Water quality researcher/blogger puts fresh perspective on stinking problem


Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 4.23.04 PM.png
This map from Chris Jones’ blog relates the “real populations” (based on animal waste) of Iowa watersheds to the human populations other global areas.

Julia Poska| March 21, 2019

The public rarely gets its science straight from the source; we depend largely on the media to distill complicated academic research for us. University of Iowa researcher and adjunct professor Chris Jones is one of a rare breed of scientists who can adeptly communicate science on his own.

Jones has spent his career monitoring and researching the Iowan environment for institutions ranging from Des Moines Water Works to the Iowa Soybean Association. As an IIHR research engineer today he conducts original research and runs a blog where he explores the systems and nuances surrounding Iowa’s degraded water.

Recently, Jones calculated “Iowa’s real population” based on the nitrogen, phosphorus and solid matter in animal waste. He explained that Iowa’s millions of hogs, cattle, chickens and turkeys produce as much waste as 134 million people. The map pictured above matches the human populations of global cities and U.S. states to the “real populations” of Iowa’s watersheds.

“Managing the waste from these animals is possibly our state’s most challenging environmental problem,” he wrote. Weather and plant life cycles create a limited time window to apply it to fields, and hauling and handling it presents other challenges. When nutrients from manure enter waterways, they contribute to harmful algae blooms locally and in the Gulf of Mexico.

In another recent post, Jones used public data to compare the amount of nitrate purchased commercially and produced via manure in each Iowa watershed with the Iowa State University recommended application rate for corn. He found that, on average, Iowa farmers over-apply synthetic nitrogen by 35 pounds per acre. The addition of manure brings that surplus to 91 pounds per acre.

Other posts explore historical, social and political angles. Earlier this week, a post called “Ransom” related efforts to protect Lake Eerie in Ohio to the economic reality of farming and agribusiness in Iowa. “Who is getting the outcomes that they want from our policies, and in particular, the old school policies targeting improved water quality?” Jones asked.

Overall, Jones’ blog offers an informative and rather accessible expert perspective on a hugely complex issue. To subscribe yourself, visit here and enter your email at the bottom of the left sidebar.

***In an earlier version of this post, the number “134 million” was incorrectly written as simply, 134. Big difference! Thanks so much to those who pointed out the error***

Iowa beef facility fined by EPA


Photo by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden, Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued severe fines to animal agriculture companies, including one in Iowa. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that these fines result from illegal waste dumping into waterways. Moran Beef, based out of Honey Creek, IA, will pay $20,000 for their infraction:

Owners of a beef feedlot in Iowa also agreed to pay a $20,000 civil penalty for illegally dumping animal waste into a creek and its tributaries, according to the EPA. The company, Moran Beef, had applied for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and had built controls to prevent discharges since January 2010, when the EPA directed the company to comply with Clean Water Act regulations.

The EPA also issued in May compliance orders regarding alleged Clean Water Act violations at four feedlots in Iowa, two in Kansas, and one in Nebraska.

The agency accused feedlot operators of failing to keep adequate storage capacity in waste lagoons, keeping cattle in areas with inadequate waste controls, illegally dumping waste into streams and wetlands, operating without National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, failing to keep adequate records of waste spread on land, and failing to perform required sampling of manure, wastewater, and land.

Animal waste regulations eliminated


Photo by podchef, Flickr

Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission recently retracted permitting requirements for large-scale animal farms. These requirements used to mandate that farmers in charge of confined animal feeding operations receive a permit from the Department of Natural Resources before discharging animal waste.  The Sioux City Journal reports that this decision caused outrage among local environmentalists, including members of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI):

The ICCI representatives, several dressed in T-shirts promoting their organization, didn’t stay for the vote. “The fix is in anyway,” Goodner said as he and other members left the conference room.

Their comments before the vote included several points, not in the least that they thought the board was stacked in favor of agribusiness and hostile to environmental regulation.

Several of the speakers singled out commissioners Brent Ratsetter and Delores Mertz, saying they should rescue themselves from the vote, if not the commission entirely. Continue reading