North Carolina hurricane victims take a lesson from Iowa Flood Center


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Hurricane Florence as seen from space (via flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 15, 2019

A North Carolina mayor hopes to make his city more resilient against flooding following hurricanes using a method he learned from Iowa experts.

At the end of August, the Iowa Flood Center hosted a “flood resilience learning exchange” for 20 scientists, conservationists, farmers and officials from North Carolina communities impacted by devastating flooding from recent hurricanes. The two-day event featured talks from Iowan experts, a tour of Cedar Rapids’ flood infrastructure and a visit to a farm implementing such strategies.

News source kinston.com reported this week that Mayor Dontario Hardy of Kinston, North Carolina had been advocating for increased funding for flood resiliency projects since attending the event almost two months ago.

In just the past few years, Kinston–located along the Neuse River– faced widespread flooding after Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018). Though the Iowa Watershed Approach was not developed with hurricanes in mind, the basic concept–implementing conservation practices on land that will reduce the speed at which precipitation enters and floods our waterways– can apply to all types of flooding.

 

 

Midwest agriculture sector hit by climate change


By Julia Shanahan | October 18th, 2019

The FED central bank released a report this week reviewing the economic strength of various sectors and regions and concluded the agriculture industry is still not doing well economically — a lot of which can be attributed to climate change.

The report said that adverse weather effects has impacted farming conditions, market prices, and has disrupted trade. The Midwest has been hit particularly hard, and the FED reported that midwest sources have concerns about the outcome of this year’s harvest. Iowa experienced heavy flooding in the spring, which damaged grain and farmland. Because Iowa also experienced a period of dry weather over the summer months, some farmers were able to bounce back.

This summer, economic experts at the USDA issued a report that said increasing crop losses will drive up the prices of crop insurance, with climate change being a leading factor in crop loss. There are several government cost-share programs that work to mitigate risk in agriculture, and the average annual cost of these programs amounts to $12 billion using data from the last decade. As severe weather becomes more frequent, the amount of federal dollars is expected to increase.

The report says that all anticipated climate scenarios are expected to lower yields of corn, soybeans, and wheat — but yield volatility is not always impacted by severe weather. In a scenario that greenhouse gas emissions increase at a high rate, the cost of today’s Federal Crop Insurance Program is expected to increase 22 percent.

EPA announced a ​new proposal to update the Lead and Copper Rule


 

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Irrigation (flickr/UTDNR)

 

Kasey Dresser| October 14, 2019

After nearly 30 years of a stagnant Lead and Copper Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal to update the regulation. The new regulations are aimed to increase lead identification, sampling, and strengthen treatment by increasing the number of hours a service provider needs to notify a customer that their water is contaminated with lead.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental activists have expressed concern that the new regulation allows communities more to time to replace the lead service lines, indicating these regulations may be weaker than the previous. The new proposal also establishes a lower “trigger level” of lead to 10 parts per billion from 15 parts per billion. The main counterargument is health experts have never established that any level of lead can be sustainable. “Even low levels of lead can cause harm to developing brains and nervous systems, fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, and elevated blood pressure. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable,” the NRDC said in a statement.

The last major lead pipe exposure in Iowa outbreak was December 2016. More than 6,000 Iowans were exposed to contaminated water for over six months. The issue brought up major incongruency in the method to solve the problem between University of Iowa engineers or Iowa Departments of Public Health and Natural Resources.

Wet September eases drought, creates flood risk in Iowa


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Map from iowaagriculture.gov

Julia Shanahan | October 11, 2019

This past September was the 15th wettest September on record for Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This has been able to remove drought locations that happened over the dry summer months.

Iowa’s average rainfall amounted to 6.17 inches — 2.79 inches above normal for September. The temperature average to 68.2 degrees, making it the ninth warmest September on record. While it has been able to offset drought damage, the DNR stated in a press release that saturated soils make the state vulnerable to flooding if rainfall continues.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that June 2018 to May 2019 were the wettest 12 months on record for Iowa since 1895. Iowa received extreme flooding in the spring from the Missouri River. Early snow melt from not only Iowa, but also South Dakota and Minnesota, contributed to the rising water levels in the river.

Iowa also received heavy rainfall, which some reports attributed to a changing climate and warm ocean temperatures. In the June to May time frame, Iowa received 50.73 inches of rain.

Effects of the changing climate in Iowa were seen into the summer months. The Iowa Climate Statement was released Sept. 18, which outlined trends in temperatures and how Iowa can expect more 90 degree days in a year. The report also serves as a warning to Iowans and Midwesterners to expect extreme heat, and provides guidelines on how one can properly prepare.

