Iowa Group Turns the Water Pollution Issue into a Clickable Map


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Josie Taylor | September 2, 2021

The Environmental Working Group has developed a clickable map that describes some of Iowa’s most pressing pollution problems in fine detail. 

This map, called “water atlas” shows that Iowa is being polluted by manure and commercial fertilizers. This is something that affects every Iowan. These pollute Iowa’s waters, which makes tap water more expensive for residents. 

The Environmental Working Group map details fertilization statewide and the nitrate and phosphorus pollution associated with the practices in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As many already know, these states are agriculture hot spots. 

Soren Rundquist, the organization’s director of spatial analysis, said the idea for this interactive map was to make data points easily accessible for Iowans, so they could understand what is going on. 

Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan has declared the Des Moines River “essentially unusable” for tap water at times due to algae toxins from farm runoff. 

Water Works drew national attention when it sued upstream drainage districts to force them to address pollution, but a federal judge threw the case out. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of Iowans supported the lawsuit. 

Iowans clearly want safe drinking, and the Iowa Environmental Working Group has made it easier to understand what is going on.

July was Earth’s Hottest Month Ever Recorded


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 18, 2021

In the latest report to sound the alarm about the climate crisis, July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded, according to new data released by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. 

The data found combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 1.67 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees F, making it the hottest July since records began in 1879. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. The previous record was set in July 2016, which was tied in 2019 and 2020. 

Regionally, Asia experienced its hottest July since the record was set in 2010; Europe had its second-hottest July – tying with July 2010; and North America, South America, Africa and Oceania all facing a top-10 warmest July. It is very likely 2021 will rank among the world’s 10 warmest years on record, according to the NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook

The report comes less than three months prior to “COP26,” a major climate summit held in Glasgow. Most members of the Paris Agreement will be at the summit and are expected to submit updated pledges as well as to set tougher targets for emission reductions by 2030. 

Millions in damages from 2020 Derecho coming out of farmers’ pockets


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 28, 2021

The derecho and drought last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans and pastures with farmers absorbing nearly one-third of the losses, according to a new report.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is lobbying congress for additional disaster aid for US growers due to insurance being unable to total cover the cost of damages. Federal crop insurance covered $560 million in losses leaving $243 million in damages farmers were responsible to pay for out of pocket. 

Across the country, damages caused by natural disasters totaled $6.5 billion last year. Federal crop insurance is only able to cover around $2.9 billion in losses with $3.6 left to farmers. Farm Bureau crop damage estimates do not include other ag losses such as loss of livestock or additional equipment costs farmers experienced. Regardless, it was the fourth-most expensive year of natural disasters since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The derecho’s powerful winds reached 140 mph on August 10 as it traveled 770 miles across eight states. While most of the damages to homes, businesses and farmers centered in Iowa and Illinois, total damage reached $11.5 billion. 

U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, voted in favor of an $8.5 billion disaster bill to provide coverage for the derecho and other high wind events which the House agriculture committee approved Tuesday according to the Des Moines Register. The bill would provide assistance to farmers and ranchers seeking natural disaster assistance for last year and 2021. 

Biden nominates former Iowa Governor Chet Culver to federal rural lending board


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 20, 2021

Former Iowa Governor Chet Culver has been nominated by President Joe Biden to the board of directors for the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, also known as Farmer Mac. 

Culver served as Governor of Iowa from 2007 to 2011. During his governorship Culver built up a large budget surplus and earned Iowa a ‘Triple A’ bond rating, which helped the renewable energy industry grow in Iowa. Culver also served as the Iowa Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007 and founded the Chet Culver group, a renewable energy consulting firm, in 2011. 

Farmer Mac is a federally chartered organization aimed at increasing access to capital in rural and agricultural communities. Created in response to the 1980’s farm crisis, the organization is now the largest secondary market investor of USDA loan guarantees in the U.S. and has provided over $63 billion in loans to rural borrowers. 

