Farmers could be key allies in climate crisis


By Julia Shanahan | August 9th, 2019

According to a report from CNN, farmers could potentially practice farming in a way that would remove carbon from the air and put in into the ground.

From soybeans to corn to pine trees, plants already move carbon out of the air. The report suggests that with enough financial motivation and innovation, farmers could continue growing food while also practicing carbon management. Substances like biochar, charcoal and other organic material that is almost pure carbon, can be sprinkled over soil to keep carbon in the ground for thousands of years, and it doesn’t go back into the atmosphere.

The 2018 IPCC Lands Report says that nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come out of the agriculture sector, pointing to diesel fuel and synthetic fertilizer.  Gene Tackle, a co-author of the National Climate Assessment, said in the CNN report that farmers could be key allies in helping to reduce, and even eliminate, global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The National Climate Assessment projects that the amount of days that exceed 90 degrees in  Des Moines could increase from 17 days to 70 by mid-century. Additionally, the latest IPCC report finds that growing food around the world will only become more difficult as the weather becomes more unpredictable.

Farmers in Iowa were burdened this past year with extremely heavy rainfall and flooding, as well as an ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China that has made it hard for some farmers to sell goods. There are currently no mandatory conservation practices that farmers must practice in Iowa – extra conservation practices are done on a voluntary basis across the state. 

Experts encourage towns to invest in composting


Photo by Plan for Opportunity, Flickr.

By Julia Shanahan | August 2nd, 2019

Composting all organic waste could eliminate one-third of materials sent to landfills and trash incinerators, according to a study from Composting in America, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research, and Policy Center and Frontier Group.

The reports says that each year the U.S. disposes of enough organic material  to fill 18-wheelers stretching from New York to Los Angeles ten times over. Only 326 U.S. towns nationwide provide curbside food pickup, leaving people no option but to throw food scraps in the trash.

The report says that increasing composting would help replenish soil and prevent erosion, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, and help combat climate change. Composting excess organic material would help pull carbon out of the atmosphere and return nutrients to the soil. 

In Iowa, some small compost facilities are exempt from solid-waste permits, but must adhere to a list of requirements: facilities must be greater than 500 feet away from any inhabited residence, outside of wetlands, 200 feet away from any public well, and runoff from the composting operation must be correctly managed – according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The national report lists several things that would make composting more accessible and user-friendly, saying that towns should offer curbside pickup for organic waste, make composting programs affordable, require commercial organic-waste producers to compost excess materials, and to encourage local markets to buy back compost materials to distribute to public projects or community projects.

On The Radio- Glass skyscrapers


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(flickr/Duane Schermerhorn)

Kasey Dresser| July 22, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how glass skyscrapers are negatively impacting the environment. 

Transcript:

Glass skyscrapers are having negative impacts on our environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Architects have known for a long time about the difficulties of keeping glass buildings from overheating. When glass office structures became popular choices for new developments in Chicago during the 1880s, practical ventilation methods were used to reduce the heat inside of these structures, but this was only somewhat effective. Modern conveniences, like central air conditioning and central heating, make temperature regulation much easier.

High-rise, glass-paneled buildings are visually striking, but the designs and materials of these buildings make them inefficient energy users. Temperatures are hard to regulate in glass structures, and taller buildings use significantly more energy than shorter ones. Buildings that reach over 20 stories use about twice as much electricity per square meter than buildings under 6 stories.

Environmentalist have been working to restrict the number of glass high-rise developments in the cities across the country. While there are some benefits to glass—like natural lighting—architects are still working on ways to make high-rises more environmentally friendly.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

Iowa Flood Center 10 years later: preventative measures for the future


By Julia Shanahan | June 14th, 2019

The Iowa Flood Center celebrated its 10th anniversary on Thursday, where members reflected on the center’s growth and development since the devastating 2008 flooding.

Larry Weber, IFC co-founder and research engineer, said after the 2008 flood, which came just 15 years after another historic flood in 1993, the state of Iowa began to realize that these horrific floods were not just going to be a “once in a lifetime” occurrence.

