Water pollution Iowa’s top science policy issue


3114487590_22a274b03b_z.jpg
Streams carry farm pollution into the Missippi River, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico (flickr). 

Julia Poska| November 2, 2018

In light of upcoming midterm elections, Popular Science wants voters to be informed about science policy,  even if campaigners are not. The national magazine recently released a list of each U.S. state’s most pressing science policy issue.

Unsurprisingly, Iowa’s biggest challenge is to reduce pollution from farms. Because intensive agriculture takes place on over two-thirds of Iowa’s land, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous leak from the state’s ubiquitous farm fields into waterways at alarming rates.

The list cites a University of Iowa study from earlier this year, which found that Iowa’s nitrogen runoff into the Mississippi River rose 47 percent over the last five years. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, initiated in 2013, aimed to reduce this rate 45 percent in that same time span.

Nutrient loss degrades soil quality for growers, and has created legal tensions between farmers and local waterworks. The loss creates issues far downstream as well. An overabundance of nutrients  in the Gulf of Mexico has created a “dead zone” where low-oxygen conditions are inhospitable to aquatic life, which threatens the area’s fishing industry.

The Nutrient Reduction strategy pushes conservation practices like planting cover crops on otherwise bare fields, diversifying land use, and creating buffers along waterways out  to farms, but adoption of such practices is still too low.

The next round of political leaders will need continue searching for a solution, something Iowa voters should take into consideration.  As Popular Science wrote, “Even if it never surfaces on the campaign trail, science is always on the ballot.”

 

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018


Press conference_Ulrike and Schnoor
Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor answer questions about the Iowa Climate Statement.

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu and Kasey Dresser | October 11, 2018

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate was released earlier today at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The statement was announced by Jerry Schnoor, the co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and Ulrike Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University.

good img 2
Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor read the climate statement and answered questions

The eighth annual statement, “Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” released Thursday, October 11 was signed by a record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities. The statement describes the urgent need to fortify our building and public infrastructure from heat and precipitation and looks to the future weather of Iowa, suggesting ways to improve Iowa’s buildings to suit those changing weather patterns.

IMG_2816
The climate statement holds a record number of signers
ExtremeWeather_SocialMedia-widespread Iowa precip
Extreme precipitation is just one factor influencing this year’s climate statement topic

Iowa_Climate_Statement_2018_documents_and_graphics

Watch the press conference on our Facebook page

Read the climate statement

Analysis of Iowa air quality reveals positive and negative trends


16386615161_f2c1668f2c_z.jpg
Industrial greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and manufacturers contribute to climate change (flickr). 

Julia Poska | October 4, 2018

A new analysis of federal air quality data reveals mixed trends in Iowa’s air quality. On one hand, Iowa cut industrial greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent from 2010 to 2014. On the other, Iowa ranks among the top 20 U.S. states for industrial greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions.

Analysts from the Center for Public Integrity studied EPA data from 2010 to 2014.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources told the Des Moines Register that since 2014 emissions have trended downwards, according to data from their own monitoring stations and facilities.

The Center for Public Integrity found that Iowa’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions dropped  11 percent, from over 60 million metric tons in 2014 to about 54.7 metric tons in 2014. This cut is over five times greater than the 2 percent national average, according to the Register.

Iowa still ranks 19th for industrial emissions, however. Ten Iowa utility or manufacturing companies were among the nation’s top 500 sources of greenhouse gases in 2014.  Four of those were MidAmerican coal plants.  Since 2014, Iowa utilities have made major investments in renewable energy, particularly wind.

Iowa ranks even higher for toxic air emissions: 17th in the U.S.. From 2010 to 2014, toxic air emissions in Iowa actually increased. The Register found that Climax Molybdenum, a chemical plant in Fort Madison, and four others were responsible for half of Iowa’s toxic emissions in 2014. The paper said Climax Molybdenum was the 10th largest emitter of ammonia in the nation that year.

