Waste, water, and nitrates: Iowa’s growing problem


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Iowa’s livestock contributes heavily to our nitrate problem | Photo by John Lambeth on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 18th, 2019

Nitrates are not a new subject for Iowans. We’ve already published a nitrate breakdown that explains the nitrate pollution contributions Iowa makes to the many larger bodies of water our rivers drain into and how nitrate pollution can affect our bodies.

With some new research emerging, it’s become clear that Iowa’s nitrate problem is intricately linked with its status as a heavily agricultural state–our amounts of livestock have a heavy effect on the quality of our water, and the problem may be larger than we realize.

Back in March, Chris Jones, a research engineer from IIHR, broke down what he calls Iowa’s “real population”–a collective census of our state’s population, one that includes more than just its people. By calculating the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and total solid matter excreted by different types of livestock and comparing those values to human waste, he was able to roughly calculate how many people each livestock group accounted for–and the numbers are staggering.

According to this line of logic, pigs in Iowa roughly equal a mind-blowing 83.7 million people. Dairy and beef cattle account for 33.6 million people. Chickens and turkey nearly equal 16 million themselves. Altogether, our livestock theoretically gives Iowa–a relatively small state with less than 4 million humans–an extended population of about 134 million. Recently, Chris Jones applied his research to Iowa’s actual area to determine the concentration of those numbers, and, in the process, updated that overall population to 168 million after some new data from the USDA.

Iowa produces a lot of waste. Livestock-heavy watersheds tend to have higher concentrations of nitrate runoff. We are not a large state, but when we account for our animals, we are one of the most densely populated for our total land area.

Overall, dissecting the effect that agriculture and livestock have on the environment is tricky, because our state relies heavily on our agricultural economy for many, many things. Advancements in green and natural nitrate filters and better methods of waste management seem to be some of the solutions we can work towards to solve our looming nitrate problem.

 

Iowa Flood Center 10 years later: preventative measures for the future


By Julia Shanahan | June 14th, 2019

The Iowa Flood Center celebrated its 10th anniversary on Thursday, where members reflected on the center’s growth and development since the devastating 2008 flooding.

Larry Weber, IFC co-founder and research engineer, said after the 2008 flood, which came just 15 years after another historic flood in 1993, the state of Iowa began to realize that these horrific floods were not just going to be a “once in a lifetime” occurrence.

“Prior to 2008, however, [the Iowa Flood Center] had very little direct impact in the state of Iowa,” Weber told media and community members at the Stanley Hydraulics Lab on Thursday.

Weber said working with the community and government officials during the 2008 flood was a learning experience for many involved, but that it pushed the IFC to be a more resourceful organization ten years later.

With help from the state and IFC, the University of Iowa and surrounding community had to restore damages in 18 buildings. Now, nearly everything has been repaired except for the UI’s Museum of Art. Construction is slated to start this year.

Witold Krajewski, IFC co-founder and rainfall monitoring and forecast expert, said since the 2008 flood, the IFC has mapped areas around streams and rivers that are exposed to innovation and monitors streamflow forecasts in real-time at about 400 locations across the state – all of which are available on an interactive web-based platform.

“While today we are celebrating ten years of accomplishments, we and the people of Iowa have a long road ahead of [us] to a sustainable future,” Krajewski said, referencing concerns about climate change, intensifying land use, and beginning new approaches to hazard-assessment programs.

IFC members also highlighted the role state government has played in restoring communities hit by flooding. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed disaster proclamations for more than half the state in recent months after the Missouri River flooded in southwest Iowa.

State Senators Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, commended the bipartisanship in the Iowa Legislature and the devotion of community members and Iowans who pitched in to help in 2008.

Hogg said 11 years ago on the night of June 12, thousands of Iowans showed up to help safeguard the final water intake in Cedar Rapids by laying down sand bags into the morning hours of June 13. He said after an overflow of people showed up to help, some were sent to secure Mercy Medical Center to prevent its bottom level from collapsing.

“I have said since that time that when it comes to preventing future flooding, we need that same spirit of the sandbag that we displayed on June 12 and 13 of 2008,” Hogg said.

Hogg said that today, the “spirit of the sandbag” can be applied to building detention basins, flood-safe architecture, and conservation efforts on farmlands.

Bloomberg visits Iowa for politics, protests and the planet


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Michael Bloomberg in 2008 (Flickr). 

Julia Poska| December 6th, 2018

On a tour to premiere a new film on climate change, multi-billionaire and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg made three stops this week: New York, London, and Iowa.

The film, titled “Paris to Pittsburg,” is a response to President Trump’s plans to pull out of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. It features the efforts of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to fight climate change in the absence of government urgency. Iowans Dan and Faith Lutat of the Iowa Lakes Community College are featured as faces of the college’s wind turbine and energy technology program.

Bloomberg chose to visit Des Moines Tuesday in part to recognize the state’s efforts in renewable energy. He wrote in a Des Moines Register Guest column, “Iowans understand what too many leaders in Washington don’t: Fighting climate change is good for our health and our economy. ” According to him, if every state installed as much wind power as Iowa, the offset carbon emissions would almost bring the U.S. to its Paris Agreement goals for 2025.

