Iowa River sees increased bacteria levels near Eldora


The Iowa River via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 1, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning that there is an increased level of bacteria in the Iowa River near the north-central city of Eldora.

The DNR said the city has released hundreds of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the river as it works to repair a damaged pipe, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak was identified on May 31, when an Eldora resident noticed the ground between the river and the wastewater treatment plant was wetter than normal. As the leak in the pipe is being repaired, the Eldora wastewater was switched to another pipe that bypasses an ultraviolet disinfectant system. The system specifically targets and kills harmful bacteria from March to November because it’s when the river is used recreationally.

In recent years, documentation shows the treatment plant discharges between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons per day. The repair to the damaged pipe could take days and residents of Eldora are asked to avoid the area. The DNR is also advising Iowans to avoid the area downstream of Eldora’s 14th Avenue bridge until the pipe is fully repaired, as that’s where the discharge will enter the river.

Congress to discuss banning mining near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 30, 2022

Members of Congress are divided over a recent proposal that could ban mining near the most popular wilderness area in the United States.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, reintroduced a bill to permanently protect nearly 250,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The forest is near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.1 million acre watershed located in Duluth, Minnesota. The bill aims to ensure the water in the area remains clean. Mining can cause pollution from nickel, cobalt, copper, and other minerals.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden blocked the federal approval of a new mine on the property. The decision overturned approval from former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s decision had reversed an Obama administration decision. As McCollum’s proposal is being discussed in Congress, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell said the bill provides needed certainty to protect the waters. Tidwell served under the Obama administration. He said the bill would ensure acid mine drainage did not degrade the value of the Boundary Waters area.

The waters is visited frequently, with U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, saying it is the most-visited wilderness area in the country. The location drives the local economy, he said, providing thousands of jobs that could be at risk if mining is allowed in the area.

Nearly 50 percent of Britain’s butterfly species could disappear


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 27, 2022

Britain could see a drastic drop in its butterfly species soon.

24 out of 58 species in the country are at risk of going extinct according to a new report by Butterfly Conservation. The BBC reported there are five more species on the list than the last time data was compiled 11 years ago. Adonis Blue butterflies were recategorized this year to be more threatened. Swallowtails are also more at risk than in 2011. Wood Whites were moved to the endangered category, while groups attempt to save the British midland insects.

Large Heath butterflies are affected by climate change, according to the new report. As the northern area of the country becomes cooler and damper over time, butterflies in the area are more at risk of becoming endangered. The Large Heath joined the endangered list this week. The Scotch Argus can also be found in the northern portion of Britain and is now listed as vulnerable but not endangered.

Previous conservation work in Great Britain has, however, saved a few species. The Large Blue butterflies were declared extinct in the late 1970s, but are now being found in British grasslands. Colonies are thriving according to conservationists in the country. The Duke of Burgundy has now been found in southern Britain, where its caterpillars have more vegetation to eat.

Predictions show a busy hurricane, storm season in the Atlantic Ocean


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 25, 2022

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a higher number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean for the seventh year in a row.

In a forecast released Tuesday the NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad predicted between 14 and 20 storms, with six to 10 turning in to hurricanes with multiple running the risk of being Category 3 or higher. The forecast shows the severity of the storms will be similar to 2021, where four storms developed winds of higher than 110 mph and 21 were named.

Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has noticed tropical storms are developing faster and more frequently. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported any storm, hurricane or not, could cause significant damage.

“As we saw from Superstorm Sandy, it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane to cause such devastation to communities,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said.

FEMA is suggesting people across the country, not just coastal areas, prepare for emergency situations based on the forecasts from NOAA. Climate change is a part of why hurricane seasons are worsening and becoming more frequent. Criswell said FEMA is attempting to emphasize preparedness and mitigation as the climate alters and more severe weather events occur.

Iowa farmers plant half season’s corn in a week


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 18, 2022

After several delays during the typical planting season, Iowa farmers planted 43 percent of their corn crop last week.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the corn planting is still nine days behind, but it is quickly catching up to where it has been in previous years. Statewide, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported the planting percentage jumped from 14 to 57 in a matter of days. The large strides are because of an improvement in the weather. Warmer temperatures have heated the soil to where it usually is during Iowa summers, allowing for more viable seeds to be planted. Corn plants need soil to be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said in a press release that the progress farmers are making is significant. It is expected that the nearly 13 million acres of corn crop usually planted in Iowa will be in the ground by Friday, May 20.

