Who is responsible for protecting Iowa’s water?


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In the wake of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, Iowans are faced with the question, who is responsible for protecting our water? (Tony Webster/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 22, 2018

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?

To learn more, watch the full episode below.

A visit with Dr. James Hansen discussing his relationship with Dr. Van Allen


 

Kasey Dresser | May 4, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview. Today’s video talks about his relationship with Dr. Van Allen. 

A visit with Dr. James Hansen and his advice to students


Kasey Dresser | May 3, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview about his work, education, and relationship with Dr. James Van Allen. Today’s video talks about his education and advice to students. 

A visit with Dr. James Hansen about his work


Kasey Dresser | May 2, 2018

The University of Iowa was very lucky to receive a visit from scientist, researcher, and adjunct professor Dr. James Hansen. He was gracious enough to sit down with us and interview about his work, education, and relationship with Dr. James Van Allen.

Hansen was trained in astronomy and physics under Dr. Van Allen at the University of Iowa, graduating with the highest distinction in 1963; he then published his dissertation on Venus and helped launch the Pioneer Venus project in May of 1978. Hansen was the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York from 1981 to 2013. Today, he continues his work on climate change as the director of the Program on Climate Science at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and gave a TED talk on climate change in 2012.

This video, discussing his work, will be the first of a 3 part video series. Tomorrow, Dr. Hansen will speak directly to students and the following day will focus on his relationship with Dr. Van Allen.

The Getting Ahead of the Watershed Expo in Davenport, IA


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Kasey Dresser | March 7, 2018

The Getting Ahead of the Watershed Expo will be held in the Davenport River Center’s Mississippi Hall on Saturday, March 10th from 10am to 3pm. 
This is a free event, presented by students of Davenport North High School and Davenport Public Works, that aims to raise awareness about the quality of our waterways and individual impact on water quality through engaging demonstrations and exhibits.
The event will feature several interactive student and vendor booths with topics ranging from environmentally positive ways to increase the curb appeal of your home to locks and dams and levees.  In addition to interactive displays, a play featuring Franny the Fish, is sure to bring a smile to all ages, while delivering important information about our watershed.
There will also be a 9ft+ root system of native grass Big Blue Stem. The root system is certain to amaze and highlight the ecosystem, soil and water quality benefits of native plants in our landscape.
Attendees will also enjoy theDavenport Community School student artwork on display at the Expo, and to vote for their favorite art piece and booth, as well as enter a drawing for a beautifully decorated rain barrel.
This event is one you won’t want to miss!

Senator Ernst stands up to EPA head administrator about RFS


A man pumps biodiesel. (United Soybean Board)
Kasey Dresser | October 27, 2017

Within the last two weeks U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head administrator, Scott Pruitt, made plans to retract Obama’s Clean Power Plan. During his campaign, Trump promised to defend renewable fuel. However, upon election, Trump appointed several prominent figures from the oil industry. Last month Chuck Grassley stated that,”Big Oil and oil refineries are prevailing, despite assurances to the contrary.”

Ernst sent a letter to Pruitt reminding him of the “…pledges that were made to my constituents and to farmers across the country.”

Bill Wehrum is currently nominated to be the assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Pruitt and Wehrum expressed interest in lowering the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requirements. This got attention from several senators, particularly because supporting renewable fuel was one of the only agricultural promises Trump made during his campaign. Ernst blocked Wehrum’s nomination and expressed her concerns that they were only getting “evasive, squishy answers regarding the RFS.”

Instructed by Trump, Pruitt sent a letter to Ernst and 7 other Midwestern senators. The letter had a list of commitments towards renewable fuel stating the Renewable Volume Obligations levels would not be lowered. There was also a meeting held between Pruitt, Grassley, and 6 other senators. Wehrum’s nomination will proceed.

Pruitt concluded, “I reiterate my commitment to you and your constituents to act consistent with the text and spirit of the RFS.”

Drinking water symposium in Des Moines poses tough questions


Jenna Ladd | September 22, 2017

Government officials, college faculty, students of all ages, legislators, farmers and concerned citizens were among the 170 attendees at the Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest, a symposium held at Drake University Thursday and Friday.

Organized by the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, the one-and-a-half day event featured seventeen speakers from across the country and the state of Iowa.

The hypoxic Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico grew larger than ever before this year, totaling 8,766 square miles, an area equal to the size of New Jersey. It is well known that nitrate runoff from agricultural fields is largely responsible for rendering this part of the Gulf unable to sustain aquatic life, but how does nitrate in our water affect the humans that are drinking it?

Citing past and current studies, Dr. Mary Ward of the National Cancer Institute noted that while nitrate itself is not a carcinogen per say, it does interact with compounds in the body to create nitroso compounds, which are known carcinogens. Nitroso compounds have been found to be carcinogenic in 39 animal species including all nonhuman primates, even when nitrate concentration in drinking water is less than 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L), which is the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for nitrate in drinking water.

The Iowa Women’s Health Study, which monitors the health of 42,000 post-menopausal Iowa women—most of whom drink municipal drinking water—found that women who drank water with elevated nitrate levels for a prolonged period of time had twice the risk of ovarian and bladder cancer. There are some protective measures consumers can take to reduce the likelihood that nitrate will become a carcinogenic once in the body. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits that are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants can block the formation of cancerous nitroso compounds.

Scientists can also say with confidence that nitrate pollution in drinking water significantly increases the likelihood that pregnant women will give birth to babies with neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, according to Dr. Jean Brender, professor emeritus at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Dr. Brender also presented findings that suggested an association between nitrate pollution and children born with cleft palates and limb deficiencies during Thursday morning’s plenary session.

A common thread between most nitrate and human health impact studies is that researchers notice adverse public health effects even when nitrate concentration are at 5 mg/L, which is half of the EPA’s 10 mg/L action level.

After lunch, retired director of the Iowa City Water Department, Ed Moreno, provided the perspective of the water utilities, who work to remove contaminants and provide safe drinking water costing an average of just $0.004 per gallon. Moreno emphasized that drinking water treatment is an increasingly technical process that can be difficult to communicate to the public. With so many health risks related to the consumption of drinking water contaminants, who’s responsibility is it to communicate drinking water quality risks to the public?

Moreno said much of the responsibility lies with the public utility, however, he said, “Explaining the risk is a challenge for us. We need partners, public health people, people who are going to say it like it needs to be said,” Moreno added with a chuckle, “We’re engineers, you know.”

Dr. David Cwiertney, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, highlighted the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online, or ECHO, an online database that allows citizens to check their community utility’s compliance with federal environmental regulations free of charge. Cwiertney said, “We should be doing better community education about the resources they have. The internet is a wonderful thing.”

Aside from nitrate pollution, experts in disinfectant byproducts, blue green algae blooms, neonicotinoids, and endocrine disruptors shared their drinking water research at the symposium.

Thursday began with a keynote address from Neil Hamilton, professor of law at Drake University. Hamilton detailed Iowa’s rich history as a nationwide leader in environmental and water quality policy, dating back to the work of Ada Hayden and Aldo Leopold in the beginning of the 20th century. After state legislators failed for the seventh year in a row to approve funding for voter-approved water quality improvement measures, even as Iowans are exposed to heightened risks for cancer and birth defects without it, Hamilton’s closing question echoed loudly in the Drake University conference room, “Has our legacy of leadership become an ephemeral gully of inaction?”