Water pollution Iowa’s top science policy issue


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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


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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.

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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.

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The climate statement holds a record number of signers
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Extreme precipitation is just one factor influencing this year’s climate statement topic

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Watch the press conference on our Facebook page

Read the climate statement

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.

Farm conservation on the line in 2018 Farm Bill


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At risk USDA conservation programs include provisions to promote sustainable stewardship of forest and pasture on farms (flickr).

Julia Poska | September 28, 2018

Farmers nationwide are waiting anxiously for the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, a crucial piece of legislation that authorizes U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and funding for research in agriculture and food.

The current bill expires Sept. 30. If congress can not settle on a new bill by then, funding for those conservation, nutrition, and rural development programs, among others, could be lost for a time.

A conference committee of both House of Representatives and Senate representatives are currently working out the differences between the draft bills proposed by each chamber in June. The Senate draft is widely regarded as friendlier to conservation.

One of the House’s most controversial proposals is to cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which provides contractual support for people who actively mange agricultural land or forest for conservation on their property.

The House bill proposes folding the CSP’s “best features” into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a similar program that covers some cost for conservation practices on farms.

Critics say this move would eliminate the advanced  conservation practices the CSP promotes, and totally cuts funding for working lands. They believe the CSP is necessary because it allows for long-term conservation efforts, whereas EQIP deals with one-time practice establishments.

Conservation practices like cover cropping and on-farm forestry ease the stress agriculture can put on our natural resources, but they can be expensive for farmers. USDA programs provide critical resources to ensure eco-friendly farms can still turn profit.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy and Natural Association of Conservation Districts are actively advocating for the conference committee to maintain or increase conservation funding in their final version of the bill.

 

 

 

 

How to curb Iowa flooding according to an agricultural engineer


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Sandbags like these are not an adequate solution to Iowa’s flood problem, Kamyar Enshayan warned (flickr).

Julia Poska| September 21, 2018

In an effort to call Iowa to action, Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education, called on his expertise as an environmentalist and agricultural engineer for a Des Moines Register OpEd earlier this week.

Enshayan warned Iowans that flooding will only get worse as the climate changes and gave those upstream three pieces of advice to protect their downstream statesmen.

First, he said we should hand floodplains back to nature. He called for an end to construction and development along riverbanks, arguing that the ecosystem services floodplains provide are more valuable than riverside property.

Natural floodplains improve water quality, provide great wildlife habitat, offer natural flood protection and reduce flood disaster and recovery costs according to the Nature Conservancy. 

Second, we need to make Iowa more “spongy” with sustainable cropping and biodiversity solutions. Enshayan suggested increasing crop diversity in longer rotations to promote healthy soil. Deep-rooted native prairie plants and natural wetland ecosystems will also help contain water.

Finally, he said we must get to the root of the problem and reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. He pointed to methane-emitting landfills and Iowa’s continued dependence on coal as areas for potential improvement.

Enshayan addressed policy makers at the end of the piece, saying they should listen to scientists and engineers like himself to proactively protect people and resources.

“Sand bagging is not enough, not a lasting solution, and does not address upstream problems,” he said.  “Let’s work on lasting solutions.”

 

Rain still falling in Iowa


 

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Iowa Flood Center

Kasey Dresser | September 19, 2018

In years past by September, Iowa no longer expects rain. However that is obviously not the case with heavy rainfall the past 10 days and more expected in the forecast. Professor Gabriele Villarini, a faculty affiliate of the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, paired with Assistant Research Scientist Wei Zhang to develop the images above for context around the rain we are currently experiencing.

The top left panel shows that from 1981 to 2010 Iowa could expect at most 2 inches of rain in August and September. The bottom left panel shows that we are currently expecting 8-10 inches.

The top right panel shows that in this time period, Iowa is experiencing the most rainfall since 1948. The bottom right panel shows that in some areas there is more than 80% rain now than the second largest rainfall.

For more information, check out the Iowa Flood Information Center.

On The Radio- Soil Conservation Mapping


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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.