On The Radio- Soil Conservation Mapping


2399010625_72a67d321c_o.jpg

Kasey Dresser | September 10, 2018

This weeks segment talks about how Iowa is the country leader in soil conservation mapping.

Transcript:

Iowa is now one of the country’s leaders in soil conservation mapping.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa officials have recently completed a map of the conservation efforts in the state. This map identifies the six different methods of soil conservation used in Iowa—including terraces, ponds, grassed waterways, sediment control basins, and more. The map shows where practices are deployed and how they are funded.

The map also acts as a visual for determining how different areas of Iowa are being funded for their conservation efforts, and whether that funding is public or private.

Iowa is the first state to conduct such a thorough analysis of its conservation practices statewide. The project took three years and was a joint effort between Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Researchers used something called LiDAR—laser imaging software—and years of aerial photographs to compile the conservation map.

Iowa State University is currently performing additional research to build a newer map, one that also shows the reduction of sediment and phosphorous buildup in Iowa’s waterways.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

 

Border to arid western climate creeps closer to Iowa


1600px-Map_of_Great_Plains
The 100th Meridian, located at 100 degrees west, is shown dividing the United States’ Great Plains. This longitude line has long been considered the border between the arid west and humid east (from Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | August 30, 2018

The divide between America’s dry west and humid east appears to have shifted two degrees east since the 1970’s, according to recent research from Columbia University.

Topography and atmospheric circulation from both coasts create a pattern of increasing aridity from east to west. The 100th meridian, which splits the Dakotas in half and continues south through Texas and into western Mexico, historically separated the United States’ arid and humid climate zones.

The new study, published in the journal Earth Interactions, places the wet and dry dividing line closer to 98 degrees west today. Researcher Richard Seager attributed this in part to rising temperatures in a National Public Radio interview.

The shifting climate has had major implications farms in between the 100th and 98th meridians. Corn requires warmth and humidity, while wheat can grow in more arid conditions, but both crops have suffered where the soil has dried.

Iowa’s westernmost point sits at about 96 degrees. If the western divide were to bring dry conditions another two degrees east, the results would be devastating for Iowa corn growers.

Climate projections for Iowa do anticipate further warming, but they also predict increased humidity rather than aridity (see the 2017 Iowa Climate Statement). Though Iowa is unlikely to dry out anytime soon,  climate change will nonetheless create other serious challenges for agriculture statewide.

Dead zone in Gulf of Mexico smaller this year than expected


hypoxia
The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was measured at nearly half its expected size this summer (NOAA)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 9, 2018

Scientists found the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is smaller this year than in years past.

The zone of water lacking sufficient oxygen to support aquatic life at the end of the Mississippi River measured just over 2,700 square miles — about the size of the state of Delaware and the fourth-smallest the zone has been measured since 1985.

Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association expected the dead zone to be more than double this size this year. The lack of oxygen in the water is caused in part by algal blooms stimulated by nutrient runoff from farm fields in states like Iowa into the Mississippi River. Algae deplete dissolved oxygen in the water making survival nearly impossible for fish and other aquatic life.

A possible explanation given by Dr. Nancy Rabalais of Louisiana State University is that winds in the area may have mixed oxygenated water with the water lacking oxygen, reducing the zone’s size.

Scientists from Louisiana State University measure the zone’s reach annually, but the size can vary significantly throughout the year. In 2017, the zone was measured at its largest size ever recorded — over 8,700 square miles. These data help inform efforts like the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy about the progress of such initiatives to keep agricultural runoff and other nutrient loads from entering the Mississippi River.

New climate predictions for Iowa


8176514882_01eac3d46e_z
Iowa will be facing even hotter temperatures. (Rich H/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 25th, 2018

Two professors from Iowa recently contributed an article to the Des Moines Register about new climate change predictions for the state of Iowa. Gene Tackle, an emeritus professor of agronomy at Iowa State University, and Jerry Schnoor, a professor of civil and environmental at the University of Iowa and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, wrote about the serious effects that climate change will have for Iowans, and how Iowans are already being effected.

Schnoor and Tackle reference information from the from the Climate Science Special Report which is part of the National Climate Assessment Report. The report found that heat wave temperatures will increase to a range of 97-102 degrees by 2050. Currently, heat wave temperatures fall in a range of  90-95 degrees. These temperatures have serious consequences for vulnerable populations such as the young and elderly, as well as our agricultural interests in Iowa. Extreme weather events, such as the recent flooding in Polk County, have already demonstrated the danger of climate change we are facing today.

Despite Iowa facing these grim predictions, Schnoor and Tackle urge Iowans that they can still take action. Supporting renewable energy, voting in local elections, and joining local organizations that spread information about climate change are all presented as important ways to help protect our future.

 

 

On the Radio- The benefits of rotational grazing


7748302146_77daa87719_z
Rooter Ranch in Texas uses the rotational grazing method. (USDA/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 2, 2018

This week’s segment gives insight into rotational grazing and how it can benefit farmers.

Transcript:

Iowa farmers may be able to use conservation grazing as a way to help encourage prairie growth.

The is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Wendy Johnson, a farmer in Charles City, likes her livestock to graze in free range patterns to improve both the quality of life for the animals and the health of the pasture. She often allows two or more different types of animals to engage in multi species grazing, a method that allows livestock to graze as they please, and fertilize the land with their waste.

Will Harris, a farmer in Bluffton, Georgia, expanded his business exponentially using careful planning and a similar free range method. After observing the grazing patterns of different livestock, he realized that these patterns could be applied to the prairie as well.

According to the Grazing Animals Project, conservation grazing involves using a mix of different livestock that enjoy eating different types of plants. This method helps control species of plants that over dominate the prairie, and encourages the growth of smaller, less dominant plant types. Johnson and Harris both hope that their method of rotational grazing will be more widely implemented by other small farmers in Iowa.

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

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

Increase in nitrate pollution from Iowa


3931836528_ed31505eb8_z.jpg
The Mississippi River transports nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico. (Ken L/flickr)

Eden DeWald | June 27, 2018

A new study from the University of Iowa finds that nitrogen pollution coming from Iowa has increased by close to 50 percent during the year of 2016 when compared to previous annual averages. The pollution from synthetic fertilizer made its way off of farms and into the greater water system. Twenty-three watersheds in Iowa were assessed, all of which drained either into the Mississippi or Missouri River, both of which eventually drain into the Gulf of Mexico.

Excess nitrogen in a water system spurs algae growth. After these algae blooms eventually decompose, bacteria or other small organisms feed on the dead algae and deplete oxygen within the water. This process is known as aquatic hypoxia, or eutrophication, and is responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa is not the only state that has problems with runoff, but with 72 percent of Iowa’s land being used for farming, Iowa is a major contributor to the eutrophication process.

The rise in nitrate pollution has occurred despite Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which just marked its five year anniversary earlier this year. The Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a voluntary program which involves 8,000 farmers and focuses on conservation methods such as cover crops and no-till techniques. Mike Naig, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, wrote in a Des Moines Register article that he sees outreach and education about the effect that nitrates have on the water system as an essential aspect of improving Iowa’s water quality.

Who is responsible for protecting Iowa’s water?


1600px-Des_Moines_Water_Works_Building_-_City_of_Des_Moines,_Iowa_(23947115093)
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.