Excessive Bacteria and Toxins at Spirit Lake Beach


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Josie Taylor | August 23, 2022

The water at a Spirit Lake beach recently had the highest concentrations of bacteria detected so far this year at any state beach in Iowa, along with an unhealthy amount of blue-green algae toxins, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

That means the DNR’s weekly test revealed more than 24,000 viable bacteria in less than a half cup of the lake water. The tests are unable to quantify the number of bacteria above that level.

In Iowa lakes that are prone to unhealthy concentrations of bacteria, a single test that detects 235 viable bacteria can prompt the DNR’s “swimming not recommended” warning. 

Bacteria concentrations in Iowa’s lakes can shift dramatically over the course of days, which is why the DNR samples state beaches once each week during warmer months when people are most likely to come in contact with the water. 

Spirit Lake has a fairly significant blue-green algae bloom right now near the beach that stretches into the lake for perhaps 50 yards. That’s the source of the toxin warning at the beach.

Permit Process Continues for Carbon Pipeline in Iowa


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Josie Taylor | August 17, 22

State regulators are expected to hold a scheduling conference that will guide the rest of the permit process for Summit Carbon Solutions, which will build about 680 miles of liquid carbon pipeline in Iowa. The pipeline would connect to ethanol plants, where captured carbon dioxide would be compressed into a liquid and transported to North Dakota to be pumped deep into the ground.

An Iowa Utilities Board attorney said during a Tuesday board meeting that a proposed order is coming in the future. The meeting will allow the company, affected landowners and others to discuss deadlines for testimony and interventions. Potential dates for the permit hearing and when the company will finalize its requests for eminent domain will also be discussed. 

Since early last week, Summit has been submitting its lists of landowners who have declined to grant easements for the project, whose land might be subject to eminent domain. As of Monday, the list included dozens of parcels in 11 counties, including Cherokee, Chickasaw, Crawford, Fremont, Greene, Hancock, Ida, Lyon, Plymouth, Pottawattamie and Sioux. 

Summit said it obtained permission from landowners for about 40% of the pipeline route in Iowa. Summit’s project is one of three carbon pipeline proposals in Iowa, although it is the only company so far to officially file for a permit. Navigator CO2 Ventures is set to hold another round of public meetings starting next week in counties where its route has changed. Wolf Carbon Solutions has meetings set late this month in five eastern Iowa counties.

Drought Worsens Crop Conditions in Southern Iowa


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Josie Taylor | August 16, 2022

The percentage of Iowa’s corn and soybeans rated good or excellent declined at least 7 points last week, the largest such drop this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The latest USDA report said 66% of the state’s corn and 63% of soybeans were good or excellent, down from 73% and 71% a week ago.

Widespread moderate to severe drought conditions are affecting southern Iowa, where the available soil moisture for crops is dwindling. Less than 10% of topsoil and subsoil in southwest Iowa has adequate moisture, according to the USDA.

In northeast Iowa, 90% of the soil has adequate or surplus water. In the past two weeks, northeast Iowa has had above-average rainfall and southwest has been abnormally dry.

The state as a whole received less than half the rainfall of what is typically expected last week and less than half the state has adequate soil moisture.

The area of worst drought is still in northwest Iowa near Sioux City.

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.

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.

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.

Alaska Experiences Extreme Wildfires


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Josie Taylor | July 25, 2022

In Alaska, wildfires are burning in ways that are rarely seen. Areas that are usually fireproof, or mostly fireproof, are burning.

More than 530 wildfires have burned an area the size of Connecticut, and the usual worst of the fire season is still later in the summer. While little property has burned, some residents have been forced to evacuate.

Recent rains have helped but longer-term forecasts are showing a pattern similar to 2004. In 2004, July rains gave way to high-pressure systems, hot days, low humidity and lightning strikes that fueled Alaska’s worst fire year.

The acreage burned by mid-July was about the same as now, but by the time that fire season ended, 10,156 square miles were burned.

Heat waves and droughts are making wildfires more frequent, destructive, and harder to fight in many places. This month, wildfires have torn through Portugal, Spain, France, England and Germany, which have seen record-high temperatures.

Europe Experiences Record Breaking Heat


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Josie Taylor | July 20, 2022

For the first time on record, Britain experienced temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius — 104 Fahrenheit — on Tuesday, as a heat wave moved northwest. This heat wave is leaving a trail of wildfires, lost lives and evacuated homes across Europe. The continent is extremely ill-equipped to deal with the extreme weather.

Britain is far from the only country suffering from the heat wave. France saw severe wildfires. 2,000 firefighters battled fires that have burned nearly 80 square miles of parched forest in the Gironde area of the country’s southwest.

Spain, Italy and Greece also endured major wildfires. In London, a series of grass fires erupted around the capital on Tuesday afternoon, burning several homes.

At least 34 places broke the old British record for heat on Tuesday, according to the Met Office, the national weather service, including at least six that reached 40 Celsius. Scotland broke its old record of 32.9, with temperatures of 34.8 in Charterhall. 

Network Rail, which operates the country’s rail system, issued a “do not travel” warning for trains that run through areas covered by a “red” warning issued by the Met Office. The red zone covered an area stretching from London north to Manchester and York. Several train companies canceled all services running north from the capital.

Forecasters across Europe are predicting the temperatures will cool down midweek. In Britain, some showers are expected, and temperatures are forecast to lower, staying below 80 Fahrenheit in most of the country on Wednesday.