Iowa’s flood season started off with an splash this week. The state saw road closures, city evacuations and one even one collapsed bridge. In wake of major damage from east to west, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a statewide disaster proclamation Thursday.
The official proclamation activates the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate disaster response using state resources. It also activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program for qualifying residents; those with household incomes up to twice the federal poverty level have 45 days after the proclamation to apply for up to $5,000 in flood damage repairs.
The proclamation also activated the Disaster Case Management Program in 21 counties. Case managers help those seriously affected by disasters overcome adversity by helping them create a disaster recovery plan and offering guidance, advice and referrals.
Better safe than sorry
The flood season has only just begun and is expected to be brutal this year. Flood insurance takes 30 days from purchase to become active, but flood risk is an all-year hazard, especially in Iowa. It is not too late to protect your household from future floods.
Do you live in a flood plain? Find out here and remember that over 20 percent of flood insurance claims come from properties outside the supposed “high-risk” zone. The average claim is about $30,000: six times more than the maximum granted by the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program and with no income requirement.
Be aware of present flood risk as well. Watches are ongoing in much of the state. Be sure to…
Avoid driving across even shallowly flooded roads.
Keep at least a day’s supply of shelf-stable food and water in your home, especially if you live in a floodplain.
This weeks segment looks at The Green New Deal, a bill for clean transportation.
The newly proposed Green New Deal gives some framework for a future of clean transportation.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
The Green New Deal, proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, may not end up passing, but the deal serves as a blueprint for potential environmental policies to follow. Some interesting broad goals for the future include high-speed rail and zero-emission public transportation.
The Green New deal also brings up concerns with transportation access. Many low-income communities of color suffer disproportionately from poor transportation infrastructure and vehicle-related pollution.
The deal focuses on public policy, but will likely need private investors backing it to meet its many lofty goals.
Even if the deal does not come to pass, it’s sparked a conversation in Washington and the country about the desperate need for clean, affordable, and accessible transportation.
This weeks segment looks at new methods of creating dog food with less of an environmental impact.
A potential new insect based dog food could help the planet.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Meat production has been linked to increasing emissions of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. This is the reason many environmental activists choose a vegetarian or vegan diet but humans aren’t the only mammals reliant on meat.
Pets are estimated to eat twenty percent of the meat produced world wide. A pet food manufacturer in the United Kingdom, Yora,has introduced black solider flies as a protein substitute. Along with less emissions into the atmosphere, the black solider fly based dog food is cheaper to produce and requires less land and water.
At the Royal Veterinary College, pet diet expert Aarti Kathrani confirmed that soldier flies could meet a canine’s nutritional needs. She told the BBC,“insects can be a very useful source of protein. More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog’s body- but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs.”
Yora is not the only pet food manufacturer to use flies in their recipe but other manufacturers typically use only a small amount. Yora is currently planning to transition forty percent of their products to majority fly protein.
Natural disasters are enormously costly. The U.S. incurred an estimated $306 billion in physical damage from extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods in 2017 alone.
CGRER member Eric Tate, a professor in the University of Iowa geography department, quantifies disaster impacts in a bigger way.
“Looking at these impacts just by dollars affected may not really get at the true impact of how people are affected, how their livelihoods are affected,” he said.
Tate studies the social effects of disasters, with an emphasis on floods. Looking beyond physical damage, he determines how population characteristics like age, disability, education and poverty create social vulnerability to harm.
Listen to Tate explain social vulnerability in his own words.
Disaster impacts are typically distributed unevenly; certain groups suffer disproportionately due to social, political, economic and institutional inequalities. These processes may debilitate some households while neighbors go unaffected during the same storm.
Using mainly government disaster relief data, Tate has measured and mapped the social reality of disasters like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. He’s currently examining 2015 flooding in South Carolina. His research aims to inform planning and policy by lending insight into how various population characteristics contribute to vulnerability.
“What is needed in this field is a bunch of studies looking at different disasters at different scales of analysis, looking at different variables, looking at different outcomes,” he said. “When you put them all together, now you start to get some generalizable understanding.”