“Prior to 2008, however, [the Iowa Flood Center] had very little direct impact in the state of Iowa,” Weber told media and community members at the Stanley Hydraulics Lab on Thursday.

Weber said working with the community and government officials during the 2008 flood was a learning experience for many involved, but that it pushed the IFC to be a more resourceful organization ten years later.

With help from the state and IFC, the University of Iowa and surrounding community had to restore damages in 18 buildings. Now, nearly everything has been repaired except for the UI’s Museum of Art. Construction is slated to start this year.

Witold Krajewski, IFC co-founder and rainfall monitoring and forecast expert, said since the 2008 flood, the IFC has mapped areas around streams and rivers that are exposed to innovation and monitors streamflow forecasts in real-time at about 400 locations across the state – all of which are available on an interactive web-based platform.

“While today we are celebrating ten years of accomplishments, we and the people of Iowa have a long road ahead of [us] to a sustainable future,” Krajewski said, referencing concerns about climate change, intensifying land use, and beginning new approaches to hazard-assessment programs.

IFC members also highlighted the role state government has played in restoring communities hit by flooding. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed disaster proclamations for more than half the state in recent months after the Missouri River flooded in southwest Iowa.

State Senators Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, commended the bipartisanship in the Iowa Legislature and the devotion of community members and Iowans who pitched in to help in 2008.

Hogg said 11 years ago on the night of June 12, thousands of Iowans showed up to help safeguard the final water intake in Cedar Rapids by laying down sand bags into the morning hours of June 13. He said after an overflow of people showed up to help, some were sent to secure Mercy Medical Center to prevent its bottom level from collapsing.

“I have said since that time that when it comes to preventing future flooding, we need that same spirit of the sandbag that we displayed on June 12 and 13 of 2008,” Hogg said.

Hogg said that today, the “spirit of the sandbag” can be applied to building detention basins, flood-safe architecture, and conservation efforts on farmlands.

South Sioux City to become “demonstration site” for stored electrical power


Julia Shanahan | June 7th, 2019

South Sioux City, located in northeast Nebraska, will become a “demonstration site” this winter for the storage of electric power generated by the city’s 1,200 solar panels.

A large battery, described as a “semi trailer without wheels”, will be able to store 1.5 megawatts of power and cost about $1.8 million, according to a report from the Iowa-based Sioux City Journal. This project is a big step in the field of renewable energy because power would be able to be stored for days with less wind or sunlight.

The report also said that solar energy makes up roughly 5 percent of the city’s electricity usage, and that South Sioux City now gets about half of its electricity from renewable sources, like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. In Iowa, about 2 percent of renewable energy comes from a source other than wind.

The city hopes to continue taking steps to lessen its dependence on the Nebraska Public Power District, and eventually fully phase out of their contract.

As South Sioux City takes steps toward utilizing sustainable energy, Iowa remains a leading state in the field of renewable energy.

In 2018, Iowa’s 3,400 wind turbines produced 34 percent of the state’s electricity – the second highest share for any state, according to the U.S. Energy Information System. Additionally, among the top five energy-consuming states, Iowa was the only non-crude oil-producing state on a per-capita basis in 2018.

Iowa also remains the largest producer of ethanol in the U.S., producing one-fourthof the country’s ethanol production capacity.

Flood watch continues across Iowa; the latest in your part of the state


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Check the Iowa Flood Information System for current alert statuses. 

Julia Poska | March 14, 2019

While Iowans rejoiced over spring-like weather this week after a long, brutal winter, flooding caused by rapid snowmelt and heavy rains has threatened communities across the state.

Iowa weather services have been reporting higher-than-average risks for major flooding this spring since late February, and many outlooks have only increased within the last week, according to the Des Moines Register. The risk is most pronounced along the Mississippi River, where a Quad Cities survey found the risk of flooding through May to be 95 percent last week. The National Weather Service says flooding in the Quad Cities could break records.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Wednesday morning that will last until at least this evening across most of the state. In some areas the watch will extend into next week. Below is information on flooding and alerts throughout the state as of this morning.

