EPA announced a ​new proposal to update the Lead and Copper Rule


 

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Irrigation (flickr/UTDNR)

 

Kasey Dresser| October 14, 2019

After nearly 30 years of a stagnant Lead and Copper Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a new proposal to update the regulation. The new regulations are aimed to increase lead identification, sampling, and strengthen treatment by increasing the number of hours a service provider needs to notify a customer that their water is contaminated with lead.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental activists have expressed concern that the new regulation allows communities more to time to replace the lead service lines, indicating these regulations may be weaker than the previous. The new proposal also establishes a lower “trigger level” of lead to 10 parts per billion from 15 parts per billion. The main counterargument is health experts have never established that any level of lead can be sustainable. “Even low levels of lead can cause harm to developing brains and nervous systems, fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, and elevated blood pressure. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable,” the NRDC said in a statement.

The last major lead pipe exposure in Iowa outbreak was December 2016. More than 6,000 Iowans were exposed to contaminated water for over six months. The issue brought up major incongruency in the method to solve the problem between University of Iowa engineers or Iowa Departments of Public Health and Natural Resources.

Wet September eases drought, creates flood risk in Iowa


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Map from iowaagriculture.gov

Julia Shanahan | October 11, 2019

This past September was the 15th wettest September on record for Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This has been able to remove drought locations that happened over the dry summer months.

Iowa’s average rainfall amounted to 6.17 inches — 2.79 inches above normal for September. The temperature average to 68.2 degrees, making it the ninth warmest September on record. While it has been able to offset drought damage, the DNR stated in a press release that saturated soils make the state vulnerable to flooding if rainfall continues.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that June 2018 to May 2019 were the wettest 12 months on record for Iowa since 1895. Iowa received extreme flooding in the spring from the Missouri River. Early snow melt from not only Iowa, but also South Dakota and Minnesota, contributed to the rising water levels in the river.

Iowa also received heavy rainfall, which some reports attributed to a changing climate and warm ocean temperatures. In the June to May time frame, Iowa received 50.73 inches of rain.

Effects of the changing climate in Iowa were seen into the summer months. The Iowa Climate Statement was released Sept. 18, which outlined trends in temperatures and how Iowa can expect more 90 degree days in a year. The report also serves as a warning to Iowans and Midwesterners to expect extreme heat, and provides guidelines on how one can properly prepare.

 

Iowa State research proposes ‘sustainable intensification’ of Iowa drainage network


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Drainage tile helps keep farm fields dry, but Iowa’s system needs a more sustainable upgrade (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | October 9, 2019

Agronomy researchers at Iowa State University have proposed ideas for an ambitious and much-needed update to Iowa’s agricultural drainage system. Their study makes suggestions for mitigating the effects of altered precipitation patterns due to climate change while reducing pollution to air and water.

The concept of “sustainable intensification” (the authors define this as “producing more food from the same amount of land with fewer environmental costs”) is at the core of the research. ISU agronomist Michael Castellano led the study in partnership with University of Kentucky and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH-Zurich.

Artificial drainage systems are comprised of underground pipes, tiles and drains that move water off farmland, discharging it into ditches that flow into natural surface waterbodies. Without this network, most of Iowa’s land would be too waterlogged to farm, but drainage systems increase runoff of nutrient and bacterial pollution from fields into waterways.

The increasing frequency of both intense rain events and draught in Iowa due to climate change is also putting extra pressure on those systems, which were designed before Iowa agriculture became so intense.  The study, published in Nature Sustainability, describes several solutions. “Controlled drainage,” or installing gates that can temporarily open/close at the ends of drains, could allow farmers to increase drainage during wet springs and retain more water during dry summers.

Installing narrower, shallower drains could further reduce nutrient concentration in drainage water, the authors claim. They say it could also reduce needed fertilizer inputs and decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the soil.

The study also describes the need to increase on-farm conservation practices, like returning some farmed land to wetland, in conjunction with updating infrastructure.

 

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.

New report shows Iowa’s slow progress in meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals


By Julia Shanahan | July 19th, 2019

In a report from the Iowa Environmental Council, it will take about 900 years to meet wetland goals and 30,000 years to implement enough bioreactors to treat the number of acres set out it in the 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented in Iowa in 2013 with the goal of reducing the amount of nitrate and phosphorus runoff in waterways, and then eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The state hopes to cut nutrient runoff by 45 percent through voluntary programs and conservation practices.

In 2018, Iowa had about 880,000 acres of cover crops planted – a way to reduce soil erosion and prevent nutrient runoff. However, the NRS says Iowa needs about 12.6 million acres of cover crops, and the Iowa Environmental Council estimates it will take another 93 years until the state reaches that goal. The average rate of cover crop installation has decreased since the NRS implementation in 2013, but increased in 2018 by about 16 percent.

The NRS also aims to treat 7.7 million acres of wetlands – or see a 45 percent decrease in nutrient pollution – and as of 2017, about 104,000 acres were treated. The Environmental Council estimates it will take 913 years for the state to reach that goal at Iowa’s rate of adoption.

Bioreactors, which cost about $10,000 to $15,000 to install, only cover 1,250 acres of the state. Iowa’s strategy aims for bioreactors to treat 6,000 acres of the state.

On The Radio- West Nile virus in Iowa


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(flickr/cesar monico)

Kasey Dresser| June 17, 2019

This week’s segment looks at the unwanted guest brought into Iowa by the rain and flooding this season. 

Transcript: 

The West Nile virus may soon run rampant because of the flooding that has been occurring in western Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Mosquitoes are not abnormal residents in the western region of Iowa. Yet these types of mosquitoes, the Culex tarsalis (Cool-ex tar-say-lis)  is carrying a virus that could hurt human beings.

The Culex tarsalis, have risen in grand numbers because they gather and breed in large pools of water and flooded areas. Iowa State University came out with new research that shows western Iowa has the largest presence of the West Nile virus, due to the resurgence of these mosquitoes.   

Iowa State professor and entomologist Ryan Smith believes that the virus is concerning as it is the common mosquito-born disease in the United States. The virus could affect one in five people bitten by the mosquito, and could lead people to develop fevers and potentially fatal symptoms.

The best way to protect yourself, would be to consistently spray insect repellent or wear long sleeve shirts. Make sure that you are fully covered before stepping outside.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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