This week’s episode of “Our Water, Our Land,” looks to the Des Moines Water Works a little over a year after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit involving the utility.
In 2015, Des Moines Water Works sued Sac, Calhoun, and Buena Vista counties, claiming the northern Iowa counties were responsible for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River — a source of water for 500,000 Iowans. The utility spent $1.5 million in 2015 removing nitrates from the water so it was safe for consumption.
The Des Moines Water Works was criticized for its decision to take the issue to court by politicians and rural Iowans, for both the legal costs and the blame on farmers.
Professor Neil Hamilton of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University said the lawsuit has brought attention to the issue of water quality in the state of Iowa, and has raised the question of, who is responsible for keeping water safe and clean?
A nonprofit organization called Climate Central has been educating meteorologists about climate change, who are familiar faces and often trusted sources in communities. By communicating climate science to their viewers, meteorologists can have a huge impact on overall perspectives on climate change, which may lead deniers to believe, and believers to take action.
Climate Central provides stations with pre-made graphics and data that they can include in their nightly reports. Connecting short-term weather events with long-term climate patterns can be tricky, but Climate Central helps to bridge this gap and make accurate yet understandable connections between the weather that people experience locally and the climate change that is occurring at the global scale.
A new report found Antarctic ice is melting at an astoundingly higher rate than scientist thought.
The study published in Nature found that from 1992 to 2017, about 3 trillion tons of ice melted from Antarctica, increasing sea levels by about 7.6 millimeters around the world. Although it does not sound like much, a disproportionate amount of that rise was in the last five years. If sea level rise continues to accelerate, levels could be over three feet higher by 2100.
The Antarctic ice sheet, the study said, is an important indicator of global climate change. Rising sea levels is one of the main consequences of climate change, as it will increase flooding in coastal cities, especially during storms like hurricanes.
“This is the most authoritative and comprehensive treatment to date and should further reassure the public and policymakers that the science is solid, while perhaps making people more broadly less assured because the small warming and other climate changes to date have already triggered mass loss,” climate scientist Richard Alley of Penn State University told Axios in an email.
Innovators in education at the University of Iowa are leading a charge to revitalize science curriculum in Iowa’s K-12 schools.
The effort aims to teach kids how to apply science, like biology, chemistry, geology, and physics, rather than just memorizing terms and facts.
“It’s teaching in a way that attaches an Iowa child to real-world relevance,” said Ted Neal, clinical associate professor in the UI College of Education in an Iowa Now article. “At that point, the child is hooked. She or he cares.”
Neal pointed out that the jobs that these young people will have in the future likely do not exist yet. For that reason, they need to be trained in how to ask and answer scientific questions.
The UI College of Education, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research are conducting surveys with teachers around the state to better understand what changes need to be made to achieve the goals in curriculum changes.
Neal has also written a book detailing how to educate eighth graders in ways that teach science specifically relating to Iowa’s land use, climate, and environmental challenges.
Water is a tricky resource to protect in Iowa. No one owns the water, yet many take it for granted.
The value of water is brought into question in this week’s episode of “Our Water, Our Land” from the Drake University Law Center. Professor Neil Hamilton points out that Iowa has few regulations compelling citizens to protect its thousands of miles of rivers, compared to the legal protections and general awareness for soil health. Frankly, he says, individuals don’t think about the water much.
Hamilton attests that the viewpoint on water regulation thus far is that it is unnecessary — the general attitude is that people will voluntarily do their part in keeping the water clean. Clearly, that isn’t working. Iowa’s water quality is dismal.
It’s not just the role of farmers and lawmakers, either, he says. Everyone should have a hand in protecting Iowa’s water resources.
After Tuesday’s primary election, the race for Iowa governor has been narrowed down to two contenders — incumbent Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, and retired businessman and Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell.
The election is still a few months away, but it’s not too early to compare the two candidates. Here’s a breakdown of their stances on environmental issues.
Gov. Kim Reynolds
Reynolds’ campaign website does not give any indication of her stances on environmental issues. But, she has been the governor of Iowa since May 2017, when former Gov. Terry Branstad vacated the position, allowing then-Lt. Gov. Reynolds to assume the helm.
Looking at the past year of Reynolds’ leadership, she has signed two notable bills relating to the environment.
One, Senate File 2311, signed May 4, changed some laws surrounding utilities, and aimed to extend natural gas into rural areas and increase transparency for utility customers.
The Iowa Environmental Council criticized this bill, stating it “guts energy efficiency programs and allows municipal utilities to discriminate against solar energy customers.”
Second, Reynolds signed Senate File 512 on Jan. 31, a $282 million allocation for improving Iowa’s water quality.
“This law is a significant step in the right direction and should ignite a continuing conversation as we work to make a positive impact on water quality in Iowa,” Reynolds said in a statement after she signed the bill.
The Des Moines Register reported, however, that the funding was merely a “drop in the bucket” compared to the estimated $4 billion needed to make a difference in Iowa’s water quality.
The Iowa Environmental Council also condemned this bill for taking a “business as usual” approach and lacking the scientific basis and financial resources needed for substantial change.
Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, however, supported the bill. also issued a statement on SF 512, he said the funding will allow the Department of Agriculture to expand investment in locally led water quality projects in targeted watersheds, while also giving farmers and landowners statewide a chance to try practices focused on water quality.
“Passage of this long-term water quality funding bill with bipartisan support is a tremendous next step as we work to continue scaling up the water quality efforts underway statewide,” he said.
The Democratic nominee lists “environment” as one of his priorities on his campaign website. Though Hubbell has no political experience to evaluate his history of environmental policy support, his website touts his long-time advocacy for environmental issues, including supporting renewable energy initiatives while he was chairman of the Iowa Power Fund.
In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, Hubbell criticized Senate File 512 for lacking methods to monitor progress in water quality. He called for more transparent efforts to improve water quality so that Iowans can see progress being made.
“The taxpayers should be able to see whether they’re getting a return with less nutrients, less nitrates in the water, and the farmers are getting better soil, then let’s know that so taxpayers know their money is being well spent,” Hubbell said to IPR.
How much do you know about Iowa’s legacy of conservation?
Several leaders in conservation have Iowa roots, including Jay N. “Ding” Darling, the illustrator behind the first duck stamp and a Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register, focusing his cartoons on protecting wildlife and natural resources.
Drake University currently has an exhibit featuring some of Darling’s works at Cowles Library from now until June 30. The exhibit aims to show how his cartoons helped to create policy in the United States surrounding conservation.
Neil Hamilton, director of Drake’s Agricultural Law Center, said in a video that the issues of conservation and preservation Darling was bringing light to 60 years ago are still relevant today.