East

  • Major flood stage was reached in Waterloo, Maquoketa and DeWitt as of Thursday morning. Moderate flood stage was reached in many areas Wednesday, including Kalona, Atkins and Augusta (IFIS).
  • Yesterday, Cedar Rapids expected a “moderate flood stage” when the Cedar River crests early next week. Officials said this should be fairly insignificant for residents. The city had already reached moderate flood stage as of Wednesday night (Gazette/IFIS).
  • An ice jam raised alarm in Ottumwa Wednesday morning, though it only caused minor agricultural flooding (Des Moines Register).

Central

  • Squaw Creek in Ames reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday morning, all areas were at or below moderate levels (IFIS).
  • An ice jam collapsed a bridge in Johnston Wednesday evening. The trail leading to the bridge had been closed prior to the collapse (Des Moines Register).
  • Des Moines Public Works closed parts of George Flagg Parkway and Fleur Avenue. These could remain closed for days (WHOtv).
  • An ice jam in the Raccoon River flooded rural communities in Dallas County (Des Moines Register).

West

  • Western Iowa was hit worst of all. As of Thursday morning, eight communities from north to south were at major flood stage (IFIS).
  • The Boyer River in Hogan and the West Nishnabotna River near Avoca reached major flood stage Wednesday afternoon. A Red Cross station was set up in Avoca for those displaced from homes (kwbe/IFIS).
  • Underwood in Pottawattamie County lost function of its sewer lift system Wednesday. Residents were asked to stop flushing toilets temporarily (kwbe).
  • Harrison County Emergency Management ordered a partial evacuation of Missouri Valley Wednesday night. As of 9:20pm, 2,600 people were underwater (Des Moines Register).
  • Several roads have been closed as well. Check 511ia.org for current closures. 

Take care around even shallowly flooded areas, especially when driving. Remember that while newly-purchased flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect (and will therefore not help you this week), Iowa’s flood season has only just begun.

Visit the Iowa Flood Information System to monitor current flood alerts, stream levels and rainfall forecasts for your area.

The Iowa ‘sunshine tax’: What you need to know


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The “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” may not be so sunny (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | February 28, 2019

The so-called “sunshine tax” might have a bright and cheery name, but the proposed fee could put a real damper on private solar power in Iowa.

Described in House Study Bill 185 and Senate Study Bill 1201, the “Solar Options Lead to Affordable Renewables (SOLAR) Act” would impose an over $300 annual fee on solar customers — property owners with small-scale solar panel setups who sell excess power back to the grid. The fee would cover the cost of using the electric grid and support Iowa’s energy infrastructure.

Currently, such customers can expect to pay off the high initial cost of solar panel installation in less than 10 years through savings on energy bills and sales of excess power. Cedar Rapids City Councilman Tyler Olson told the designated House subcommittee the fee would extend that period to as much as 20 years, as reported in the Gazette. This would greatly discourage private individuals from investing in home setups, which typically last about 25 years.

Supporters of the fee, including major Iowa utilities like MidAmerican and Alliant Energy, say it is unfair that customers who do not generate their own power absorb the cost of maintaining power infrastructure that is used by solar generators.

“Growth is possible when policies allow all customers to benefit from renewable energy,”  MidAmerican Energy’s president and CEO said in a press release. “Common sense legislation focused on keeping costs low and affordable for everyone provides the best opportunity to grow solar in Iowa.”

Opponents say the fee would only allow solar to grow for large corporations, however, and that it would kill the future of Iowa’s growing solar industry, which largely develops and installs systems for private homes, businesses and farms.

On Tuesday, the Gazette reported that the the bill would soon move forward in the Iowa House, to the full House Commerce Committee. Yesterday, the Iowa Senate held a hearing on their version of the bill, and did the same. There is a push among some legislators to delay the conversation until the Iowa Utilities Board finishes an assessment of compensation for solar energy producers next year.