Waste, water, and nitrates: Iowa’s growing problem


group of pink pigs on cage
Iowa’s livestock contributes heavily to our nitrate problem | Photo by John Lambeth on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 18th, 2019

Nitrates are not a new subject for Iowans. We’ve already published a nitrate breakdown that explains the nitrate pollution contributions Iowa makes to the many larger bodies of water our rivers drain into and how nitrate pollution can affect our bodies.

With some new research emerging, it’s become clear that Iowa’s nitrate problem is intricately linked with its status as a heavily agricultural state–our amounts of livestock have a heavy effect on the quality of our water, and the problem may be larger than we realize.

Back in March, Chris Jones, a research engineer from IIHR, broke down what he calls Iowa’s “real population”–a collective census of our state’s population, one that includes more than just its people. By calculating the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and total solid matter excreted by different types of livestock and comparing those values to human waste, he was able to roughly calculate how many people each livestock group accounted for–and the numbers are staggering.

According to this line of logic, pigs in Iowa roughly equal a mind-blowing 83.7 million people. Dairy and beef cattle account for 33.6 million people. Chickens and turkey nearly equal 16 million themselves. Altogether, our livestock theoretically gives Iowa–a relatively small state with less than 4 million humans–an extended population of about 134 million. Recently, Chris Jones applied his research to Iowa’s actual area to determine the concentration of those numbers, and, in the process, updated that overall population to 168 million after some new data from the USDA.

Iowa produces a lot of waste. Livestock-heavy watersheds tend to have higher concentrations of nitrate runoff. We are not a large state, but when we account for our animals, we are one of the most densely populated for our total land area.

Overall, dissecting the effect that agriculture and livestock have on the environment is tricky, because our state relies heavily on our agricultural economy for many, many things. Advancements in green and natural nitrate filters and better methods of waste management seem to be some of the solutions we can work towards to solve our looming nitrate problem.

 

On The Radio- West Nile virus in Iowa


34301252464_7c3440cfb3_o.jpg
(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.

 

On The Radio- Multi-billion dollar floods


2586371380_6d8075a20f_o.jpg
Flooding in Des Moines from 2008 (flickr/Joe Germuska)

Kasey Dresser| June 10, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how Midwestern Governors are coping with flood season.

Transcript: 

The Missouri River saw record runoff during March’s multi-billion dollar floods.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that 11 million acre-feet of water flowed through the upper Missouri River Basin in March. That is equivalent to 11 million acres of land covered in one foot of water, 51 percent more water than the previous record set in 1952.

The corps increased storage and release at several dams in Montana and the Dakotas in an attempt to protect communities along the river from further flooding. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and the governors of South Dakota and Missouri do not believe those efforts are enough.

Together they are imploring the corps to find new solutions for controlling the Missouri River in the future. The trio did not mention climate change at their press conference, but scientists expect that the Midwest will experience more intense rain events and, therefore more frequent extreme flooding in coming decades as the climate warms.

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

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

 

Why is Iowa experiencing record flooding this year?


Extreme weather has pummered the Midwest for weeks| Photo by Jo Naylor on Flickr.

Sthefany Nóbriga | June 6th, 2019

The ongoing flooding tormenting the Midwest and nearby states, has its origins in a series of unusual and recording setting weather events impacting Iowa and the Midwest.

University of Iowa assistant research engineer, Antonio Arenas with the help of his colleagues at IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering and the Iowa Flood Center created an easy to use digital timeline that describes extreme weather events that have occurred in the Midwest over the last year and their impact on Iowa. 

The timeline starts with the months of June and July 2018 as being months with above-average rainfall. Arena also documents record Iowa rainfall in the fall of 2018, as well as the heavy snowfall in the Midwest this past winter and how it all has contributed to record flooding in Iowa this spring.

Antonio Arenas states that these weather events are noteworthy and for some, are record setting. However, he also believes it is equally important to note that all of these weather fluctuations had all occurred within a 12-month window. 

The digital timeline offers information on the past 12 months of extreme weather events such as the Polar Vortex, extreme precipitation, a rare bomb cyclone, ice dams, heavy snowfall, frozen ground, and more.

Arena invites people to click through the animated slides, videos, maps, satellite images, and brief descriptions to see how these recent extreme weather events have impacted Iowa and the Midwest.

