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.

On The Radio- The first- ever photograph of a black hole


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Powehi is a Hawaiian phrase meaning “embellished dark source of unending creation.” (CNN)

Kasey Dresser| May 6, 2019

This weeks segment looks at what space technology research can also teach us about the earth.

Transcript:

Our obsession with outer space is helping us understand our Earthly environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The recently unveiled, first-ever photograph of a black hole captured imaginations. The black hole–now christened “Powehi” –was actually photographed in April 2017, but the image was just released this year. Taking the image required eight telescopes from around the world.

Telescopes, satellites, and other space-age technology have helped us explore the far reaches of our solar system–and have given us a way to truly analyze and map our climate from above.

The data collected from orbiting satellites has helped climate scientists for decades. Satellite data helped us discover the hole in our ozone layer in 1985. Some satellites are specifically launched to monitor ice caps, track sea levels, and measure the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. 

Many tools used for monitoring our climate today are modeled after space technology, and the research and development of tools that help us leave our atmosphere will also help us understand our planet.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

Celebrate Earth Day in Iowa!


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The Earth is worth celebrating! 

Julia Poska| April 18, 2019

On April 22, people around the world celebrate Earth Day, spending time cleaning, greening and appreciating the life-giving planet we too often take for granted.

Iowa, of course, will join in on the party. Read below about Earth Day events cities in Iowa will host next week, as well as some activities you can do individually to make a difference.

Des Moines: Festivities in the state capital will begin this weekend. On Friday, Des Moines Parks and Recreation will host an Earth Day Trash Bash, where registered teams will pick up trash around the city. Everyone is welcome to join in on the kick-off party and several other events hosted Friday and Saturday as part of the bash, including a Downtown Earth Day Tour through the science center, botanical garden and riverwalk. A number of other events  on Saturday and Monday include wildlife restoration, crafting and stream cleanup.

Cedar Rapids: The city’s 10th annual EcoFest will be on Saturday, April 20. The day’s events include performances, presentations, hands-on activities, tours, awards and more. Last year over 4,000 people attended!

Dubuque: The Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium will participate in a nationwide Party for the Planet event Saturday. Visitors attend presentations, meet animals and do hands-on activities to learn about environmental conservation. Participation in the celebration will be included with general admission and free for children 3 and under.

Davenport: Visit the Freight House Farmer’s Market Saturday morning for speakers, demonstrations, music and activities to learn about problems facing the planet and how you can help fight them. 

Iowa City: You can celebrate for days on end in Iowa City! On Monday, compete in Earth Day Eco Trivia at the East Side Recycling Center. Tuesday, celebrate the 100 Grannies for a Livable Future 7th anniversary. Plant trees at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area Wednesday, and on Friday talk to UI scientists at the Sciences Library. Saturday join Parks and Rec for an Earth Day festival.

University of Iowa student organizations have been hosting Earth Month events for weeks, and still have more to come. Consider visiting the Student Garden Open House Saturday, April 27 for food and DIY Chia Pets with the UI Gardeners and attending an environmental benefit concert the following night with the UI Environmental Coalition.

If you’d like to celebrate on your own or with friends consider these activities:

  • Picking up trash in your neighborhood or at a local park
  • Planting something yummy
  • Starting a home compost pile
  • Going for a nature walk
  • Attempting to make zero-waste for one whole day
  • Cooking a plant-based meal

 

 

Presidential hopefuls discuss sustainable ag at last weekend’s Heartland Forum


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Photo by Julia Poska, 2019. 

Julia Poska | April 4, 2019

Last weekend, four 2020 presidential candidates and one likely contender gathered in Storm Lake, Iowa to discuss their visions for struggling rural America at the Heartland Forum. Here’s what each said about sustainability and agriculture:

Julián Castro: The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama was asked a question about promoting eco-friendly family food farmers for economic, social and environmental resiliency.

“Our family farms help feed America—and the world, really—so we need to make sure that they can succeed, and also that people in these rural areas and rural communities can have clean air and water. Number one, I would appoint people to the EPA who actually believe in environmental protection,” he said. He specifically discussed boosting funds to enforce the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Rep. John Delaney (D-MD): Delaney’s “Heartland Fair Deal,” which he discussed at the forum, lays out plans for investing in negative emissions technology and focusing on climate resiliency and flooding.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Klobuchar said she would re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement on her first day in the White House. She also discussed her experience on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“What we’ve learned over time, is that [if] we’re going to get [the Farm Bill] passed… we need to have a coalition of people who care about nutrition, people who care about farming and people who care about conservation,” she said.

