On The Radio- 2,500 chemicals sites at risk for floods


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Sites at risk for high and moderate flooding 

Kasey Dresser | April 16, 2018

This weeks segment looks at chemical sites across the U.S. that are located in flood risk areas.

 

Transcript:

Twenty five hundred toxic chemical sites in the U.S. are located in areas with high risk for flooding. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Last year the Climate Science Special report predicted a higher flood risk going into 2018. The heightened risk is from heavy rainfall and rising sea levels that lead to coastal floods and potential hurricanes. As of now, fourteen hundred toxic chemical sites are at high risk and eleven hundred are at moderate risk of flooding. 

Last year, Hurricane Harvey released hazardous pollutants at more than 40 sites. In 2012 Tropical Storm Debby destroyed a chemical plant in White Springs, Florida that produced phosphates to be used in fertilizer. Flooding from the tropical storm overflowed the Suwanee River destroying the algae and duckweed growth and caused the oxygen levels in the lakes and rivers to plummet. Record-breaking rains in May of last year overflowed storage ponds of sodium hydroxide sending the contaminant into the Alabama River.

Currently federal law and most state governments do not require a flood risk plan for toxic chemical sites. More needs to be done to protect our waterways from natural disasters.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

On The Radio- A decade since the 2008 flood


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Cedar Rapids

Kasey Dresser | April 9, 2018

This week’s segment looks at statistics from 10 years ago when Iowa experienced the 6th largest FEMA disaster in the U.S. 

Transcript:

This year marks a decade since the historic Iowa Floods of 2008.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Most of the flooding started in early June, finally receding in July. Thousands of Iowans were left displaced and jobless from the rising waters. The banks of the Mississippi, the Cedar, the Iowa, and the Wapsipinicon Rivers all overflowed. Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and the University of Iowa were among the worst affected in Eastern Iowa. Recovery has taken nearly a decade. 

At its peak, the Cedar River was around 20 feet above flood stage. In Cedar Rapids alone, around 10,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes. The estimated financial assistance received by Iowans as a result of the 2008 floods totaled $848 million. This was the  6th largest FEMA disaster declaration in the U.S.. 

The Iowa Flood Center, established as a result of the 2008 floods, has been working diligently with many communities to make them more resilient to the impact of future flooding. The Flood Center is the only facility of its kind in the nation, dedicated to helping Iowans better prepare for more flooding.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone. 

Extreme weather costlier than ever in 2017


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Jenna Ladd | March 28, 2018

As the Northern Hemisphere enters warmer seasons where severe weather and flooding are more likely, it is yet to be seen whether 2018 will top 2017 as the most costly year for natural disasters ever.

Since 1980, the yearly average for natural disasters in the U.S. that cause more than $1 billion in damages has been 5.8 events. Last year, the country saw 16 such events, including three tropical cyclones, eight severe storms, two inland floods, a crop freeze, drought and wildfire. While this number technically ties with 2011, 2017 had more extreme weather as wildfires are tallied by region rather than single events, and last year brought more wildfires costing upwards of $1 billion than ever before.

According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, the total cost of severe weather last year was $306.2 billion. This surpassed the previous record by nearly $100 billion dollars. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused $265.0 billion of 2017’s damages. Researchers figure physical damages to buildings and infrastructure as well as crop damages and losses to business into the total cost.

The midwest U.S. saw at least two severe storms last year that caused more than $1 billion in damages, both of them in mid-June. Flooding associated with storms like these has caused some $13.5 billion in economic losses from 1988 to 2015 in Iowa alone, according to a recent op-ed by Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski. Midwesterners also faced early tornado outbreaks in 2017, which tore across the region in late February and early March. Both events cause more than $1 billion in damages.

The National Centers for Environmental Information point out that increased development in vulnerable areas like coastlines, floodplains and fire-prone areas are causing the increase in billion dollar disasters. Climate change plays a role too. They write,

“Climate change is also paying an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters. Most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding events are most acutely related to the influence of climate change.”

On The Radio- Phosphorus in fresh water


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Salanfe Lake Dam (Soma Biswas/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at the high levels of phosphorus in the world’s fresh water.

 

Transcript:

The world’s freshwater is becoming overloaded with phosphorus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant life and is commonly found in agricultural fertilizers and sewage runoff. An excess of phosphorus in water, however, can create a process called eutrophication. This process depletes oxygen in the water which can be detrimental to aquatic life.

A recent study from Water Resources Research reported sewage and agricultural run off adding a little over one million tons of phosphorus to rivers and lakes each year. Agricultural fertilizer contributed to 38 percent of the contamination. Another large component is poorly treated sewage.

Despite international trends of increasing phosphorus levels, Iowa waterways have reported decreasing levels of phosphorus over the last few years.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

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!

EPA predict counties’ climate disaster resiliency


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Those counties that are deemed more likely to bounce back from a climate disaster are in dark blue, while those most vulnerable counties are light yellow. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Jenna Ladd | March 2, 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a Climate Resilience Screening Index (CRSI) and determined the expected resiliency of each county as the climate continues to change, making floods, droughts and wildfires more common.

The report was released in October and used 117 measurements to figure each county’s severe weather risk, governance, society, built environment, and natural environment into an overall resiliency score. Fortunately, researchers found that many U.S. counties have moderate to strong likelihood of bouncing back following a natural disaster however, the outlook varies.

The Appalachians, many counties in the southeast and the western Midwest and some counties in southwestern Texas were found to have lower resiliency scores. The factors that decrease a region’s resiliency in the face of climate disaster include limited access to internet and radio to communicate during an emergency, insufficient infrastructure for evacuation and the absence of local construction industries to rebuild afterward. Southeastern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee scored the lowest collectively in the U.S.

Those counties with higher social cohesion, levels of education and natural resource conservation are predicted to fare much better. The Pacific Northwest was determined most resilient to the changing climate, with region one of the U.S., including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island following close behind.

The report’s authors suggest that index’s information be used to determine where climate mitigation resources are allocated in the future. However, it is unlikely that the current administration will use the information to inform any real climate policy.

Dr. James DeWeese is a research analyst studying on climate resilience at the World Resources Institute and was not involved in this study. He said to the Pacific Standard, “Whatever happens, I definitely think the CRSI is something innovative. I haven’t seen much else like it.”

The executive summary and full report can be found here.

On The Radio- 2017 Water Summary


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Blue in Iowa river (UI International Programs/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 19, 2018

This week’s segment summaries the report from the 2017 Iowa DNR’s Water Summary.

Transcript: 

The Iowa DNR’s Water Summary Update reported less rainfall than normal for 2017.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In 2017, Iowa received 33 inches of rainfall which is 2 inches less than the 30 year average. The beginning of the year was drought free but by August the Drought Mitigation Center recorded most of the state showing some form of drought. Most of the dryness was concentrated in South and South East Iowa.

In areas like Marion, Washington, Lee and Wayne counties, annual precipitation deficits of 10 inches or more were common. The annual precipitation levels of 2017 were the lowest since Iowa’s record 2012 drought.

In terms of streamflow, the year started off with high levels after a rainy fall season in 2016. Throughout  the rest of the year streamflow levels remained normal and are currently normal for the majority of the state.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.