Iowa’s flooding connects to climate change and land use


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Iowa’s waterways are vulnerable to flooding due to climate change and developing landscapes (Billwhittaker/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | August 10, 2018

Climate change is manifesting itself in Iowa, most clearly in the form of rainfall and flooding.

Around 80 Des Moines residents have been left homeless by this summer’s floods. These residents are classified as “climate refugees” — people displaced by a climatic event — according to the Des Moines Register.

Thousands of homes were impacted by the June deluge in central Iowa, but these extreme rain events are becoming more common. Six of Iowa’s eight wettest years on record have been in the last 36 years, and flooding has cost businesses and farmers $18 million since 1988. Increased rainfall is connected to climate change, experts say, because the Gulf of Mexico is warming, leading to an increased volume of water carried through the atmosphere to the Midwest.

Flooding is not only exacerbated by climate change, but by the way Iowans are using their land. As cities become more and more developed, imposing sprawling buildings and asphalt parking lots on once-permeable prairie land, storm water rushes to rivers and streams much more rapidly. In fact, five inches of rain falling on a prairie landscape can have the same damage as just three inches of rain falling onto a highly developed landscape, the Register reported.

On the municipal and state level, changes are being considered to help reduce the impact of intense rain events, like increasing storm sewer capacities, creating reservoirs and dams, and restoring oxbows and wetlands. On the individual level, anyone can help reduce stormwater runoff into Iowa’s waterways by creating rain gardens and constructing rain barrels to store the water until the storm has passed.

On the Radio- Flooding in Polk County


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A view of downtown Des Moines (Jason M/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 30, 2018

This week’s segment discusses the recent flooding in Polk County.

Transcript:

Flooding in Polk County has impacted over five thousand homes this summer.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A June 30 torrential rain storm brought unprecedented volumes of rain as high as nine inches primarily to Des Moines and surrounding areas, leaving residents displaced and sixteen million dollars in damage to public infrastructure, homes, and businesses.

Des Moines has set aside over eleven million dollars to buy out eighty of the most devastated homes, and is offering interest free loans to its residents for repairs.

And it’s not just the monetary damage. The floods resulted in at least one death when flash-flood waters swept away a sixty-five-year-old man trying to get to safety.

As reported by The Des Moines Register, some of the flood damage to homes and businesses was due in part to insufficient storm sewer systems.

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

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

RAGBRAI forced to divert around central Iowa flooding


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RAGBRAI riders will have to detour around Ledges State Park due to flooding in the park. (McGhiever/Wikipedia)

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 19, 2018

RAGBRAI will experience a detour after central Iowa flooding left a portion of the route underwater.

The annual bike ride across the state, slated to begin in Onawa on Sunday and end in Davenport on July 28, was supposed to ride through Ledges State Park in Madrid, Iowa on July 24. Portions of the route through the park are under 20 feet of water as the Des Moines River and Saylorville Reservoir have swelled from recent storms.

The ride will now detour around the park on Highway 30 and Quill Avenue — a ride that is about three miles shorter. This also removes a large hill that many riders were looking forward to.

“It’s unfortunate cyclists will not get the opportunity to see the scenic beauty that Ledges has to offer,” Park Manager Andy Bartlett said in a release. “Ledges is definitely a gem within out state parks system and I would encourage those interested in exploring what it has to offer to plan a visit in the future.”

Hawaii’s sunscreen ban


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Coral reefs provide food and shelter to numerous marine animals. (flickr/USFWS)

Eden DeWald | July 11th, 2018

Hawaii is making a move to protect its coral reefs. A bill banning the distribution or sale of synthetic sunscreens in Hawaii was signed by Governor David Ige earlier this month. The ban will go into affect in January of 2021, and will prevent the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.

There are two main types of sunscreen found in any drugstore—chemical and physical. Physical sunscreen, or mineral sunscreen, often has active ingredients such as titanium and zinc oxide, which reflect or scatter UV rays by forming a protective layer on the skin. Synthetic sunscreens, which often contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, soak into the skin. They protect the wearer by changing the electromagnetic affect of UV rays. Physical sunscreens are not at all affected by the ban and will still be available for retail sale and distribution.