He also visited the swing-state to test the waters for a potential run for presidency in 2020. Throughout the day he visited different parts of the state to talk renewable energy and gun control. Well aware of Bloomberg’s political motive, Left-wing protestors joined the screening audience to question the environmentalist’s stance on social issues such as stop-and-frisk  policing and his own billionaire status.

Bloomberg Philanthropies produced the film in partnership with award-winning company Radical Media, and National Geographic will officially broadcast it Dec. 12.

On The Radio- Benefits of passive building design


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Green roof (picture taken off the Sears Tower in Chicago, IL)

Kasey Dresser| December 3, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how implementing passive design can improve energy efficiency. 

Passive design can improve energy efficiency on a warming planet.

As climate change heats up Iowa, how will people stay cool without increasing energy demand? The answer may lie in something called passive design. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Scientists project Iowa heatwaves to become, on average, 7 degrees hotter by mid-century, according the 4th U.S. National Climate Assessment.  About once per decade, a heatwave 13 degrees hotter may occur. 

In such events, people rely heavily on cooling systems. In many cases, this means cranking up the air conditioning, and therefore increasing utility bills and our dependence on fossil fuels.

Passive design techniques include how the building is oriented, window placement, roofing material, tree shading and more. All help maintain comfortable temperatures year round by letting sunlight in and shading it out at the appropriate times.  Tightly sealed insulation minimizes the exchange of air with the outdoors.

Passively designed buildings reduce energy demand and are more comfortable environments to live and work in.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

On The Radio- Climate change affecting the moss in Antartica


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Red lichens, moss, hair grass, and pearlwort make up the fauna of Antarctic (Karen Chase/ flickr)

Kasey Dresser | October 15, 2018

This weeks segment highlights the affect of climate change on plant life in East Antartica.

Transcript:

There is evidence of climate change affecting moss beds in East Antarctica.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In East Antarctica, green moss beds emerge after the snow melts for 6 weeks. West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula have experienced significant climate changes, but East Antarctica was yet to experience anything major.

Professor Sharon Robinson from the University of Wollongon in Australia was surprised to see abrupt changes in the moss. In 2003 the monitoring system was first set up and the moss beds were lush and bright green. When her team returned in 2008 the majority of the plants were red. The dark red color indicates the plant is stressed.

The red pigment is meant to act as sunscreen. On the team’s most recent trip to East Antarctica, there were also patches of grey moss indicating the plant is starting to die. This behavior is caused by a drying climate in the region. It is now too cold and windy for the moss beds to live primarily under water. The drier climate is a result of climate change and ozone depletion.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dog-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Reflecting on the 2018 Climate Statement


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This visual from Iowa Environmental Mesonet shows extreme rainfall in Des Moines this past summer.

Julia Poska | October 12, 2018

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research had a big day yesterday; we released the 2018 Iowa Climate Statement at the Cedar Rapids Public Library for the press and public. Today we can reflect on the magnitude of the statement’s message.

Titled “Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” the statement warns of the urgent need to adapt buildings and public infrastructure to withstand the extreme weather of tomorrow. Scientists predict that average annual heat waves will increase by 7ºF and the most extreme rainfall events will double in intensity by midcentury.

“These are really scary numbers which will have negative consequences for the elderly, the economy, for corn and soybeans, as well as beef, hogs and poultry even under sheltered confinement,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of CGRER. “We must start now to adapt our built environment, including buildings and flood mitigation systems, to this changing climate.”

Schnoor presented the statement yesterday with Associate Professor of Architecture Ulrike Passe, director of Iowa State University’s Center for Building Energy Research.

“Water will also enter buildings from the foundation or basement walls,” Passe said. “In particular, heavier rain events and higher water tables affect foundations, and standards going forward must reflect that.”

She provided examples of several adaptations that can be made to buildings to prepare them for increased heat and precipitation, including steeper roof slopes, increased insulation and better ventilation. She said Iowan communities should consider managing increased rainwater runoff with green, vegetation-based infrastructure like rain gardens and urban forestry as well.

These adjustments need to be made as soon as possible; Iowa’s weather is already feeling the effects of climate change.

“Warming over the Gulf of Mexico is helping feed large rain events in Iowa and the Midwest,” Schnoor said. “That’s why we’re prone to intense downpours and major flooding like Des Moines saw on June 30 and like eastern Iowa has been experiencing for the past six weeks. People’s homes and businesses are being flooded that have never been flooded before.”

Burning less fossil fuel and reducing atmospheric carbon emissions can help mitigate climate change’s impacts as well, but at this stage, adaptation is absolutely crucial. We at CGRER hope those with decision-making power take the statement to heart, and listen to the record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities who endorsed it.

 

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018


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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor answer questions about the Iowa Climate Statement.

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu and Kasey Dresser | October 11, 2018

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate was released earlier today at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The statement was announced by Jerry Schnoor, the co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and Ulrike Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University.

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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor read the climate statement and answered questions

The eighth annual statement, “Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” released Thursday, October 11 was signed by a record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities. The statement describes the urgent need to fortify our building and public infrastructure from heat and precipitation and looks to the future weather of Iowa, suggesting ways to improve Iowa’s buildings to suit those changing weather patterns.

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The climate statement holds a record number of signers

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Extreme precipitation is just one factor influencing this year’s climate statement topic

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Watch the press conference on our Facebook page

Read the climate statement