Researchers to explore Des Moines-area sustainability potential on NSF grant


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Downtown Des Moines and the surrounding six-county area are the subjects of a new research project on urban sustainability (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | January 24, 2020

The National Science Foundation granted a group of mostly Iowa-based interdisciplinary researchers $2.5 million to explore potential scenarios for making greater Des Moines more sustainable.

The Sustainable Cities Research Team –12 researchers from Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and University of Texas at Arlington– received the grant this week. The group’s engineers, environmental scientists, psychologists and others will holistically study food, energy and water systems within a six-county area to develop and analyze “scenarios” for improved sustainability.

An ISU press release said the approach would include analysis of potential for increased local and urban food production as well as building and transportation energy efficiency. The researchers will survey and collaborate with local residents and stakeholders, including farmers and community leaders.

The research effort could inform not only the future of the Des Moines area, but planning and policy in other Midwestern cities, too.

Iowa farmers concerned about land requirements for solar energy


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Solar panels near farmland (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | January 22, 2020

The Iowa Farm Bureau is urging state legislators to regulate siting of wind and solar operations this session, citing concerns about conflicting land use.

The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that Farm Bureau legislative preview videos said generating 3,000 megawatts of solar power through 20 proposed projects in Iowa “could potentially take thousands of acres out of production.”

Kerri Johannsen, the Iowa Environmental Council’s energy director, told the Register that generating 10% of Iowa’s power through solar panels would require 13,000 acres, or 0.4% of Iowa’s farmland.

Bill Cherrier, CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative (which has a few solar projects in the works) said solar projects are usually cited on “subprime” land for farming. Environmental groups said they would be open to regulation, as long as they did not restrict the state’s transition to renewable energy in the future.

An article this week from clean energy website Clean Technica suggested Iowa farmers consider “agrovolatics,” or integration of renewable energy and crops. The author cited European studies and projects that demonstrated increased productivity of land through the practice.

 

DNR 2019 precipitation summary recalls Iowa’s rainy year


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From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Julia Poska | January 10, 2020

2019 was Iowa’s 12th wettest year on record, with an average of 41.49 inches of rainfall across the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Rainfall in May, September and October was especially high, while the summer months experienced below average rainfall.

The two-year 2018/2019 period was the wettest on record, with 19 more inches of precipitation than average. Stream flows were above normal all 2019 following heavy snow in the winter months. The rainy spring and fall seasons are indicative of projected climate change models for the region.

2019 temperatures in Iowa were cooler than average, however, by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit. During the January “Polar Vortex,”one station in Emmet County recorded a -59 degree windchill. Summer was slightly cooler than average, though July and September were warm, andChristmas week broke record temperature highs.

 

Weber pushes natural resource funding in letter


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The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would help protect Iowa’s natural resources (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | January 3, 2020

Iowa Flood Center co-creator and research engineer Larry Weber began the new year with a letter to the editor in the Cedar Rapids Gazette urging Iowans to permanently fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund in 2020.

In 2010, Iowans voted to create the fund, officially amending the state constitution to create a source of permanent funding for protecting and improving the state’s natural resources and their associated benefits . The proposed 3/8 sales tax increase to create revenue for the fund, though, has still not been implemented.

“This funding would allow us to accelerate our conservation efforts to make meaningful improvements to address flooding and improve water quality,” wrote Weber, who has dedicated his career to Iowa’s water quality and quantity challenges.

“Together, we can maintain a strong agricultural economy while protecting our water and natural resources, and at the same time creating an environment where people are drawn to live, work, and recreate,” he concluded.

 

 

 

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals


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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.

 

5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.

 

 

UI research links pesticide and cardiovascular death


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Pyrethroids are commonly found in most household insecticides (via flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 30, 2019

New observational research has found that people with high exposure to common “pyrethroid” insencticides were 56% more likely to die during a study period than others. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death in the exposed.

CGRER member Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, is an author of the study, published Jan. 30 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Pyrethroid insecticides are used in most household insecticides and some pet products and head-lice shampoos. The study followed a sample of 2,116 adults who took the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2002, representative of the U.S. population as a whole. The researchers noted levels of pyrethroid-associated chemicals in their urine and found death records to determine how many had died by 2015, as well as their cause of death.

While those with higher pyrethroid exposure were more likely to die overall, the highly exposed were three times more likely to suffer cardiovascular deaths than others as well.  Bao said in an Iowa Now feature that the study does not prove that the insecticides are the cause of death, only that death and exposure are correlated.

 

 

60 degree Christmas part of a larger pattern of atmospheric warming


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Temperatures across Iowa at 2:51pm Dec. 25 (via Iowa Environmental Mesonet). 

Julia Poska| December 27, 2019

High temperatures on Wednesday, December 25 2019 broke records across the state of Iowa and much of the Midwest.

Des Moines reached 60 degrees, breaking the 1936 record of 58 degrees. Cedar Rapids reached 58 degrees, breaking the previous record of 54, according to Weather Underground.

The Christmas day highs were preceded and followed by unseasonably warm weather as well.

Though a 60 degree December day is not unheard of (the Des Moines Register reports that at least one December day in Iowa has reach 60 degrees 29% of years since 1878), average winter temperatures in the Midwest are undoubtedly rising.

A Union of Concerned Scientists report shares that average annual winter temperatures in the Midwest have risen about 4 degrees since 1980. Winter temperatures are forecast to continue rising, while snow and days below freezing will decrease.