California Wildfires


Kasey Dresser | January 5, 2018

Hello everybody!

I’m Kasey and I’m a student at the University of Iowa. I’m currently visiting home during winter break in beautiful San Diego, California. And as I’m sure you seen on the news I came home after an extremely destructive fire season.  Luckily I live closer to the coast so my home was not affected but my grandma and several of my friends were evacuated.  All of the local high schools, including my sisters, were closed. Last weekend, My dad and I headed inland to film the damage.

 

Turning food waste into green energy


502155430_4e6402872e_o.jpg
Wasting Food (jbloom/flickr)
Kasey Dresser | January 3,  2018

Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food each year. Not only is that a waste of natural resources but food waste produces methane which is a harmful greenhouse gas. Researchers at Cornell University have been looking at more productive ways of using leftover food.

The process is a combination of hydrothermal liquefaction and anaerobic digestion.

Hydrothermal liquefaction is a process where the food is heated (kind of like a pressure cooker) to extract oil that can be used for fuel.

The anaerobic digestion process breaks down the microbes in the food waste into a mixture primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide. This gas can be used to power heat and electricity.

Other methods of turning food waste into energy are also being developed but Roy Posmanik, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell, is really excited about this quick new solution. “We’re talking about minutes in hydrothermal liquefaction and a few days in an anaerobic digester,” he said in a written statement. Posmanik says he could see a day where all food waste from homes, supermarkets, restaurants are immediately shipped to treatment plans. Posmanik needs to do more research before he discovers the cost but “government incentives for renewable energy credits can make a lot of difference.”

 

On The Radio – UNESCO Natural World Heritage sites threatened by climate change


9443556304_79056183ef_k
Many of the world’s greatest reefs have lost their colorful algae due to rising sea temperatures. (Robert Linsdell/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 1, 2017

This week’s segment discusses how climate change is becoming more threatening to natural wonders around the world. 

Transcript: Climate change now threatens one in four Natural World Heritage sites.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

There are a total of 206 Natural World Heritage properties elected by UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The organization announced at November’s United Nations climate change summit in Bonn, Germany that sixty-two of these sites are now considered to be at risk due to climate change, up from 35 sites listed in 2014.

A variety of sites are threatened, but coral reefs and wetlands are among the most fragile ecosystems. Rising sea temperatures have killed off colorful algae that used to adorn the Belize Barrier Reef and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Everglades are also threatened by climate change as sea level rise brings salt water into the wetland ecosystem.

Proper management can reduce risk for some threatened natural heritage sites. The report tells of replenished elephant and chimpanzee populations in Ivory Coast’s Comoé national park due to successful management and international support.

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

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

Iowa airports becoming more environmentally efficient


eastern-iowa-airport.jpg
Photo by Travelin’ Librarian, Flickr.
Kasey Dresser | December 20,  2017

The Eastern Iowa Airport is making important steps towards going green and saving energy costs. The next step in their $55 million remodel is adding 738 solar panels to the roof. A $579,870 grant from U.S. Department of Transportation will cover 90 percent of the solar panel installation.

The Eastern Iowa Airport recently installed 2 electronic car charging stations in short term parking and two more in long term parking.

The airport also plans on adding new heated pavement technology developed at Iowa State University that will save the cost of plowing, de-icing chemicals, and wastewater treatment for the chemical runoff.

In 2015 the airport partnered with the University of Iowa to grow and burn miscanthus in the UI power plant. The planting of miscanthus in the 2,000 acres of farmland and leasing out farmland for farmers to plant soybeans has also improved water quality. “We have found, through our partnership with ISU, that those prairie grasses really help improve water quality in terms of runoff and soil erosion,” Airport Director Marty Lenss said. “With our parking lot expansion that we just completed, we modified our stormwater detention basins and they will be planted with pollinators this summer.”

Another step towards more a more environmentally efficient airport is their lights. In February 2011, all halide lights installed in 1985 were replaced with LEDs. This project reduced energy by around 80 percent.

November 2017 brought drought to Iowa


7897867718_ab842e2fcf_o
A portion of the dried up East Indian Creek southeast of Nevada during the 2012 drought. (Carl Wycoff/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 5, 2017

Last month was the driest month since 2007 according to state climatologist Harry Hillaker.

