EPA Administrator Hints to Trump’s Second Term Approach to Environmental Issues


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Maxwell Bernstein | September 4, 2020

If re-elected, President Trump will weaken environmental regulations that have delayed Superfund Cleanup projects, Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator said to The Wall Street Journal

This announcement from Wheeler comes after the EPA was permitted by the Trump administration to issue 3,000 waivers for oil, gas, and farm operations to bypass environmental rules. The Trump administration also faced a lawsuit from nine environmental activist groups who sued over changes made to the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act.  

Trump’s approach to deregulations and changes to current environmental policies have a stark contrast to presidential candidate Joe Biden who unveiled a multifaceted, $2 trillion plan to fight climate change. With 60 days until the 2020 election, Americans will have to choose between different approaches to handling a rapidly evolving climate crisis.

New Study Highlights Environmental and Financial Benefits of Diversifying Crop Rotations


Graphic of an Iowa corn field
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Nicole Welle | September 3, 2020

A new study from researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota found that diversifying crop rotations keep farms profitable while greatly reducing the negative environmental and health impacts of farming.

Farmers have practiced corn and soybean crop rotation for a long time. However, this new research found that adding more crops, like oat and alfalfa, to the rotation can improve soil quality and the productivity of farmland. It also benefits the environment and human health by reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

The study used data from a long-term field experiment at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm. This experiment began in 2001 and compared performance characteristics of a two-year corn-soy rotation with a three-year corn-soy-oat rotation and a four-year corn-soy-oat-alfalfa rotation. They used this information to better understand the amount of pollution and fossil fuel use associated with each cropping system, according to a Phys.org article.

By looking at pollution from both farming and the supply chain, researchers found that the production of synthetic fertilizer requires a lot of fossil fuel. Its application also produces poor air quality by emitting greenhouse gases and pollution. Less fertilizer is required when small grains and forages are added into rotations, and the addition of just one small grain crop can reduce fossil fuel use and pollution by half, according to the study.

While it may take time for farmers to further diversify their crop rotations, this information could provide long-term success for farmers, the public and the environment.

United Nations Summit on Emerging Diseases and Deforestation Will Occur Next Month


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Maxwell Bernstein | September 2, 2020

A UN summit on biodiversity is scheduled for next month in New York City, where conservationists and biologists will discuss a strong link between deforestation and the emergence of novel diseases such as Covid-19, according to The Guardian

Land-use change, the process where humans transform natural land, is linked to 31% of emerging infectious diseases including HIV, Ebola, and Zika virus, according to Iowa Environmental Focus.

Proportions of animals that host pathogens that are detrimental to human health is anywhere from 21-144% higher in human-disturbed areas than non-disturbed habitats, according to Iowa Environmental Focus

“It is estimated that tens of millions of hectares of rainforest and other wild environments are being bulldozed every year to cultivate palm trees, farm cattle, extract oil and provide access to mines and mineral deposits,” The Guardian said. 

Des Moines Water Works Calls For Water Conservation In Face of Drought


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Thomas Robinson | September 1st, 2020

Des Moines Water Works is struggling with low water levels and poor water quality leading to calls for water conservation.

Des Moines Water Works, is asking city residents to change their lawn watering schedules to help alleviate high water demand and an abnormally low supply.  The utility is asking that customers who live at even-numbered addresses water their lawns on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while odd numbered addresses water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Residents are also asked to water before 10 am or after 5 pm to avoid water evaporation from their lawns. 

Iowa is facing serious drought conditions across most of the state which has resulted in low river levels in many of Iowa’s waterways.  Des Moines Water Works uses two rivers, the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, as the primary source for the city’s water.  Low river levels on the Raccoon river are making it difficult to pump water into the city’s treatment plant. To address the issue, flashboards were installed near the Des Moines Water Works’ treatment plant to raise the river level.

Under normal conditions, the water utility would be able to draw from the Des Moines River as well to meet water demands. Unfortunately, the Des Moines River is currently suffering from a toxic algal bloom that has limited the amount of water drawn from that river.  Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) can contaminate waters with toxins, like microcystins, which can cause vomiting, stomach pain, and even pneumonia.

Drought Conditions Worsen in Iowa After Another Dry Week


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Nicole Welle | August 31, 2020

Roughly 96% of Iowa is now considered at least abnormally dry as drought conditions worsen across the state.

That is an 8% increase since last week. 61% of Iowa is now in at least moderate drought, with 29% in severe drought and roughly 7% in extreme drought. These could be the driest conditions recorded since the drought of 2012, according to a Siouxland Proud article.