“Any rural-based business or industry can benefit from Farmer Mac. I want to make sure that continues into the future, and that’s another reason I’m privileged and honored to serve,” said Culver. 

The president is able to appoint five members to the board of fifteen as representatives for farmers, the Farm Credit System and commercial banks. If approved by Congress this will be Culver’s second term serving on Farmer Mac. 

Lake Darling Faces Continuing Bacteria Problems Despite $12 Million Restoration


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 6, 2021

Once the pinnacle of Iowa perennial lake improvement, Lake Darling now reports one of the highest amounts of swimming advisories in Iowa. 

Despite a $12 million restoration concluded in 2014, Lake Darling has had problems maintaining its renewed water quality. A study by the Iowa Environmental Council found Darling had 30 beach advisories for fecal bacteria and nine for algae toxins between 2014 and 2020. In a rare discovery for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Darling was found to have violated three state swimming standards in a single round of tests last week. Only seven other lakes received “swimming not recommended” warnings.

The restoration of Lake Darling began in the early 2000’s after Iowa DNR tests for bacteria found high levels of animal waste due to the local area’s high concentration of hog confinements. Animal bacteria and algae toxins can result in intestinal and other illnesses in humans, especially those with weakened immune systems. However, many of these concerns seemed to be put to rest due to the restoration. In 2007, the Iowa DNR even published an article titled “Lake Darling: A snapshot of success.

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Alicia Vasto, the associate water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said the increase in algae toxin microcystin has been a major concern. Vasto noted the beginning of July is very early in the season for microcystin advisories, however the precipitation patterns and drought increases the difficulty to draw conclusions. 

Carbon-Capturing Pipelines are Being Proposed in Iowa


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Josie Taylor | June 14, 2021

A Texas based company called Navigator CO2 plans to build pipelines across Iowa that can capture carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol, fertilizer and other industrial plants. Iowa’s Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group has also put out plans to capture carbon emission. CEO of Navigator Matt Vining, along with president of Summit Ag Investors, Justin Kirchhoff, did an interview with the Des Moines Register.

Both companies have the same goal of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from reaching the atmosphere. This would ideally stop carbon dioxide emissions from contributing to climate change. The companies will do this by liquefying the carbon dioxide, and then injecting it into a rock formation under the ground. 

Vining told the Des Moines Register that once the carbon dioxide is injected into the rock formation, it will be there permanently. Kirchhoff said their project can cut carbon emissions from ethanol plants in half. 

Vining commented on the controversial nature of pipelines. In the past, oil and gas pipelines have been opposed by many, including Indigious American communities. Vining this is different because, “Capturing CO2 from the environment is in the public’s best interest … it’s a public need”.

Neither company has an exact layout for where the pipelines will be. 

UI Researchers Develop a New Model to Measure Air Pollution from Soil By Using Satellites


Elizabeth Miglin | June 9, 2021

Researchers at the University of Iowa Technology Institute (ITI) have developed a new model to measure air pollution from soil using satellite data. 

Led by visiting ITI scholar Tong Sha, the study focused on nitrogen oxides (NOx) derived from soil (SNOx). Traditionally, NOx are thought of as emissions from combustion of fossil fuels however, scientists suspect SNOx may be increasingly responsible for poor ozone air quality, especially in agricultural areas. Although existing data to support this belief is lacking, the research started at the University of Iowa has led to a new assessment model which may yield more accurate estimates of SNOx. 

The new model updated the Weather Research and Forecasting simulator and chemistry, known as WRF-Chem, in order to improve an SNOx estimate scheme. With this, the researchers used an array of satellite sensors including the Global Precipitation Measurement to measure precipitation, Soil Moisture Active Passive to measure soil moisture and temperature, and others to show for the first time from space the increase of SNOx right after the fall of rain on dry soil. 