Another round of flooding impacting southwest Iowa


Flooding in the Southwest Iowa affect residents and highways|Photo by Marion Patterson on Flickr

Sthefany Nóbriga | May 30th, 2019

People in Southwest Iowa suffered record-breaking flooding in mid-March thanks to the spring extreme rainfall and rapid snowmelt. Now, a second round of flooding is on the horizon, threatening those previously affected.

 The saturation of the soil, a large amount of rain and the river flow are once again causing road and highway closures, county evacuations and major floods warnings around the southwest part of the state. 

According to the National Weather Service, the Missouri River in Nebraska City measured approximately 22.5 feet, and it soon could reach critical stages of flooding. The Missouri River in Plattsmouth, Neb., was at 31.3 feet, and could soon reach the moderate flooding stage.

As rain continues to fall, residents from Mills County, Iowa, near the Missouri River, have been advised to evacuate the area for their own safety. In the meantime, almost 300 people have been under obligatory evacuation in the western portion of Fremont County.

The main concern of officials is not only the record-breaking rains and the rising river levels, but they are also concerned that the floods from early March, left the county with no protection against flooding, according to Iowa Public Radio.

These heavy rains have caused significant damage to the roads and interstates, the interstate highway 29 in Iowa and Missouri have closed for the second time due to the flooding; the first time was the flooding from early March, and now the road closes again after only two weeks of being repaired. Portions of highway 34 and highway 2 have also closed due to flooding. 

The traveler Information encourages divers to check 511ia.org or call 800-288-1047 if they have any questions before traveling through the Midwest. 

Experts advise people to stay cautious, and if they see roads with water over them, it’s best to turn around and find an alternate route, since it is impossible to guess how deep the water in the road could possibly be.

The environmental damage of balloons


white and red plastic heart balloon on sky during daytime
Balloon releases are a traditional part of many public events, but the environmental harm outweighs the spectacle | Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 29th, 2019

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to one of the largest and oldest major races in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Held annually, this event brings in multiple streams of revenue for Indiana, but some of the traditions practiced at the race may be negatively impacting the environment.

Specifically, some controversy surrounds the balloon release: on the morning of the race, thousands of balloons float into the air in a tradition stretching back decades.

Balloons have a strong presence in human history. The first rubber balloons were invented in the early 1800s for hydrogen experiments; latex and mylar varieties came about later, and balloons slowly made their way into the public consciousness. A 2017 study published for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that roughly 30% of the public participated in events with balloon releases.

Released balloons eventually float back down after their helium leaks away. Often, these colorful orbs are snagged on branches and power lines, causing potential blackouts and electrical issues. The same NOAA study noted that thousands of balloon pieces wash up onshore every year. Brightly-colored latex is likely to appear edible to confused animals, who often try to eat the strings and scraps that fall into their environment.

The Indianapolis 500 is not the only public event prone to scrutiny over its decision to release balloons. In 1986, United Way in Cleveland, Ohio attempted to break the world record for the largest balloon release–one previously set by Disneyland. United Way released an estimated 1.5 million balloons into the air, causing a chain of reactions that interfered with a Coast Guard rescue mission and ending, ultimately, in a lawsuit.

Traditions will always be difficult to break, but many activist groups have been lobbying to ban balloons altogether for years now. Though some inconclusive studies are being conducted to determine how biodegradable latex really is, reducing latex and plastic pollution wherever possible is a key way to help our environment.

Noise pollution: a lesser-known hazard


architectural photography of city buildings
Noise pollution can cause a myriad of health issues | Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 28th, 2019

When we think of pollutants, we’re inclined to list off things like plastic, coal, and carbon before we even get to noise. But noise pollution is a problem–so much so that LA has launched a soundproofing program, one that, controversially, has left out some poorer neighborhoods.

Hearing loss is one of the most common occupational hazards. A significant portion of US workers are affected by some form of hearing loss, and a smaller portion suffers from tinnitus (a consistent ringing in the ears).

Outside of the workplace, the average citizen is likely to encounter large amounts of noise from traffic. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) reports that traffic density is a huge factor in the levels of noise pollution country to country, with South Korea being one of the most polluted places in this regard.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise pollution contributes to higher levels of stress hormones, which in turn cause multiple health complications.

Soundproofing programs, quieter cars, and better workplace safety measures can help reduce the overall effects of noise pollution.