Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa


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Trees are reflected in a clear Iowa pond. (Richard Hermann/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2018

A recent report from Iowa State University argues that removing nutrient pollution from Iowa’s water would provide economic benefits for the state.

Economists with ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) first summarize the cost of nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways. They write that forty-nine public water systems treat water for nitrate pollution either by using nitrate removal equipment or blending the water; these systems serve more than 10 percent of Iowa citizens. The report estimates that Iowa’s public water systems have paid $1.8 million to treat nitrate in the water since 2000.

Smaller communities and rural areas are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of polluted water. Many small town public water systems do not have the resources to purchase costly nitrate removal equipment and as a result, may not be able to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality regulations. Private wells go largely unregulated, so consumers are responsible for picking up the water treatment costs. Findings suggest that as many as a quarter of Iowa’s wells have unsafe nitrate levels in them.

The report also comments on the lost revenue from water recreation income for the state. The number of beaches and waterways under advisory or closed each summer because of harmful algae blooms, which are fed by nitrate, continues to grow. Economists estimate that improving water quality in Iowa’s lakes by meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals would increase recreational benefits for all Iowans by $30 million per year.

Iowa Legislators recently passed a bill that will allocate $282 million to water quality improvement projects in the state over the next 12 years. Critics recognize, however, that scientists with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to adequately remove nutrient runoff from waterways in Iowa.

To read CARD’s full report, click here.

On The Radio- 2017 Water Summary


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Blue in Iowa river (UI International Programs/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 19, 2018

This week’s segment summaries the report from the 2017 Iowa DNR’s Water Summary.

Transcript: 

The Iowa DNR’s Water Summary Update reported less rainfall than normal for 2017.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In 2017, Iowa received 33 inches of rainfall which is 2 inches less than the 30 year average. The beginning of the year was drought free but by August the Drought Mitigation Center recorded most of the state showing some form of drought. Most of the dryness was concentrated in South and South East Iowa.

In areas like Marion, Washington, Lee and Wayne counties, annual precipitation deficits of 10 inches or more were common. The annual precipitation levels of 2017 were the lowest since Iowa’s record 2012 drought.

In terms of streamflow, the year started off with high levels after a rainy fall season in 2016. Throughout  the rest of the year streamflow levels remained normal and are currently normal for the majority of the state.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

 

Almost 10% of the US still struggles for safe drinking water


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Low-income communities are often forced to buy expensive bottled water (files)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | February 13th, 2018

A recent study found that around 10% of towns, neighborhoods, and residences in the United States has consistently sub-par drinking water. Most of these numbers are concentrated in the deep south, where extreme poverty can make re-rigging water pipes and plants difficult.

When particularly small communities are impoverished, aging infrastructure and a general lack of access to new techniques can make cleaning water a nearly impossible task. The concern over clean drinking water gathered speed exponentially after Flint, when the U.S. was faced with the plight of a small town suffering the compounding health effects of unsanitary water.

Being a low-income community, Flint’s residents struggled to keep up with the added extra charge of buying a constant stream of bottled water that they were forced to drink and use, and menial tasks such as showering became difficult and dangerous when residents noted the negative effects that the water had on their skin. If nothing is done to help other, similarly low-income areas, the drinking water health crises will continue to grow.

While some states are proposing programs to financially aid smaller water plants, it’s only a matter of time before the problems faced in Flint are brought to light again.

On The Radio- Testing for bacteria in drinking water


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Cold Drinking Water (linda dillard/ flickr)

Kasey Dresser | February 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a new invention from the University of Bath that tests for bacteria in drinking water. 

Transcript:

A breakthrough invention at the University of Bath could help millions stay safe from polluted drinking water.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Researchers in Bath, England have developed a device that can determine dangerous levels of bacteria in drinking water. The small invention resembles a square slip of paper, and was inspired by litmus paper— used to measure the acidity levels of water.

The new device uses a microbial fuel cell, embedded in a patch of ink on the paper, to detect bacteria in drinking water. The fuel cell emits a constant electric signal, which changes when it comes in contact with bacteria in water.

The next step for researchers is to find a way to use that small change in the electric current to inform the user about the water’s pollution levels.

According to the World Health Organization, 423 million people globally drink from unprotected wells and springs, and an estimated 159 million people drink from lakes, ponds, rivers. Many of these population have no access to analytic tools, and have no way to measure the safety of their drinking water.

The paper, once fully produced, is estimated to cost around a dollar per slip.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Trump administration works to reverse over 65 environmental policies


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The federal government no longer requires new infrastructure projects to meet flood protection guidelines. (Melissa Galvez/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2018

Since taking office about a year ago, the Trump administration has moved to eliminate over 65 environmental regulations and policies, according to a report from the New York Times Climate Team.