She said she wants to keep Farm Bill conservation programs strong.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): Hailing from the industrial “Rust Belt,” Ryan has little experience with rural areas, but he said he believes the two regions face many of the same issues and should come together politically. He spoke to opportunity in the clean energy and electric vehicle industries, which he would like to see driven into “distressed rural areas” to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

He also spoke about Farm Bill conservation programs; “These are the kind of programs we need to ‘beef up,’ no pun intended,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Senator Warren did not speak about sustainability directly. Her platform mainly focused on addressing monopolies in agribusiness to support small, family farmers. One of her proposals is to break up the Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, a merger that was heavily criticized by environmentalists. 

The Heartland Forum was moderated by Pulitzer prize-winner Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, and two reporters from HuffPost. Those news organizations organized the event alongside Open Markets Institute and the Iowa Farmers Union.

 

Iowa City Youth Climate Strike


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Kasey Dresser| March 19, 2019

On March 15th across the nation, youths gathered to raise awareness for climate change and its effect on our world. In the Ped Mall in Iowa City, over 50 students from Southeast Jr. High gathered to speak to the community about their concerns.

The students came prepared with a bullhorn and took turns sharing their opinions for two hours. They were holding hand made signs and handing out a sheet of climate change facts. While young, the passionate students created quite an audience stating, “the bigger the fuss we make, the more politicians will listen.” Congressman Dave Loesback was present and talked with the students in his office following the event.

From the climate change fact handout:

  • 408 parts per million. The concentration of carbon dioxide (C02) in our atmosphere, as of 2018, is the highest it has been in 3 million years.
  • 800 million people or 11% of the world’s population is currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.
  • Thermometer records kept over the past century and a half show Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius), and about twice that in parts of the Arctic.
  • We have 11 years to reverse the effects of climate change. We must act now.

Journalists and scientists talked environment at summit Tuesday


 

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Cwiertny, Dalrymple and Jones answer audience questions on nitrate pollution in Iowa (photo by Julia Poska).

Julia Poska | March 7, 2019

Urgent environmental challenges like climate change have made it increasingly vital for the public to know the facts. General audiences get information largely through news media, but distilling complicated science accurately is not always easy for writers. Friendly collaboration between scientists and journalists is crucial, for the sake of accuracy and public good.

An Environmental Journalism Summit in Grinnell, Iowa brought students and professionals in both fields together Tuesday to share thoughts on improving environmental science communication.

The University of Iowa’s Environmental Health Sciences Research Center organized the summit and presented on three “hot topics” in environmental news. Peter Thorne, head of the UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, spoke about his experiences advising the EPA under changing administration. Dr. Robert Blount discussed his medical research on air pollution and tuberculosis.  Darrin Thompson, associate director of the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), shared his knowledge and research on neonicotinoids, a controversial class of pesticides.

Two expert panels shared their knowledge and answered questions from moderators and audience members. The “Science and Media” panel featured Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer, journalism professor Daniel Lathrop, Iowa Watch executive director Lyle Muller and engineer Craig Just, who discussed the complexities of communicating science. They stressed the importance of fact checking, including people in storytelling and maintaining responsibility to the audience.

Another panel focused on nitrates and water quality, featuring IIHR research engineer Chris Jones, CHEEC director David Cwiertny and Kajsa Dalrymple, who researches media effects on agricultural practices. They discussed gaps in coverage of the issue, the magnitude of the problem and the complex system that created it. 

Researchers also participated in more journalistic activities, like generating story ideas on hog manure. The summit ended with a showcase on Cedar Fall High School’s news team, which has published award-winning investigations on pesticide drift, climate  change education and drinking water nitrates through Iowa Watch. 

Flood warnings for Cedar Rapids


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The flooding of Cedar Rapids in 2008 cost a lot of money and disrupted many more lives | Source

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 27th, 2019

Cedar Rapids could be up for some intense flooding this spring, with the National Weather Service predicting that the Cedar River is about three times more likely than usual to overflow.

This does not come completely as a surprise–after Iowa’s initially mild start to the winter season, snow has been falling in droves, and it’s accumulated fast, causing numerous issues for farmers and drivers alike.

As spring draws nearer, new threats begin to emerge: melting snow.

Cedar Rapids has had over 40 inches of snow this season, twice the average yearly amount. As that snow begins to melt, it will steadily increase the levels of the Cedar River.

With this potential issue looming, projects are being planned and constructed to protect against the potentially devastating waters. A flood wall, a levee and a pump station are all on deck to help control future flood damage before too much infrastructure is lost.

The city still remembers its costly flood from 2008, which was, at the time, the sixth costliest FEMA declaration (a government fund set up to assist in the aftermath of natural disasters). Though the river rose over ten years ago, the effects of that flood are still present in the minds of Cedar Rapids residents, and preparation for this spring is the key to avoiding another disaster.