Bakken oil pipeline gets the final go-ahead in Iowa

Bakken pipeline construction site (wittepx/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 27, 2016

The Bakken oil pipeline received a final go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday for construction in Iowa. Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas company, Energy Transfer Partners, had already received full permission from all other states along the pipeline’s path including Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The company received notice yesterday from Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Illinois that all construction in Iowa complies with federal environmental laws and is authorized.

The Army Corps of Engineers verification letter permits the construction of parts of the pipeline that cross bodies of water, including major rivers. While the Iowa Utilities Board previously granted development in parts of the state, this is the final regulatory hurdle for the Bakken pipeline. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community organization that opposes the pipeline, is concerned about its crossing of 64 Iowa waterways.

Dick Lamb, a landowner in Boone county along the pipeline’s route, echoes their concern, “It isn’t a question of if, but when it will leak, and when it does it will irreparably destroy valuable Iowa farmland and the waterways we depend on.” An going lawsuit filed by 10 affected landowners challenges Dakota Access’ use of eminent domain to gain access to private Iowa land.

Many labor unions in Iowa look forward to the development of the Bakken pipeline. President of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, Bill Gehard, said, “Thousands of American workers from labor unions throughout the Midwest are already benefiting from this project, and these final permits will secure their jobs for the entirety of construction.”

The water crossing permits mandate follow-up inspections for compliance to regulation and monitored wetland mitigation. The finished pipeline will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, crossing 18 Iowa counties along the way. It will move 570,000 barrels of oil daily into Midwest, East coast, and Gulf Coast markets.

First growing season for downtown Iowa City rooftop garden

Seedlings begin in a smaller, raised hydroponic bed. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
PVC pipes deliver nutrient-rich water that will flow through root systems in lieu of soil. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 6, 2016

An Iowa City business owner has begun growing hydroponic vegetables on his downtown rooftop.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of a jewelry design studio and store called M.C. Ginsberg, has around 35 square-feet of hydroponic plants growing atop his business. Hydroponic gardens are systems in which plants can grow without soil, receiving the bulk of their nutrients from natural fertilizers in water like worm or fish waste. This nutrient rich water flows under plants and through root systems to sustain plant growth. Chad Treloar, Ginsberg’s construction lead for the project, built the garden with inexpensive, easy to acquire materials like PVC pipe, wood, and food-grade tubs.

In an interview with the Gazette, Ginsberg said that it would be possible to turn all urban Iowa City rooftops into food growing operations like his. He will harvest cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes first; he plans to give his bounty away to local restaurants and bars. In the coming years, MC Ginsberg’s garden will aim to sell its produce, depending on vegetable quality and yield dependability. Local restaurants seem eager to support the project, Oasis Falafel has already asked for all of the MC Ginsberg cilantro harvest.

In the long-term, Ginsberg is working to make hydroponic garden designs available to other downtown business owners. He aims to create a system that would allow owners to input rooftop dimensions and receive a cheap plan for hydroponic garden construction in return. He expects he could make these plans available for as little as 99 cents.

Green-roofs like these offer advantages to growers like runoff delay and stormwater management, improved air quality, and healthy foods with a small carbon footprint.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the district is looking to back more projects like Ginsberg’s as a part of their larger sustainability focus for the downtown area.

Iowa City Science Boosters Club at the Linn County Fair

(Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | June 24, 2016

The Iowa City Science Boosters Club taught children about climate change through a hands-on experiment at the Linn County Fair on Thursday June 23.

Hundreds of children stopped by the ICSBC booth in the Lynn Dunn Memorial Building at the Linn County Fairgrounds to learn about the effects that ocean acidification can have on marine life. Participants blew bubbles into cups of water and then measured the water’s pH level. They found the carbon from their breath lowered the pH level similar to how with climate change excess carbon in the atmosphere contributes to more acidity in oceans. The higher acidity level in oceans can damage the shells of mussels, clams, and other shellfish which can make them more susceptible to predators and create a whole slew of ecological issues.

“We’re here for youth day and this is related to our outreach work with schools. The National Center for Science Education is really interested in changing community attitudes towards science education and supporting science teachers,” said Emily Schoerning, Director of Research at the National Center for Science Education. “So if we can give these families a positive, upbeat, hands-on experience with climate change that will make them less concerned with talking about climate change and less concerned about their kids learning about climate change in schools.”

