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.

 

Crop production linked to regional changes in climate


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Corn and soy plants can cool the climate on a regional level, but intensified conventional agriculture can harm water and soil quality. (Lana/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2018

A new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College detail the way intensive agriculture has influenced precipitation and temperature patterns in the midwest.

During the second half of the 20th century, corn production in the midwest increased by 400 percent and soybean yields doubled due to more intensive agricultural practices. The study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the midwest also saw significantly more precipitation and lower temperatures during the summer months over the same period of time. They concluded that the changes were not merely correlated, but that the land use change actually caused the regional climate changes.

The authors explain that each time plants take in carbon dioxide, they release moisture into the atmosphere through pore-like structures called stoma. With more plentiful and robust plants due to intensive agriculture, the amount of moisture corn and soy crops collectively release into the atmosphere has increased in the midwest since the 1950’s. This extra moisture, the study found, has caused summer air to cool and more precipitation to fall. In the last fifty years, average summertime rainfall in the midwest has increased by 15 percent and average summer temperatures have dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

Roger Pielke Sr., a senior researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder commented on the study, he said, “This is a really important, excellent study. The leadership of the climate science community has not yet accepted that human land management is at least as important on regional and local climate as the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activities.”

Since completing the study, the researchers have developed a formula that accounts for the causative relationship between plants and regional climate changes that can be entered into U.S. regional climate models. It correctly predicted those changes that have been observed in the midwest over the last 50 years.

The study opens the door for further research into land use changes and how they can affect local climate.

Trump administration works to reverse over 65 environmental policies


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The federal government no longer requires new infrastructure projects to meet flood protection guidelines. (Melissa Galvez/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2018

Since taking office about a year ago, the Trump administration has moved to eliminate over 65 environmental regulations and policies, according to a report from the New York Times Climate Team.

The report aggregated data from climate deregulation policy trackers from the environmental law programs at Harvard University and Columbia University to come up with a total of 67 environmental regulations that the administration has sought to rollback. Reporters split the policies into three categories: those that have already been overturned, those that are on their way to being overturned and those whose fate is unclear due of court actions.  The largest category of 33 rules are those that have already been reversed.

There are a few among them that are most relevant for Iowans. First, the administration has reversed an Obama-era regulation that required federal buildings and infrastructure projects to be constructed in accordance with higher flood protection standards. Under this rule, new projects in flood plains would have had to be either elevated or flood proofed at a minimum of two feet above the 100-year floodplain. Recent research from the University of Iowa’s Flood Center found that as the climate continues to warm, the risk of flooding in Iowa and the northern U.S. is increasing.

The administration has also opted to reject the Environmental Projection Agency’s research on a particular pesticide and allow for its further use. Following the EPA’s study of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which found to pose a risk for fetal brain and nervous system development, the Obama administration proposed a ban of the pesticide. Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt argued that further study of the chemical is needed prior to a ban.

The list of environmental policies reversed by the administration goes on, and just three have been successfully reinstated after environmental groups sued the Trump administration.

Despite criticism, water quality bill heads to Governor’s desk


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Iowa is a main contributor to nutrient pollution that renders enormous parts of the Gulf of Mexico completely lifeless. (Michael Leland/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 25, 2018

A long-awaited bill to improve water quality in Iowa is set to be approved by Gov. Reynolds soon, but critics say it does not go far enough.

Scientists who have been working to curb nutrient runoff in Iowa’s waterways since 2010 through the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have publicly estimated that it would cost billions of dollars to adequately address Iowa’s water quality problem. Senate File 512 falls short, allocating $282 million to water quality improvement over the next twelve years. The plan draws money from an existing tax on tap water that used to go into the state’s general fund and gambling revenue that was once used for infrastructure projects.

Republican John Wills of Spirit Lake spearheaded the bill’s passing. According to the Register, he said, “The bill builds upon the successful implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction strategy and provides for long-term and sustainable funding. This is just the beginning, not the end.”

While the measure passed the House of Representatives 59-41, both Republicans and Democrats criticize the bill for not going far enough to clean up Iowa’s nearly 700 impaired waterways. Republican representative Chip Baltimore of Boone, Iowa said “I don’t know about all of you, but I did not come down here to check a box. Just because the words ‘water quality’ are in the title of a bill does not make me proud to vote for it so that I can put it on a postcard when I go campaign.”