Every county in Iowa is now experiencing drought conditions, but the western part of the state has been hit the hardest. Crops in west-central Iowa are suffering under extreme drought conditions and a recent wave of high temperatures, and crop yields will likely be affected. This comes as an extra blow to farmers who have already experienced crop damage after the derecho swept through earlier this month.

21% of Iowa corn is now in “poor or very poor” condition according to the USDA. There are a few chances of rain across the state in the 10 day forecast, but drought conditions are likely to persist.

Toxins from Algae are at 10 Times the Federal Reccomendation for the Des Moines River


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Maxwell Bernstein | August 28, 2020

The Des Moines River has 10 times the federal recommendation for microcystin, toxins that come from algae, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The algae feed on fertilizer runoff and manure and produce toxins that cause health issues like skin rashes, intestinal problems, and even liver damage. 

The Des Moines River is one of the two largest sources of water to provide tap water and acts as a source of drinking water for around 500,000 Iowans. The toxins are suspected to originate at Saylorville Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control reservoir that sits north of Des Moines.

Gov. Reynolds Directs CARES Acts Funds to Iowa Biofuel Producers and Renewable Fuel Retailers


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Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that $100 million of CARES Act funds will go to several agricultural sectors in Iowa.

Iowa is directing $15.5 million in grants to biofuel producers and $7 million to renewable fuel retailers. Both sectors suffered during the early stages of the pandemic when demand for gasoline dropped, and renewable fuel producers did not receive any funds directly through the CARES Act at that time, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, says that he is grateful for the funds since as much as half of Iowa’s ethanol production came to a halt during the worst stages of the pandemic. He hopes that the money will give producers more time to recover and help prevent plants from being permanently closed. As of this week, production has resumed to around 85 to 95 percent of capacity.

Reynolds directed the remaining funds to livestock programs, new farmers, meat processors, fruit and vegetable growers and the schools that buy their produce from local growers.

Waivers Granted to Bypass Environmental Regulations Citing Coronavirus Pandemic


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Maxwell Bernstein | August 26, 2020

Oil and gas operations, farms, and thousands of similar operations have been granted permission to bypass environmental rules that are intended to protect health and the environment, according to the Associated Press.

On March 26, the Trump administration waived enforcement of EPA regulations, stating that industries would have difficulty complying with them because of COVID-19. This move came after letters were sent to President Donald Trump and later the EPA from The American Petroleum Institute stating that worker shortages and staff issues would make monitoring, reporting, and fixing hazardous air emissions difficult. 

The Associated Press found the EPA granted 3,000 waivers with the majority citing the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Oil and gas companies received a green light to skip dozens of scheduled tests and inspections critical for ensuring safe operations, such as temporarily halting or delaying tests for leaks or checking on tank seals, flare stacks, emissions monitoring systems or engine performance, which could raise the risk of explosions,” the Associated Press said. 

Annual Report Shows Decreased Phosphorous Load And An Increased Nitrogen Load


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Thomas Robinson | August 25th, 2020

The 2018-2019 Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) report, released in late June, details that while phosphorus loads in Iowa’s waters has decreased, nitrogen loads have increased.

Within the past year, Iowa has seen phosphorus loads decrease by 18% because of land use change and conservation practices.  Unfortunately, nitrogen loads increased by 5% over the same time period suggesting that Iowa is not doing enough to reach the goals established by the INRS.  Additionally, the INRS reports that funding has increased by $48 million dollars for a total budget of $560 million.  That budget is used to educate communities and farmers about how best to reduce nutrient pollution such as cover crops or riparian buffer strips

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, adopted in 2013, is a collaborative effort by state agencies to evaluate and decrease the amount of nutrients that pollute Iowa’s waterways.  The overall goal established by the strategy was to reduce annual loads of nitrogen and phosphorus that leaves Iowa by 45%.  Iowa’s nutrients are a concern because Iowa contributes a significant amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Mississippi river.  These nutrients result in widespread hypoxia caused by algal growth spurred by the influx of nutrients.  

Unhealthy Levels of Pollution Spread Across Western U.S. as California Wildfires Burn On


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Nicole Welle | August 24, 2020

More than 600 individual fires and some of the largest wildfire complexes in California’s history are still burning after thousands of lightning strikes triggered them last week.

Unhealthy levels of pollution have been reported across the state in the last few days. The large number of individual fires and the size of the fire complexes has caused an unusually high amount of of smoke to enter the atmosphere, and the smoke has spread across parts of the western United States and the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world on August 19.

Extremely hot and dry conditions in California could cause the smoke to stay in the air longer. The black carbon particulates in the air will cause health problems for humans and animals as they enter the lungs and bloodstream, and they play a role in global warming, according to an article published by NASA. The National Weather Service issued a poor air quality alert for California’s Central Valley until the fires are extinguished.