Officials can use such analyses to help vulnerable populations before, during and after disasters with adjusted mitigation and primary response plans. The social dimension of sustainability is often underemphasized, but is crucial for implementing effective change.
“If we want to have sustainable futures but the gains aren’t equitably shared, then is that sustainable?” Tate asked.
Tate on the need for research into the spillover effects of disasters.
He sees several ways policymakers on all levels can more deeply embed equity into decision making. They can model vulnerability among their constituents themselves or look to academic research that does so. They can seek to be inclusive and involve a diverse cross section of the population early on in the decision making process.
Tate pointed to the National Environmental Policy Act as well, which requires the government to complete environmental impact assessments prior to undergoing all federally funded executive projects. He thinks a similar statute could mandate assessments of the far-reaching social consequences of such projects.
He also advised considering climate change in proactive disaster planning, as atmospheric carbon seems to amplify climatological weather events. In Iowa, flooding has already become pronouncedly more intense and will continue to get worse in coming decades.
“Regardless of your belief in climate change or not, we’re seeing changes in hydrological extremes,” Tate said.
Tate on how to help protect yourself and your community from flooding.
Intensified flooding will increase pressure on the already vulnerability and likely push some previously unaffected households beyond their coping capacities.
Tate calls for updated statistical analysis to better inform everyone from city planners to homeowners about risk and vulnerability in different areas. The 100-year floodplain of today may become the 50-year floodplain in 15 years, but flood maps are based on historical frequencies and do not reflect projections for the future.
“Trying to understand future risk based on past occurrences is likely to lead you to faulty conclusions,” he said. “We should be thinking maybe a little less probabilistically and a little more possibilistically.”
***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a new blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspective and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***
This month Iowa City published a data base of the 49,863 trees it maintains. On the interactive website, the trees are assessed on location, size, species and environmental benefit. Residents can engage with the website and search specific neighborhoods to find trees in your area.
A data base of the trees also tracks the environmental impact. Right now, Iowa City trees save $455,600 in energy and $221,000 in air quality. The trees also avoid more than 10 million pounds of carbon pollution and 55 million gallons of stormwater runoff.
If you’re interested to learn about the trees in your neighborhood, the data base can be found here.
Regional, state, local and tribal agencies currently have the opportunity to clean up their air on the Environmental Protection Agency’s dollar. The EPA announced last week that it plans on awarding approximately $40 million in grants as part of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.
These grants will fund projects that reduce diesel emissions from school buses, commercial vehicles, locomotives and non-road equipment and emissions exposure for local communities. The EPA is especially looking to benefit communities that currently have poor air quality and for projects that will engage locals even once the project has ended.
This program began in 2008 and has awarded funds to the Iowa Department of Transportation in the past. The state matched the 2018 DERA allocation of $275,123 with funds from the Volkswagen settlement to put over $500,000 towards cleaning Iowa’s air.
Interested agencies have until March 6 to apply. Those in EPA region 7, including Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska can apply for projects up to $1.5 million.
This weeks segment looks at prospective plans for India to open the first fully solar-powered airport.
India is set to open the world’s first fully solar-powered airport.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
Cocin International Airport is the largest and busiest airport in India’s Kerala state. The transition from traditional electricity to solar power started in 2012, when the price of electricity jumped significantly.
Currently, the airport uses solar panels to generate more than twenty-nine point five megawatts of energy, enough to power the airport with surplus electricity even during the cloudy and rainy monsoon season.
The airport in Cocin is just one example of the growing influence solar power has on India. As much as 10% of expenses in airports come from the amount of electricity used, and implementing more renewable sources of power would help decrease both the carbon footprint and these expenses.
Solar power has been a growing industry in India for some time. The country recently proposed dramatically increasing their solar energy output, proposing to implement enough new panels to generate 100 gigawatts of power. There are some doubts about the ability to meet this goal as India still struggles with its infrastructure.
For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus dot org.
From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Focus, I’m Sara E Mason.