New report shows Iowa’s slow progress in meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals


By Julia Shanahan | July 19th, 2019

In a report from the Iowa Environmental Council, it will take about 900 years to meet wetland goals and 30,000 years to implement enough bioreactors to treat the number of acres set out it in the 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented in Iowa in 2013 with the goal of reducing the amount of nitrate and phosphorus runoff in waterways, and then eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The state hopes to cut nutrient runoff by 45 percent through voluntary programs and conservation practices.

In 2018, Iowa had about 880,000 acres of cover crops planted – a way to reduce soil erosion and prevent nutrient runoff. However, the NRS says Iowa needs about 12.6 million acres of cover crops, and the Iowa Environmental Council estimates it will take another 93 years until the state reaches that goal. The average rate of cover crop installation has decreased since the NRS implementation in 2013, but increased in 2018 by about 16 percent.

The NRS also aims to treat 7.7 million acres of wetlands – or see a 45 percent decrease in nutrient pollution – and as of 2017, about 104,000 acres were treated. The Environmental Council estimates it will take 913 years for the state to reach that goal at Iowa’s rate of adoption.

Bioreactors, which cost about $10,000 to $15,000 to install, only cover 1,250 acres of the state. Iowa’s strategy aims for bioreactors to treat 6,000 acres of the state.

Study shows states in the U.S. can expect more hot days


Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | July 18th, 2019

The number of Iowa’s heat index is above 90 degrees is expected to triple, bringing the average up to 64 days per year by mid-century and 92 days by the century’s end, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Iowa’s heat index includes the temperature and humidity combined. This potentially lethal heat is caused by climate change, according to the study. These heat increased will affect other states across the country as well.

The study says that if there is no action to reduce carbon emissions, then by the end of the century Florida and Texas could experience the equivalent of about five months per year where the average temperature “feels like” its above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with most days surpassing 105 degrees. The study said that some southern states could experience temperatures that would exceed the upper-limit of the National Weather Service heat index scale, causing potential, and unprecedented, health risks.

By mid-century, the study found that 401 U.S. cities, places with more than 50,000 residents, would experience an average of about a month or more a year where temperatures surpass 90 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the usual 239 cities. More than 6 million people would experience “off-the-charts” heat days for about a week or more on average. Overall, the study showed that the Southeast and Southern Great Plains will experience the worst of these effects.


Iowa is experiencing a heat index value of 110 degrees Fahrenheit this week. According to the UCS, heat related injuries can happen at temperatures above 90 degrees, making small children and elderly the most susceptible.  

Scientists predict the 2019 Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” to be one the largest


Gulf of Mexico. Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr.

By Julia Shanahan | July 12th, 2019

The 2019 Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” will be the second-largest recorded, scientists from Louisiana State University announced this week.

The “dead zone” – an oxygen-depleted area of water in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nitrogen and phosphorus – will cover 8,717 square-miles as of this summer. Unusually high river discharge from the Mississippi River in May contributed to the growth of the dead zone. Oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, also threatens marine life, including fish, shrimp, and crabs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicted the dead zone to reach record-highs. In 2017, the dead zone reached about 8,776 square-feet, as reported by the NOAA.  LSU scientists predict the 2019 hypoxic area to be about the size of New Hampshire.

The NOAA also attributed the growth in the annual dead zone to the record rainfall and flooding that happened in the spring months. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated a total of 156,000 metric tons of nitrate and 25,300 metric tons of phosphorus were carried from the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico in May alone.

Iowa experienced record flooding from the Missouri River in the spring, which contributed to the nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River. Iowa remains a major contributor to the annual Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

Low oxygen levels appeared about 50 years ago when farming intensified in the Midwest, according to the press release from LSU. In the last few decades, there has not been a reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Farms no longer have to report air emissions caused by animal waste


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By Julia Shanahan | July 5th, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that will exempt farms from reporting air emissions caused by animal waste. 

Reporting will still be required for the release of animal waste into water. This exemption is in the form of an amendment to EPCRA section 304, where its main purpose is to alert emergency responders of dangerous emissions, like chemical leaks, so they can potentially evacuate a community or alert locals to seek shelter. In a news release, the EPA said this final rule will ensure that “emergency planners and local responders receive reports that focus on these kinds of emergencies.”

This new rule also applies to decomposing animal waste. All other hazardous emissions above a recommended threshold will still need to be reported. 

Animal waste emissions into the air can increase the risk for respiratory health issues like asthma, and also contribute to climate change. A 2013 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Association said that 7.1 gigatons of CO2 emissions can be attributed to the global livestock sector annually.