The report aggregated data from climate deregulation policy trackers from the environmental law programs at Harvard University and Columbia University to come up with a total of 67 environmental regulations that the administration has sought to rollback. Reporters split the policies into three categories: those that have already been overturned, those that are on their way to being overturned and those whose fate is unclear due of court actions.  The largest category of 33 rules are those that have already been reversed.

There are a few among them that are most relevant for Iowans. First, the administration has reversed an Obama-era regulation that required federal buildings and infrastructure projects to be constructed in accordance with higher flood protection standards. Under this rule, new projects in flood plains would have had to be either elevated or flood proofed at a minimum of two feet above the 100-year floodplain. Recent research from the University of Iowa’s Flood Center found that as the climate continues to warm, the risk of flooding in Iowa and the northern U.S. is increasing.

The administration has also opted to reject the Environmental Projection Agency’s research on a particular pesticide and allow for its further use. Following the EPA’s study of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which found to pose a risk for fetal brain and nervous system development, the Obama administration proposed a ban of the pesticide. Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt argued that further study of the chemical is needed prior to a ban.

The list of environmental policies reversed by the administration goes on, and just three have been successfully reinstated after environmental groups sued the Trump administration.

Cape Town in water crisis


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Cape Town’s booming tourism industry will likely suffer along with its residents as the city runs dry. (Harshil Shah/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 1, 2018

Day Zero is coming for Cape Town, South Africa, and it’s just as scary as it sounds.

Day Zero is the term officials have given to the day, April 16th, that the tourist city is expected to run out of water. Beginning today, city officials are enforcing stricter water restrictions in order to stretch the supply further. Each person will be allotted to 13.2 gallons of consumption per day and those found in violation will be subject to steep fines.

After about three years of below-average rainfall, the city’s dams are less than 25 percent full. Cape Town’s population has nearly doubled in the past 20 years as well, putting additional stress on natural resource supply. Residents may still be able to collect water from local springs and pumps after the taps are turned off on Day Zero but can expect a strong police presence. Reporting from National Public Radio states that South African police and soldiers plan to guard over 200 natural spring and waterhole sites in the city after Day Zero, limiting each person’s supply to 6.6 gallons.

At present, just 55 percent of Cape Town residents are honoring the city’s water consumption restrictions. Sitar Stodel is a 26 Cape Town resident that was interviewed by NBC. She described what she’s seen, “People are still watering their lawns, filling their pools and bathing. They seem happy to just pay the fines. It’s so upsetting. I think ‘Day Zero’ is inevitable, we’re at the point of no return. Cape Town will just have to deal with the consequences that day when it arrives.”

The city is working to access alternative water sources, but none of its seven projects are more than 60 percent completed.

Despite criticism, water quality bill heads to Governor’s desk


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Iowa is a main contributor to nutrient pollution that renders enormous parts of the Gulf of Mexico completely lifeless. (Michael Leland/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 25, 2018

A long-awaited bill to improve water quality in Iowa is set to be approved by Gov. Reynolds soon, but critics say it does not go far enough.

Scientists who have been working to curb nutrient runoff in Iowa’s waterways since 2010 through the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have publicly estimated that it would cost billions of dollars to adequately address Iowa’s water quality problem. Senate File 512 falls short, allocating $282 million to water quality improvement over the next twelve years. The plan draws money from an existing tax on tap water that used to go into the state’s general fund and gambling revenue that was once used for infrastructure projects.

Republican John Wills of Spirit Lake spearheaded the bill’s passing. According to the Register, he said, “The bill builds upon the successful implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction strategy and provides for long-term and sustainable funding. This is just the beginning, not the end.”

While the measure passed the House of Representatives 59-41, both Republicans and Democrats criticize the bill for not going far enough to clean up Iowa’s nearly 700 impaired waterways. Republican representative Chip Baltimore of Boone, Iowa said “I don’t know about all of you, but I did not come down here to check a box. Just because the words ‘water quality’ are in the title of a bill does not make me proud to vote for it so that I can put it on a postcard when I go campaign.”

Iowa’s largest environmental coalition, the Iowa Environmental Council, released a statement criticizing the bill. In the statement, the organization’s Executive Director Jennifer Terry, said, “Our legislature today chose a failed business-as-usual approach to cleaning up our polluted lakes and rivers.” She continued, “The legislation passed today lacks a scientifically-proven watershed approach, lacks funding for adequate financial and human capital, lacks required water quality monitoring or assurance of public access to data about Iowa’s water quality.”

The coalition calls on Republican Gov. Reynolds to veto the bill.