According to a 2015 study, oxybenzone has been found to cause the bleaching of coral reefs, as well as endocrine damage. There have been fewer studies done concerning octinoxate, but similar damaging effects have been associated with this chemical. Approximately 14,000 gallons are estimated to end up in the waters off the coast of Hawaii each year, consequently banning sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate has the potential to remove thousands gallons of coral reef damaging chemicals from the environment each year.

On the Radio- Reacting to flooding in Iowa


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Flooding near Des Moines, Iowa (flickr/Joe G.)

Eden DeWald | July 9, 2018

This week’s segment covers how devastating recent floods in Iowa have been, and what the Iowa Legislature has done to respond to them.

Transcript:

At least 951 presidential flood-emergency declarations have been made in the state of Iowa since 1988.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A study conducted in part by the Iowa Flood Center revealed that Iowa had the fourth most flood-related FEMA disaster declarations in the country from 1988 to 2016. Fourteen counties, including Johnson and Linn, had more than thirteen declarations in the twenty-eight-year span — about one every other year.

The disasters have amounted to four-point-one billion dollars in crop losses and thirteen-point-five billion dollars in property losses around the state.

After the historic 2008 floods, the Iowa Legislature created the Iowa Flood Center, which has since developed an online tool called the Iowa Flood Information System. The web-based system allows users to see flooding around the state in real time, and help them understand the risk in their homes, farms, or businesses. This resource can help communities better prepare for future floods, or improve land use planning.

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

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

Coastal homes are threatened by sea level rise


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Beautiful sea front property is being threatened by sea level rise. (flickr/sdobie)

Eden DeWald | June 20th, 2018

Coastal homes all the way from Maine to Florida are feeling the threat of sea level rise. Approximately 300,000 homes along the East and West Coast of the United States are at risk for reoccurring flooding due to sea level rise. According to National Geographic, the global mean sea level has risen four to eight inches over the past century. However, the rate at which sea level is rising has been twice as fast for the last 20 years when compared to the first 80 years of the last century.

Sea level rise is caused by three main factors, all of which are consequences of climate change. Thermal expansion, the melting of ice over Antarctica and Greenland, and the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, all contribute to the measurable rise that researchers have observed over the past century. In 2012, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea level could rise up to 38 inches by 2100.

Sea level rise has serious consequences for homeowners. By 2045, the slowly creeping disaster of chronic flooding could pose great threats to coastal housing markets. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted a study on the effect that sea level will have on the East Coast and the Gulf area. Kirsten Dahl, an author of the study, stated that the loss of tax revenue from affected homes could cut the tax base of small towns by as much as 70 percent. Coastal homes are highly sought after real estate, but buying a beach house may not be the luxury it once was.

 

Major hydrologic shifts observed by NASA


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Researchers found that drier areas, like this drought-stricken field in Texas, are getting drier in a recent study. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 18, 2018

A recent study by NASA, the first of its kind, found that significant amounts of water are shifting around Earth’s surface.

Scientists used data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), two satellites, to track gravitational changes made by hydrologic shifts in 34 regions around the world. From 2002 through 2016, they paired this information with satellite precipitation data, NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat imagery, irrigation maps, and public reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations.

In short, researchers found that wetter areas are getting wetter and drier areas are getting drier. Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is one of the study’s authors. He explains, “We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter – those are the high latitudes and the tropics – and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

Scientists point to a couple of things to explain freshwater depletion in areas that are getting drier. In Saudi Arabia and many other parts of the world, for example, ground water has been depleted for agricultural purposes. The study also found that groundwater availability changes with periods of drought. From 2007 through 2015, southwestern California lost enough freshwater to fill 400,000 Olympic size swimming pools because the region saw less precipitation and snowpack during that time and had to rely on groundwater more heavily.

Freshwater loss in many regions was attributed to global warming that caused glaciers and ice sheets to melt away. However, Famiglietti said that much more research is needed to determine whether climate change caused the other hydrologic shifts.

GRACE Follow-On, GRACE’s successor, will continue to monitor the movement on water on Earth and is set to launch on May 22nd from Vandenberg Air Force Base California.