 

 

 

Clive, IA: $1.25 million buyout for flooding protection


Kasey Dresser | October 1, 2018

City officials of Clive, IA have approved a buyout for home and business owners affected by the June floods. The buyout will focus on properties affected in Walnut Creek and North Walnut Creek.

“We have dangerous flash floods on Walnut Creek and North Walnut Creek, and the frequency and intensity of that flooding is increasing,” said Clive City Manager Matt McQuillen.  “The properties we’re targeting have been flooded multiple times in the past decade.  In this case, the most effective way to protect lives and property from future loss is to remove the buildings and improve the natural floodplain function.”

City taxes will not be increased to purchase the properties. City council members will continue to discuss flood mitigation and preparedness strategies for the future.

Applications from property owners in the acquisition area must be submitted by November 5, 2018. Additional information about property criteria can be found here or at the City of Clive website.

Tracking pesticide behavior to protect pollinators


23468968398_6e157b12ff_z.jpg
Beneficial insects, like the bee shown above, can be harmed by chemical pesticides (flickr). 

Julia Poska| September 27, 2018

A recent study from Japan’s Osaka University aims to help protect pollinators from harm by studying how insects metabolize pesticides.

Researchers sliced fruit flies into very thin layers with a special technique developed to keep their delicate features in tact. They used a laser to glean tissue from the layers, which they analyzed to see how Imidacloprid-a, a common agricultural pesticide, spread through the fruit fly bodies.

Imidacloprid-a is one of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which have received a lot of negative attention for being linked to declining bee populations. France recently banned five types of neonicotenoids, including imidacloprid, in an effort to protect pollinators.

Scientific studies have yielded mixed results on the actual effects of neonicotinoids on bees, however. Some have found that bees can get addicted to the nicotine derivatives, and claim they kill. Others say that only certain species are affected, and that concentration levels in the field are insufficient to do real harm.

This report, published in the journal Analytical Sciences, may help bring clarity to the confused issue. It is the first of its kind, due to the exceptional difficulty of  preparing and imaging detailed tissue specimens of fruit flies. The researchers hope others will use their technique to look further into pesticide metabolism in the future.

 

 

 

On The Radio- Soil Conservation Mapping


2399010625_72a67d321c_o.jpg

Kasey Dresser | September 10, 2018

This weeks segment talks about how Iowa is the country leader in soil conservation mapping.

Transcript:

Iowa is now one of the country’s leaders in soil conservation mapping.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa officials have recently completed a map of the conservation efforts in the state. This map identifies the six different methods of soil conservation used in Iowa—including terraces, ponds, grassed waterways, sediment control basins, and more. The map shows where practices are deployed and how they are funded.

The map also acts as a visual for determining how different areas of Iowa are being funded for their conservation efforts, and whether that funding is public or private.

Iowa is the first state to conduct such a thorough analysis of its conservation practices statewide. The project took three years and was a joint effort between Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Researchers used something called LiDAR—laser imaging software—and years of aerial photographs to compile the conservation map.

Iowa State University is currently performing additional research to build a newer map, one that also shows the reduction of sediment and phosphorous buildup in Iowa’s waterways.

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 Environmental Council withdraws legal petition against DNR


Julia Poska | August 24, 2018

Impaired Waters Map
This map from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources shows the extent of water pollution in Iowa as of 2016.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently revised a problematic stormwater discharge permit in response to legal pressure from the Iowa Environmental Council.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued the permit, allowing the Des Moines Airport to discharge stormwater into Des Moines’ Yeader Creek, in May 2017. The IDNR has reported “impaired” water quality in the creek since 1998, due to low dissolved oxygen and runoff from the airport containing poisonous de-icing agents.

The IEC feared the permitted stormwater discharge would further degrade the stream in violation of state and federal laws and make it and Easter Lake, into which the stream drains, more unsuitable for aquatic life and recreation.

A news release on the IEC website quoted Executive Director Jennifer Terry, who said the IDNR did not take public comments of concern submitted by the council seriously. On April 30, 2018 the council filed a Petition for Judicial Review in District Court in an effort to be heard.

The subsequently revised permit, re-issued August 1, mollified the council, who then filed to dismiss its petition