Although the research focused on rural California, its findings apply to rural cropland areas in Iowa and elsewhere. The study found around 40% of California’s NOx emissions are from soil and in the cropland areas SNOx emissions exceeded human-source emissions. Furthermore, the team found SNOx emissions are responsible for an additional 23% surface ozone concentration in California as a whole. 

The study was published on May 18th in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology. 

Iowa water quality program receives extra funding near end of legislative session


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 25, 2021

The Iowa state legislative session ended on Thursday with water quality bills taking center stage and receiving mixed responses. 

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig touted the 10-year extension of a state water quality program which will provide an additional $320 million in funding for water quality projects. Most of the funds will go to paying farmers for soil conservation and reducing chemical runoff projects; however, providing wildlife habitats and recreation will also be supported by these funds. 

As Naig emphasized, this funding upholds the Iowa environmental goals adopted in 2013 known as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The recommendations were expected to cost $89.3 million to $1.4 billion a year when adjusted for inflation. However, the Iowa Environmental Council noted that of the $500 million spent in Iowa on federal conservation programs in years past, only $17 million was focused directly on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. 

The funding of Iowa water quality programs greatly impacts other national water quality issues such as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, with Iowa farms being a main source of pollution. The gulf is one of the nation’s most important shrimping areas but seasonally becomes lifeless due to algae blooms fed by fertilizer. 

Questions have arisen if the additional funding for the state water quality program will be enough due to other state environmental programs being underfunded. This includes the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which is currently penniless due to the expectation the fund would be filled by state tax increases. However, Gov. Kim Reynold’s 1-cent sales tax increase, known as the Invest in Iowa plan, was paused due to COVID-19’s economic impact on Iowa. 

State environmental panel approves controversial new water rule


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 19, 2021

The state environmental panel approved a controversial new water quality rule which could take away important protections for Iowa’s waterways. 

The governor-appointed Environmental Protection Commission approved rules on Tuesday related to water quality certifications and permits. The Iowa Environmental Council, a nonprofit coalition of 80 environmental groups, said the new rules would immediately remove multiple protections for Iowa’s waterways as well as cause other protections to regress. The new water quality rule would specifically require projects near outstanding waters receive individual certification, allow for heavy equipment in the area, and would remove wetland loss restrictions. 

The EPA requires any changes to the water quality rules be tied to specific water quality standards, including the following of other code sections pertaining to water quality and pollution standards. However, the environmental council argues the conditions set by the commission are not enough and could lead to further water quality standard violations if they remain the standard for water quality protection. Iowa Department of Natural Resources water quality monitoring staff supervisor Roger Bruner said the suggested changes by the environmental council were “outside the scope” of federal rules by not being directly related to a specific water quality standard, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch

More than 60% of Iowa’s rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs are considered impaired due to harmful levels of bacteria and algae fueled by runoff of manure and fertilizers according to the Iowa DNR

Iowa farmer leads class-action lawsuit against herbicide manufacturers


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 18, 2021

An Iowa farmer is leading a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the creators of a commonly used herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease. 

The Iowa case was filed May 3rd in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on behalf of Doug Holliday, a farmer who works near Greenfield in Adair County. Holliday has been using Paraquat on his crops since the 1990s and alleges the manufacturers of Paraquat have failed to adequately warn users that exposure increases their risk of developing Parkinson’s. This is one of many class-action claims filed against the manufacturers of Paraquat during the past two weeks. 

This herbicide has been sold under the name Gramoxone since 1962; Paraquat which is owned by the US-based Chevron and Switzerland-based Syngenta has been sold in the US since 1964. The weed killer is banned by countries around the world, including the European Union nations and China for its connections to Parkinson’s disease and its highly poisonous nature. Both Chevron and Syngenta have defended Paraquat and have questioned the studies connecting it to Parkinson’s disease.

The federal government estimates in 2017 alone, over 15 million pounds of Paraquat was applied to American croplands according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. This estimate is expected to increase as Paraquat is increasingly used as an alternative herbicide to Roundup, a herbicide under increased scrutiny as a possible carcinogen.