Iowa’s largest environmental coalition, the Iowa Environmental Council, released a statement criticizing the bill. In the statement, the organization’s Executive Director Jennifer Terry, said, “Our legislature today chose a failed business-as-usual approach to cleaning up our polluted lakes and rivers.” She continued, “The legislation passed today lacks a scientifically-proven watershed approach, lacks funding for adequate financial and human capital, lacks required water quality monitoring or assurance of public access to data about Iowa’s water quality.”

The coalition calls on Republican Gov. Reynolds to veto the bill.

More mudslides possible for southern California


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Rescue workers wade through debris and sediment following last week’s mudslide in Santa Barbara county, California. (Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Jenna Ladd | January 17, 2018

Meteorologists warn that rainfall during the fourth week of January could trigger another mudslide in southern California, where residents of Santa Barbara county are still reeling from last week’s massive landslide. Between two and five inches fell in the county between January 8th and 9th, sending boulders and thick sediment raining down on Montecito, California. A recent wildfire in the area left mountain slopes without vegetation to slow down the runoff and played into the destruction of 115 homes and the death of at least 20 people.

Jonathan Godt of the U.S. Geological Survey told the New York Times, “It was pretty rare, in essence a worse-case scenario from that standpoint. The same rainfall that falls on a burned landscape can cause a lot more damage than it would before a fire.”

AccuWeather officials have predicted that a shift in the jet stream will bring more moisture from the Pacific Ocean into southern California’s atmosphere by January 23rd and 24th. They caution that the weather pattern presents the risk for “locally heavy rainfall, flash flooding and a significant risk of mudslides.” Their report states that areas surrounding Point Conception, California are most likely to be affected.

February and March are heavy precipitation months for Santa Barbara county, and following California’s record-setting year for wildfires, conditions are right for faster-moving and more destructive landslides.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said, “People need to leave the area by evacuation deadlines as they are given. Once a mudslide begins, there may only be minutes to seconds before a neighborhood is wiped out.”

UN Environment calls for action regarding mining pollution


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Pollution (eltpics/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | November 17, 2017

On November 5th 2015, Germano mine, an iron-ore mine in southeast Brazil, collapsed killing 19 people and destroying 650 kilometers of fertile valley before spilling into the ocean. More than 33 cubic meters of tailing was released. This disaster was detrimental to the economy as the local fishing community was practically eliminated; meaning no fish for food and tourists became scarce as the water was no longer swimmable.

Joca Thome, a local resident who works for Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, describes how these kind of incidences are too physically and psychologically severe for the victims. They need to be eliminated.  “As well as monitoring the impact in the estuary and the ocean, I am trying to help the community and the fishermen to understand what has happened to them,” Thomé says. “They are getting compensation from the mining company to keep them going. But thousands of people have had their lives upended and they do not know what their future will be.”

Mine tailing is a sludgy- mud like material leftover from mining facilities. There have been 40 tailing failures in the last decade alone. There is no exact statistic for the number of tailing dams in the world or the volume of each but there are 30,000 industrial mines worldwide. More mining failings could lead to long-term damage to the environment while destroying the surrounding cities.

The new Rapid Response Assessment was released a few days ago by UN Environment and GRID-Arenal. It calls for international action and a “safety-first” methodin regards to management and on the ground procedure. The report states, “safety attributes should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and cost should not be the determining factor.”  This could create a mining database to develop the best technical methods for stopping failure completely. If regulations expand this might create an independent monitoring system of waste dams that could result in financial or criminal punishment for non-compliance. The report also mentions developing cleaner processes with new technology and re-using materials to reduce waste.

December 4-6, the UN Environmental Assembly will meet to discuss more effects of pollution on the environment. The report also recommends a specific stakeholder forum to put international policy in place to regulate mining tailings dams.

 

 

On The Radio – Economic cost of changing climate is growing


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Members of the the National Guard in Puerto Rico work to clear roads after Hurricane María devastated the island. (Puerto Rico National Guard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 30, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the growing economic consequence of climate change. 

Transcript: Human-induced climate change costs more than the U.S. economy can afford according to a recent report from the Universal Ecological Fund.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Titled, “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States,” the report found that severe weather intensified by climate change and the health impacts associated with burning fossil fuels have cost the U.S. economy $240 billion per year in the last decade.

The authors point out that the number of extreme weather events resulting in $1 billion or more in damages has increased by 400 percent since the 1980s. Iowa, for example, has endured three floods costing more than $1 billion in the last decade, up three-fold since the 1990s.

If climate change is not curtailed, researchers predict costs associated with severe weather and the health impacts of emitting greenhouse gases will reach $360 billion annually.

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

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