Hillaker spoke with Radio Iowa this week and said, “Overall a state average of .43 of an inch of moisture for the month, which is about 20 percent of what is usual. And actually the driest of any calendar month going back to November of 2007.”

Conditions were abnormally dry at all monitoring stations, especially in northwestern Iowa, where some areas of Ida county and Cherokee county received zero precipitation last month. The whole state only saw a minuscule amount of snow for the eighth time in Iowa’s 131-year weather record.  Hillaker said, “The statewide average was just a trace of snow and typically we’d get three to four inches of snow during the month of November.”

While there were some colder days in the beginning of November, warmer than average temperatures during the second half of the month made snowfall even less likely. The climatologist pointed out that there was virtually no precipitation in the state after the 18th of November.

November wraps up the fall season of September, October and November. Although November 2016 brought record-high temperatures, Iowa Environmental Mesonet reports that temperatures for last month were near average.

Trump sides with farmers on biofuel debate


4806634131_de2e423cb8_o.jpg
Corn Field (fishhawk/ Flickr)
Kasey Dresser | December 1, 2017

During the 2016 election, Trump promised farmers that he would maintain the Renewable Fuel Standard. The Renewable Fuel Standard requires refiners to blend biofuel into gasoline nationwide. His support was questioned with nominations to the EPA for Carl C. Icahan and Scott Pruitt. Icahn is a billionaire Texas oil refiner and Scott Pruitt favored decreasing biofuel levels. Icahn has since stepped down after backlash from Congress that his policy on ethanol was influenced by his financial investment.

Yesterday, the Trump administration announced that they will continue to support Iowa farmers and maintain a similar quota for biofuel.  Refineries are required to blend approximately 20 billion gallons of biofuel. According to Department of Agriculture, about 40% of domestic corn, and about 30% of domestic soybeans now go into ethanol for biofuel.

Support for biofuel is not universal. Oil companies argue that recent research shows biofuel is not better than oil, so ethanol is only benefitting famers. Scientists worry that an increase demand for corn and soybean production has backfired. Farmers are having to expand their farmland. This cuts down open grasslands which hurts biodiversity and the ability for the air to store carbon.

Chet Thompson, the president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, wrote in an email, “Unfortunately it appears that EPA did exactly what Senator Grassley demanded, bowing the knee to King Corn.”

 

Construction of 10,000 head cattle lot could ruin Bloody Run Creek


4848310475_8237aa2030_o.jpg
Cattle (LHOON/ flickr)
Kasey Dresser | November 24, 2017

Walz Energy is building a 10,000 head cattle feeding facility and methane digester near Highway 18 & 52 east of Monanan. The company’s goal is to capture methane from the manure and other added food waste to generate natural gas that can be used to power cars and trucks. This is a part of Iowa’s Energy Plan to support 1,000 more biogas projects. A biogas project takes raw materials like sewage, plant waste, etc. and turns it into renewable energy.

Jon Haman, Walz Energy’s chief operating officer, has openly discussed the project’s positive environmental impact. The facility will generate new and renewable energy without a carbon footprint and reduce waste in landfills. Over the last few months, the process has received a lot of backlash from nearby residents. One of the biggest concerns is contamination to Bloody Run Creek.

On October 11th, a violation was issued for inadequate stormwater protection after waste leaked into Bloody Run Creek. Bloody Run Creek is the ninth most fished creek in Iowa and known for the crystal clear water. A lot of money and resources were invested in the stream and it would be extremely harmful to the nearby community if it were polluted.

After inspection the DNR ordered Walz Energy to fix their containment basin to prevent further discharge and the company began to make changes hours later. The Iowa DNR has inspected the project several times since and Walz Energy is ensuring their cooperation. At this point, the DNR has still denied a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit (NPDES) three times.

Bill Ehm, the lead on DNR’s environmental services, has asked them to improve protection from leakage but does not have authority at this time to ask them to stop construction.

According to Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, “Bloody Run will continue to be degraded with each rainfall as long as construction is allowed to continue without an effective pollution prevention plan.” On November 29th the Iowa DNR will be holding a public hearing about the stormwater construction permit from 4 to 6pm in the Clayton County Building, 600 Gunder Road in Elkader.

More information about other concerns can be found at https://www.desmoinesregister.com