Iowa City and MidAmerican may team up on solar project


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A cheerful row of solar panels (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 5, 2020

MidAmerican Energy has proposed its first-ever solar energy project: a public-private partnership with the City of Iowa City.

The city would lease nearly 19 unused acres at Waterworks Prairie Park to MidAmerican for 30 years, installing 10,000 solar panels, according to The Gazette. The energy generated would be able to power 580 average Iowa homes, a MidAmerican representative said in the article.

The Iowa City City Council will hold a hearing on the proposal later this month. If the city approves the plan, it will receive annual payment for the land.

The project would not impact the park’s walking trail. The Gazette reported that the land in question is currently planted with prairie, which would be replaced with “low-growth pollinators and perennials.”

 

 

 

City dwellers rejoice: spring greening comes earlier for urban plants


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The first signs of spring occur earlier in cities than surrounding rural areas, new research found (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | February 27, 2020

Vegetation starts turning green earlier in cities than surrounding rural areas, but urban plants are less sensitive to unseasonable warmth, new Iowa State University-led research found. The authors attribute the difference to the urban “heat island” effect.

Cities typically have somewhat higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas because materials like asphalt and brick absorb heat more readily than natural landscapes. For example, New York City is about 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding areas in summer, according to NASA’s Climate Kids site.

Researchers found this “heat island” phenomenon causes urban vegetation to perceive the start of spring and begin greening an average of six days earlier than surrounding rural plants.

As climate change progresses, however, plants in both rural and urban areas are responding to unseasonably warm temperatures by beginning growth earlier and earlier over time. Pollinators and last frosts have failed to keep up, which has damaged the early bloomers’ ability to survive and reproduce.

The study found that rural vegetation is more sensitive to early spring weather than urban vegetation, perhaps due to the urban heat island effect as well.

ISU Ph.D. student Ling Meng led the research team, which included CGRER member Yuyu Zhou, an ISU geological and atmospheric scientist, among others. The study, published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on satellite images from 85 large U.S. cities from 2001 to 2014.

Zhou told the Iowa State News Service that this sort of research can help predict how plants will respond to climate change and urbanization.

AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming


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Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.

 

How to adapt to climate change​ in Iowa


 

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Jerry Schnoor (right) reading the 2019 Climate Statement at the Cedar Rapids Press Conference

 

Kasey Dresser| February 7, 2020

CGRER’s Co-director Jerry Schnoor sat down with Iowa Public Radio to discuss what life with climate action would like and how Iowans can adapt their own lives with impending climate changes. We have already seen severe flooding and intense preciptations, but what’s next?  You can listen to learn more here.

Permission to sell Iowa water to arid west requested, denied


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The Jordan Aquifer (formally the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer) underlies most of Iowa and much of the Midwest (via USGS).

Julia Poska | February 6, 2020

Last week, northeast Iowa’s Pattison Sand Co. requested a state permit to sell 2 billion gallons of Jordan Aquifer water annually to water-poor states in the western U.S.

The company, which primarily mines sand for fracking operations, did not identify the arid states to which it would ship water, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported. Pattison said it intended to increase withdrawals from wells it already owns and ship the water west via a company called Water Train.

The unprecedented request sparked concern among stakeholders throughout the state, including lawmakers, utilities and environmentalists. The Jordan Aquifer, pictured above, is a major source of groundwater throughout Iowa and in parts of six other Midwestern states.

Expanding agriculture, ethanol production and municipal populations have created increasing demand on the Jordan, while recharge in some areas takes thousands of years.

In northeast Iowa, where Pattison mines outside of Clayton, the aquifer sits near the surface, allowing for easy access and recharge. One state geologist told the Des Moines Register that the northeast Iowa part of the aquifer could likely provide 2 billion gallons. Another told the Capital Dispatch more study would “definitely” be needed to determine impacts elsewhere in the state.

Iowa announced Wednesday intent to reject Pattison’s request, citing “negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources,” the Register reported. Pattison may submit “clarifying comments” before Feb. 14.

 

 

 

 

Researchers to explore Des Moines-area sustainability potential on NSF grant


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Downtown Des Moines and the surrounding six-county area are the subjects of a new research project on urban sustainability (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | January 24, 2020

The National Science Foundation granted a group of mostly Iowa-based interdisciplinary researchers $2.5 million to explore potential scenarios for making greater Des Moines more sustainable.

The Sustainable Cities Research Team –12 researchers from Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and University of Texas at Arlington– received the grant this week. The group’s engineers, environmental scientists, psychologists and others will holistically study food, energy and water systems within a six-county area to develop and analyze “scenarios” for improved sustainability.

An ISU press release said the approach would include analysis of potential for increased local and urban food production as well as building and transportation energy efficiency. The researchers will survey and collaborate with local residents and stakeholders, including farmers and community leaders.

The research effort could inform not only the future of the Des Moines area, but planning and policy in other Midwestern cities, too.

Iowa farmers concerned about land requirements for solar energy


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Solar panels near farmland (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | January 22, 2020

The Iowa Farm Bureau is urging state legislators to regulate siting of wind and solar operations this session, citing concerns about conflicting land use.

The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that Farm Bureau legislative preview videos said generating 3,000 megawatts of solar power through 20 proposed projects in Iowa “could potentially take thousands of acres out of production.”

Kerri Johannsen, the Iowa Environmental Council’s energy director, told the Register that generating 10% of Iowa’s power through solar panels would require 13,000 acres, or 0.4% of Iowa’s farmland.

Bill Cherrier, CEO of Central Iowa Power Cooperative (which has a few solar projects in the works) said solar projects are usually cited on “subprime” land for farming. Environmental groups said they would be open to regulation, as long as they did not restrict the state’s transition to renewable energy in the future.

An article this week from clean energy website Clean Technica suggested Iowa farmers consider “agrovolatics,” or integration of renewable energy and crops. The author cited European studies and projects that demonstrated increased productivity of land through the practice.