Schoerning also said that the ICSBC has raised more than $10,000 in its first year which provided Iowa classrooms with durable science equipment. To learn more about the ICSBC club check out their Facebook page or to establish a science boosters club in your area, find out how to do so with information from the Nation Center for Science Education.

On The Radio – Attributing extreme weather to climate change

An aerial shot of the 2008 flood along the Iowa River in Iowa City. (Tom Jorgensen/University of Iowa Libraries)
An aerial shot of flooding along the Iowa River just south of the University of Iowa campus in 2008. (Tom Jorgensen/University of Iowa Libraries)
Nick Fetty | May 2, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at a recent study that examines how climate change affects extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.


Transcript: Attributing extreme weather to climate change

Scientists are becoming increasingly confident attributing extreme weather events to human-caused climate change.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A March study led by The National Academy of Sciences concludes that scientists are more able to determine how climate change affects the intensity and likelihood of some extreme weather events like floods and droughts. Extreme event attribution, a relatively new science according to the study, has made rapid advancements in the last ten years.

After extreme weather events like the record-breaking precipitation Iowans experienced in the winter of 2015, scientists are often asked if these events can be attributed to climate change. While few if any phenomena can be explained by climate change alone, scientists are now better able to determine how much of an effect climate change may have.

For more information about the study and climate modeling, visit

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

Survey shows inconsistencies in climate change education in Iowa

Des Moines University Associate Dean of the Department of Global Health Yogesh Shah speaks during the Climate Science Educators Forum at Des Moines University on Friday, October 9, 2015. ©2015 KC McGinnis
Des Moines University Associate Dean of the Department of Global Health Yogesh Shah speaks during the Climate Science Educators Forum at Des Moines University on Friday, October 9, 2015.
(KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | April 27, 2016

Educators in Iowa differ in their opinions of how to teach climate change, according to a pair of surveys conducted in a collaboration by Iowa Watch and the Cedar Falls High School newspaper Tiger Hi-Line.

The two separate surveys show the views of both teachers and students for how to approach climate change education. While the survey results from the sample of 133 Iowa teachers were not large enough to show a clear trend, the findings were consistent with a study by the National Center for Science Education published in the journal Science earlier this year. Nearly half (48 percent) of the teachers polled in the Iowa survey said that climate change should be taught as theory and that multiple theories exist without consensus on which ones are right or wrong.

The student survey polled 245 pupils from six Iowa high schools and one middle school. While students and teachers were generally in agreement for their personal opinions on climate change (81 percent of teachers and 60 percent of students responded that “Global temperatures are getting warmer and having an impact on weather patterns”) and humans’ role in climate change (62 of teachers and 42 percent of students responded that “Human activity contributes to climate change as well as natural changes in the environment”), the two groups differed in where they get their information about climate change. A majority of students (60 percent) cited news reports as the main source they use for forming their views on climate change compared to the majority of teachers (95 percent) who cited scientific reports as their main source of climate information.

Since 2013, the annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum has served as a workshop for science educators to learn about the latest scientific research in regard to climate change as well as effective methods for teaching climate-related courses to students.

On The Radio – Des Moines sorority engages students on climate change

Members of the Iota Zeta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha participated in the Central Iowa Heart Walk on April 16, 2016. (Alpha Kappa Alpha-Iota Zeta Omega/Facebook)
Members of the Iota Zeta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha participated in the Central Iowa Heart Walk on April 16, 2016. (Alpha Kappa Alpha-Iota Zeta Omega/Facebook)
Nick Fetty | April 18, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at a Des Moines sorority that is part of an initiative to teach high school students about the ways that climate change affects different countries.  

Transcript: Des Moines sorority engages students on climate change

An Iowa sorority is working on a new effort to teach Des Moines-area students about climate change.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Des Moines was selected as one of ten cities nationwide to be part of an EPA-funded project to bring a climate change curriculum to high needs students. Members of the Iota Zeta Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority have worked with students at North High School in Des Moines and aim to engage 1,000 students city-wide. Participants in the program role-play as ambassadors from various nations to understand how climate change affects countries differently.