 

Iowa State research proposes ‘sustainable intensification’ of Iowa drainage network


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Drainage tile helps keep farm fields dry, but Iowa’s system needs a more sustainable upgrade (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | October 9, 2019

Agronomy researchers at Iowa State University have proposed ideas for an ambitious and much-needed update to Iowa’s agricultural drainage system. Their study makes suggestions for mitigating the effects of altered precipitation patterns due to climate change while reducing pollution to air and water.

The concept of “sustainable intensification” (the authors define this as “producing more food from the same amount of land with fewer environmental costs”) is at the core of the research. ISU agronomist Michael Castellano led the study in partnership with University of Kentucky and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH-Zurich.

Artificial drainage systems are comprised of underground pipes, tiles and drains that move water off farmland, discharging it into ditches that flow into natural surface waterbodies. Without this network, most of Iowa’s land would be too waterlogged to farm, but drainage systems increase runoff of nutrient and bacterial pollution from fields into waterways.

The increasing frequency of both intense rain events and draught in Iowa due to climate change is also putting extra pressure on those systems, which were designed before Iowa agriculture became so intense.  The study, published in Nature Sustainability, describes several solutions. “Controlled drainage,” or installing gates that can temporarily open/close at the ends of drains, could allow farmers to increase drainage during wet springs and retain more water during dry summers.

Installing narrower, shallower drains could further reduce nutrient concentration in drainage water, the authors claim. They say it could also reduce needed fertilizer inputs and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the soil.

The study also describes the need to increase on-farm conservation practices, like returning some farmed land to wetland, in conjunction with updating infrastructure.

 

UI professor and researcher calls on economic reform to address the changing climate


By Julia Shanahan | September 20th, 2019

Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa civil and environmental engineering professor and co-director of the Center for Global and Environmental research, wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, calling for economic reform to reduce global carbon emissions.

Schnoor listed several economic changes that would help to reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent in the next ten years:

  • Install solar panels and build large solar power plants
  • Improve battery storage
  • Massive reforestation
  • Implement regenerative agriculture to keep carbon in the ground
  • Expand electrical vehicle usability

Schnoor pointed to extreme weather events like the spring flooding from the Missouri river, category five hurricanes, wildfires, drought, and failed crops. This op-ed comes ahead of the Sept. 20 global climate strikes, where people of all ages from all over the world are rallying for environmental reform. 

Schnoor says in the piece that “time is running out” to address the changing climate, writing,  “Without a drastic reduction in burning of fossil fuels now — a reduction of 45% in the next 10 years — we commit ourselves to increasing climate catastrophes at great economic cost.”


In Iowa, where agriculture is a leading industry, many have called on farmers across the midwest to begin more sustainable farming methods, like planting cover crops, leaving organic materials in the fields after harvest, and adding additional crops to a soybean-corn rotation.

Hurricane Dorian highlights growing vulnerability of islanders


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This map from NOAA shows Dorian passing over the Bahamas, forecasting its trajectory as of 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31. 

Julia Poska | September 4, 2019

In recent years, the Caribbean islands have been repeatedly pummeled by unusually intense hurricanes. In 2017, Hurricanes Maria and Irma virtually destroyed Caribbean islands Dominicana and Barbuda. Puerto Rico is still recovering from devastation that same year. 

This week, Hurricane Dorian, the second strongest Atlantic storm on record, hit hard in the Bahamas. An aerial video from NBC reveals widespread flooding and buildings reduced to rubble on Abaco Island.

Once these islands recover, spending billions to do so, they can expect to see more intense storms in the future, as climate change increases the impacts of hurricanes. Though mitigation can be at least partially achieved through social and infrastructural means, many islands lack the financial means to implement them, as well as ample time between storms. 

Evacuation orders protect human life, but accessing transportation by air or water can be expensive, leaving inland shelters as the best option for many. In the Bahamans, 24 shelters were established inland on Abaco and Grand Bahamas Island, with 73,000 residents at risk, according to the Washington Post. The Bahamasair airline offered discounted flights off the island.

As climate change progresses, rising sea levels will make coastal flooding a permanent feature of island life, as well,  reducing inhabitable land and threatening freshwater resources within the islands. Just two degrees of warming would put Bahamian capital island Nassau and many smaller Caribbean islands almost completely underwater (see this map from Climate Central), forcing residents to relocate as “climate refugees.”