On The Radio – California fires bring toxic ash


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Ash coats destroyed vehicles near Santa Rosa, California near the end of October. (California National Guard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 6, 2017

This On The Radio segment discusses how ash left from California’s recent wildfires may threaten area residents. 

Transcript: The wildfires raging throughout Northern California have finally calmed down, but the fight isn’t over.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Northern Californians have suffered greatly in the wake of the October’s wildfires that left 42 dead and around 100,000 people displaced. Over 8,000 homes and buildings were destroyed.

Residents of a neighborhood in Santa Rosa are already seeing the effects of the ash, as it has started to cover every available surface. A state of emergency for multiple counties throughout California was issued last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Toxic ash could contain any number of hazardous materials, including trace amounts of arsenic and lead, according to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. Many places effected by the ash have already issued health warnings to residents.

Efforts by the state of California have been made to clean up the toxic material and debris before the rainy season commences and washes toxins into local waterways.

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

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

Scientists use solar energy to make salt water drinkable


The sun sets in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Oceans cover approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface. (Mike/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | April 28, 2015

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a way to make salt water drinkable using solar panels.

This innovation recently won first place for the U.S. Agency for International Development‘s  2015 Desal Prize because of its potential to provide clean drinking water for millions around the world. MIT and Jain Irrigation Systems came up with a photovoltaic-powered electrodialysis reversal (EDR) system which can desalinate water by “using electricity to pull charged particles out of the water.” Ultraviolet rays are then used to disinfect the water. The system functions using relatively low energy consumption in areas that may be off the grid.

The research team was awarded with $140,000 to continue their research. To be eligible for the prize money, designs had to be cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and energy efficient. The system is capable of removing salt from 2,100 gallons of water within 24 hours. It is also capable of converting 90 percent of salt water into drinking water, compared to reserve-osmosis systems which purify 40 to 60 percent of water.

The researchers have been developing this technology across India since 2014. This filtration system is expected to alleviate water shortage issues in California and other drought-stricken parts of the developed world while improving living conditions in India and other underdeveloped parts of the world where clean water can be scarce.

“The water scarcity challenges facing India in the near future cannot be overstated. India has a huge population living on top of brackish water sources in regions that are water-scarce or about to become water-scarce,” said Susan Amrose, a civil and environmental engineering lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. “A solution with the potential to double recoverable water in an environment where water is becoming more precious by the day could have a huge impact.”

Almond production comes at a cost to the environment


Nick Fetty | August 29, 2014
Each almond requires approximately 1.1 gallons of water to produce. (Harsha K R/Flickr)

Almonds are known for a whole range of health benefits, however production of this popular nut (technically seed) comes at a cost to the environment.

California is the only state in the country that produces almonds on a commercial scale which amounts to 82 percent of the entire world’s almond production. However each almond requires approximately 1.1 gallons of water to produce. Furthermore, 44 percent more land in California is being used for almond farming compared to 10 years ago. This comes on the heels of one of the worst droughts in the state’s history.

The massive amount of water being used to produce almonds is being diverted from the Klamath River in northern California which is having adverse affects on salmon populations and creating other ecological problems. The salmon – which are swimming upstream to reach breeding grounds – could succumb to a disease known as gill rot if river levels remain low.

California produces 99 percent of the almonds consumed in the United States. The Golden State also farms 99 percent of the country’s walnuts – which require 4.9 gallons of water per walnut – as well as 98 percent of the county’s pistachios which need three-quarters of a gallon of water for each nut.

Despite the drought, this year California’s almond farmers are expected to see their most productive harvest to date, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture.

Where to Harness Solar and Wind Power?


Photo by USFWS Mountain Prairie; Flickr

A recent study by the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that energy isn’t best harnessed in the first place we think of.   Continue reading