The Chapter’s Vice President and Program Chair Lagi Roberts said the program serves as an important learning opportunity for students involved.

Roberts: “I believe exposing students from communities disconnected from international concerns like climate change, is not only important, but necessary. This experimental learning opportunity enables students from high needs communities to engage in international climate change concerns and dialogs that they may have never been exposed to. Students are introduced to life changing skills like, decisive decision making, critical thinking, public speaking and cross cultural understanding, all skills in which these young leaders need in order to succeed.  The climate change mini-simulation classroom curriculum is allowing these students the opportunity to do just that by successfully shaping college and career ready young people.”

Alpha Kappa Alpha is the nation’s first and oldest sorority for African American college trained women. The Des Moines Graduate chapter consists of women who have graduated from colleges and universities nation-wide including alumnae of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Drake University.

For more information about the sorority’s efforts, visit

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

IML-CZO Investigator Profiles: Neal Blair (Northwestern University)

Dr. Neal Blair has joint appointments in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth & Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University (Northwestern University)
Nick Fetty | March 11, 2016

This is part of a series of articles featuring investigators and researchers with the IML-CZO project which “works to understand how land-use changes affect the long-term resilience of the critical zone.”

While urban and rural areas are seemingly polar opposites the two different areas depend greatly on one another, according to IML-CZO investigator and Northwestern University professor Dr. Neal Blair.

“Rural agricultural landscapes are responsible for much of the food that makes it to urban areas. The bioethanol that we used for transportation is also produced from the same land,” said Dr. Blair. “If we don’t manage the agricultural landscapes in a sustainable fashion, and especially in the face of increasing demand and climate change, the high population areas will be significantly stressed. Research in the IML-CZO should better inform our management.”

Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois – a northern suburb of Chicago – in a state where agriculture is a major industry in the rural areas. Illinois led the nation in soybean production (by bushel) in 2014 and was second behind Iowa in corn production (by bushel) that same year.

Dr. Blair – who has joint appointments in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Earth & Planetary Sciences at Northwestern – focuses on the role of the carbon cycle on agricultural land specifically and the Critical Zone – where terrestrial life meets its requirements – air, water and soil.

“When we speak of the C-cycle, we are typically referring to the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide – or CO2 – to organic matter in plants and soils and then back to CO2. The C-cycle is an essential component of the Critical Zone. For instance, soil organic matter acts as a glue between soil particles causing them to aggregate. This makes erosion more difficult.”

Part of Dr. Blair’s research focus is to prevent agricultural land degradation such as what occurred on the American Great Plains during the first half of the twentieth century, an event that came to be known as The Dust Bowl.

“The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was caused by a combination of extreme drought and the loss of soil organic matter via excessive tillage. We have consequently developed conservation methods to maintain the necessary C-storage in soils,” he said.

Dr. Blair studied chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland and then went to Stanford to earn a PhD in Organic Chemistry. Different parts of the country face different environmental challenges, particularly in regard to water management.

“One of the major differences between the Midwest and the West coast, and especially California, is water management. The low relief of the Midwest has forced us to build extra drainage into the landscape so that water does not pool. As a result water is rapidly exported along with a significant portion of applied fertilizers. Ultimately the nutrients are delivered to the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi River where they cause hypoxic (dead) zones.”

As of August 2015, the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” was the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, or more than 5,000 square miles. Excessive nutrient pollution in the water lowers oxygen levels which has devastated fish and marine wildlife and in turn affected the economy of the region. However, the West Coast faces a different set of challenges.

“An overabundance of water has not been a problem for much of California agriculture. The high relief in some areas, such as in the Eel River CZO, coupled with land use drives rapid soil and bedrock erosion rates. Land sliding can be a major problem in some areas.”

The effects of climate change only exacerbate the issues that Dr. Blair and his colleagues study. Part of his goal with the IML-CZO is to study these phenomena so he and can other researchers can better understand these issues and educate the public about them.

“Climate change in the form of increased temperatures, more frequent drought and/or more extreme precipitation events will likely impact the Critical Zone C-cycle in ways we do not fully understand. An important objective of the IML-CZO research is to better understand how the Midwestern agricultural ecosystems will respond to these future perturbations.”