmers rely on the company for seed and their pest control.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.09.26
Graph provided by the Wall Street Journal

Aside from modified seeds and their related pesticides, another option for farmers is to plant cover crops. A cover crop keeps nutrients from leaving the soil and stops weeds from growing over winter. A cover crop is usually oats or alfalfa. In the case of rootworm prevention, farmers are planting cover crops to get rid of the rootworm larvae. If there is no corn to munch on, there are fewer or no rootworms the following year. The downside to planting oats or alfalfa is the yield price. Oats are worth significantly less than corn, but it may be worth the cost to get rid of the pesky pest.

Through more research and more cover crops, we may see a decrease in rootworms. As farmers get on the cover crop bandwagon we’ll be seeing more and more oats and alfalfa growing in our local Iowan fields.

On The Radio – CGRER’s Schnoor honored by science journal

Jerry Schnoor was recognized for his contributions and his role at the journal  Environmental Science & Technology. (CGRER)

Cora Bern-Klug | August 22, 2016

This Monday’s On The Radio segment discusses the recognition of Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. 

Transcript: University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Jerry Schnoor was recently recognized by the Environmental Science & Technology journal.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Schnoor was recognized last month for his research contributions and his role as the publication’s long time editor in chief. The commentary was written by Joel Gerard Burken, a former student of Schnoor’s who now serves on the faculty in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Burken – who holds his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD from the University of Iowa – recounted studying under Schnoor in the 1990s and emphasized not only Schnoor’s research and professional achievements but also the strong relationships he builds with his students and colleagues as well as his genuine concern for the environment and public health.

“I really learned a lot during my time with Jerry. He was always committed to the people and their development just as much as he was to the science and research we were doing at the time. His commitment also extended well beyond the lab and classroom. I learned a lot about being the person I am with Jerry as well as developing into the scientist and engineer I am now. Looking back I really owe a lot to the time I had with Jerry and his commitment to me and my work.”

Environmental Science & Technology is a leading biweekly, peer-reviewed scientific journal that covers research in environmental science, technology, and policy.

For a link to the full article and for a list of editorials penned by Schnoor for Environmental Science & Technology, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

Ticks living longer with shorter winters

Deer ticks are living longer due to shorter and milder winters and could lead to more infections of Lyme Disease in humans and animals. (Alain Jaquet/flickr)

Cora Bern-Klug | August 17, 2016

With fall on the horizon, outdoor lovers and pet owners may think the threat of ticks and fleas is over. Unfortunately with global temperatures rising so do the pest’s population.

The Deer Tick, a tiny arachnid that latches onto anything it is able to suck blood out of, is able to survive freezing temperatures. When temperatures lower Deer Ticks have been found to hide underneath fallen leaves. As warmer temperatures return they climb back to knee-high brush where they can attach to dogs, cats, humans and other animals.

These ticks can transmit Lyme Disease. This disease is known as “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms can be frequently misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome. If untreated, Lyme Disease can affect any organ of the body including the heart and nervous system.  This makes Lyme Disease and the ticks that pass it along dangerous and unwanted for the host. Only a deep freeze or snow can kill off the disease ridden pest.

In late January NASA reported that 2015 was the warmest year since they have been keeping record beginning in the late 1800’s. 2015 had an average surface temperature of 58.62°F topping the 20th century’s average by 1.62°F.  “Today’s announcement not only underscores how critical NASA’s Earth observation program is, it is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice – now is the time to act on climate.” said Charles Bolden the NASA Administrator.

Rising temperatures in Iowa and around the world will affect everything from water levels and severe weather to the amount of fleas and ticks among the grass and weeds. As winters get shorter and warm weather stretches grow longer ticks have more time to find a host and pass along Lyme Disease.