“As we look ahead, weather outlooks show promise in keeping planters rolling and farmers busy in the fields,” he said.

Soybean planting was also up over the course of the week, jumping from 7 percent to nearly 33. The crop still remains roughly a week behind the five-year average in the state.

Biden administration to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure project approvals


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 16, 2022

The Biden-Harris administration vowed to speed up the construction of bridges, roads, and wind farms last week. Officials said they are looking to make permit approval easier without jeopardizing the necessary environmental standards for such projects.

The administration announced the goal during a press call on May 10. The new permitting plan officials are proposing would consolidate decision making to reduce the number of federal permits necessary to break ground. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory also said the new system would establish stronger timelines and tracking for projects while engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments before a project begins. Mallory said a goal of the adaption is to use existing agencies’ resources to prioritize permit reviews and approvals.

Samantha Silverberg, White House deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator, said the switch will encourage states, tribes, cities, and private companies to work on new infrastructure projects using the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law which passed in 2021. Permitting delays tend to deter projects in various communities across the U.S.

The administration said alterations in permitting from the federal government will not sacrifice any environmental standards. Jason Miller, the deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget, said the plan can and will speed up permitting without costing the environment.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” he said.

Iowa’s prime corn yields likely gone


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 11, 2022

Iowa State University agronomist Mark Licht says Iowa corn farmers are unlikely to see high yields this planting season.

Cold and rainy temperatures delayed planting in the spring months in 2022. As farmers look to finish up planting, Licht told Iowa Capital Dispatch the next few months are expected to be drier than normal. The two challenges present a likelihood that crop yields of Iowa corn will be low this year compared to recent seasons.

“I don’t mean that we can’t still have above-trend-line yields, I just don’t think that we’re going to see the record-breaking yields that we’ve seen in the last couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve maybe taken the top end off of it. How much is yet to be determined.”

At the beginning of the second week of May, Iowa farmers were two weeks behind the average planting schedule to the past five years. It was the slowest planting pace in nearly a decade. Only 14 percent of seed corn was in the ground on Sunday, as April weather made it particularly difficult to plant potentially successful seedlings. Research on corn yield from Iowa State University shows the most successful corn crops are planted before middle May.

Iowa farms have three weeks left in the planting season before yields get considerably lower in June.

EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

Spring corn planting slowed by low soil temperatures


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 4, 2022

As farmers prepare to plant their corn crop this spring they are running into some issues because of low soil temperatures.

Following cold and wet weather in Iowa, the state’s corn planting season has been significantly delayed. The pushing back of planting shortens the optimal yield window for the year. Only 9 percent of Iowa’s corn crop has been planted according to a May 2 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The average by this time of year is 42 percent of the crop.

State Climatologist Justin Glisan told Iowa Capital Dispatch early planting this year was first stalled in April because of low temperatures five degrees below average. He said 2022 had one of Iowa’s top 15 coldest winters.

Soil temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees to plant corn seed that is likely to sprout. Soil temps have mainly stayed in the 40s this spring. The lack of planted crops will impact supply moving forward this year.

Large spending increase for tribal, climate programs expected from U.S. Interior secretary


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 29, 2022

The U.S. Interior Department is planning to ask the House of Representative to increase funding to a tribal programs and climate resiliency efforts this week.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will ask the spending panel to increase the fiscal 2023 budget for the department to set ambitious but achievable goals, according to written testimony for the budget request.

““Working together, we have the opportunity to invest now to strengthen our Nation for all Americans, protect our environment, and ensure our future generations continue to not only enjoy, but improve our way of life,” Haaland wrote in the testimony.

The current proposed request would increase spending on Indian Affairs programs by almost 25 percent. The sum would become $4.5 billion and would focus on sovereignty and equity opportunities for tribes across the country. The funding would also spend billions on delivering safe, clean water to tribe. The request will come in tandem with an increase in funds for the transition to renewable energy usage in the U.S. The department wants $1.4 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water projects to help with worsening droughts and $1.2 billion for wildfire management, among other spending. The administration asked for a total $61 million for tribal climate resilience programs.