Iowa is the country’s leading producer of animal and human waste. The Iowa Environmental Focus reported on research engineer Chris Jones’ March study that calculated how many people each livestock group accounted for in terms of the amount of waste it produces, and called it Iowa’s “real population.”

While Iowa has a population of just over 3 million people, this is what Jones found in his March study and lists in his blog:

  • Iowa hogs: equivalent to 83.7 million people
  • Dairy cattle: 8.6 million people
  • Beef cattle: 25 million people
  • Laying chickens: 15 million people
  • Turkeys: 900,000 people

Iowa DNR warns to protect those sensitive to firework smoke; dispose safely


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By Julia Shanahan | June 28th, 2019

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources EcoNewsWire warns that drifting smoke from fireworks this Fourth of July can cause breathing problems for some individuals, and that people should be sure to dispose of fireworks safely.

The news release said that when the air is stagnant, fine particles get trapped near the ground and can build to unhealthy levels if there is no breeze. 

“If your family or friends suffer from asthma or respiratory difficulties, it’s important for them to stay upwind, a safe distance from fireworks smoke,” says Brian Hutchins, DNR air quality supervisor, in the news release. “The elderly and children are also vulnerable to higher levels of smoke.”

In 2017, the Fourth of July fire-work show in Des Moines exceeded the EPA’s national standards for fine particle levels. Black powder and metals used to create a firework’s color produce the fine particles after a firework explodes.

The Iowa DNR also warns to never put unsoaked fireworks in the garbage, as they pose a fire/explosion hazard. The DNR recommends to completely submerge fireworks in a bucket of water to soak overnight, and then to wrap the soaked fireworks in plastic wrap or two plastic bags. Dispose of the wrapped fireworks in a household trash or landfill, or contact a local fire department or landfill for additional disposal options.

Additionally, fireworks contain metals that can contaminate water. The Iowa DNR says fireworks should never be detonated near water, because it’s illegal, but also because the impact can kill fish and other surrounding aquatic life. 

Iowa DNR cautions boaters this upcoming Fourth of July


Photo by Ethan Sees on Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | June 27th, 2019

Due to record rainfall and Iowa waterbodies being at or above flood levels, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises individuals who plan to take part in Fourth of July festivities on the water to be cautious.

“Don’t overload your [boat],” said DNR boating law administrator Susan Stocker in a news release. “The U.S. Coast Guard, along with manufacturers, determines the capacity of each boat and it is visible on virtually all boats. Watch for objects at or just below the surface. The rain and runoff may have washed logs or other debris into the water or moved previous obstacles to different locations.” 

Iowa set a record for rain and snow the last 12 months, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. State weather experts say a changing climate and higher ocean temperatures from thousands of miles away contributed to Iowa’s increase in precipitation as well, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

In May, the Mississippi River near the Quad Cities hit the highest level ever recorded – 22.7 feet.

As the hot summer months continue, Iowa can expect higher than average rainfall. Along with climate change, El Nino conditions over the Pacific Ocean is also a contributing factor. This moisture was also a factor in the major flooding that happened in southwest Iowa and Nebraska in March after snowmelt and rainfall.

For Iowans looking for more information about how to stay safe on a boat this Fourth of July, the DNR has boater education resources online.

Climate Change puts dogs at a greater risk for diseases


By Julia Shanahan | June 21st, 2019

While there have been reports that climate change puts humans at a greater risk for contracting infectious diseases, some experts say climate change has contributed to the spread of diseases that can sicken or sometimes kill dogs, according to a report from USA Today.

The report highlighted illnesses in dogs such as vomiting, joint pain, fever, Heartworm disease, and tick-borne illnesses. Lyme disease has also affected dogs all the way through Canada.

These diseases can also be contracted by humans, but dogs and other animals are put at a greater risk because they spend more time outside. Also, because the average global temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees fahrenheit, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, animals are at risk for diseases not only in the summer months, but also in the fall and spring.  

In the USA Today report, Ram Raghavan, a professor of spatial epidemiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University who studies tick-borne illnesses and populations in the Midwest, said he believes ticks are expanding their habitats to places where they were never typically found. The changing amounts of rainfall and humidity levels contribute to the expansion of diseases, and in the Midwest, increasing rainfall and flooding have been evident.

The report says the shift in dogs being at risk for disease will be “fast and ugly.” It says that ticks can often carry new viruses and diseases, and with the population expansion, experts are not certain as to exactly what other diseases could potentially spread.


The Center for Disease Control encourages dog owners to do routine veterinary exams, and to make sure children are washing their hands after petting or playing with dogs.