Two Iowa mayors join 1,200 U.S. leaders committed to the Paris Climate Agreement

Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol is one of 1,200 signatories on a recent climate action statement titled “We Are Still In.” (flickr/S.D. Dirk)
Jenna Ladd | June 6, 2017

More than 1,200 United States governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities released a statement yesterday titled “We Are Still In,” declaring their continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The climate declaration serves as a response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord last week. The declaration reads, The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

The businesses and investors speaking out for climate action include 20 Fortune 500 companies that generate $1.4 trillion in revenue annually. Participating city and state leaders collectively represent 120 million Americans ranging from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio to Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scarff.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy D. Buol are among the signatories. Cownie said in a written statement, “The recent action by the White House to withdraw from the Paris Agreement does not stop Des Moines’ efforts in advancing our own efforts on climate change. Cities like Des Moines will continue to work to make our communities more sustainable places to live.” Other statement endorsers from Iowa include state Attorney General Tom Miller; J. Bruce Harreld, president of the University of Iowa; Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College; Paula Carlson, president of Luther College.

The City of Des Moines adopted a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 in 2016 as a part of the City Energy Project (CEP). CEP is a coalition of cities working to reduce energy use and curb emissions from buildings in urban areas. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has been phasing in hybrid vehicles and utilizing alternative fuels like biodiesel to power its fleet as well. In an  interview with the Des Moines Register, Cownie said, “We’re trying to look at every part of our operation, including the work we do with business partners and neighborhood where they can afford it.”

Cownie is in good company. Since the White House withdrew from the Paris Agreement, 17 governors have released statements in support of the accord, 13 governors formed the U.S. Climate Alliance and 211 mayors have independently taken on the climate action goals outlined in the Paris Agreement for their communities.

The “We Are Still In” press release concludes, “Today’s statement embraces this rapidly growing movement of subnational and civil society leaders, by announcing that not only are these leaders stepping forward, they are stepping forward together.”

Below, CGRER co-director Jerry Scnhoor interviews Mayor Cownie at COP21 in 2015.

ISU researchers develop decision-making tool for sustainable cities

The city of Des Moines is involved in ISU’s “Big Data for Sustainable City Decision-Making” research project. (Jason Mrachina/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 28, 2016

Researchers at Iowa State University (ISU) and the city of Des Moines are working together to develop a decision-making tool that could revolutionize the way cities tackle climate change and social issues.

Ulrike Passe, associate professor of architecture and director of ISU’s Center for Building Energy Research, is the lead faculty researcher. Passe said, “There’s so much unrelated data available — from census and economic information to policy studies and weather records — but it needs to be merged into a useable model.” Passe added that city planners and officials need to have “a data-based tool that helps them decide how to allocate resources for conservation measures like tree planting and storm water management.”

Passe’s team of 16 researchers from over a dozen disciplines is working closely with Scott Sanders, Des Moines city manager. Sanders said, “The creation of this this decision-making system will provide staff access to an amalgamation of big data, which they presently have no way to effectively evaluate, that is a critical component to the future of successful and resilient cities.” Sanders noted that citywide interest in sustainability is on the rise, he said, “The demand far outweighs the city’s ability to provide all of the required and desired improvements within its current budget constraints. The need for a data-driven process and policy to help assess and prioritize the city’s investments has never been higher.”

The project is focusing its efforts on communities in east Des Moines such as Capitol East, Capitol Park and MLK Jr. Park. Linda Shenk, associate professor of English at ISU, is also involved in the study. She said, “We focus on marginalized populations because they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to limited resources, yet the most difficult for cities to reach and engage in data collection.” For her part, Shenk has been discussing climate change and brainstorming local solutions with neighborhood groups and high school students. Meanwhile, other researchers in the neighborhoods are gathering data about how citizens interact with their city, communities, and homes using computational thermal-physical models.

Other ongoing projects include a tree inventory in the Capital East neighborhood and energy efficiency research through controlled experiments at ISU’s net-zero energy Interlock house located at Honey Creek Resort State Park. The study’s goal for this year is to compile data about human behavior related to energy use. Moving forward, Passe said, “Our objective is to create decision-making support systems that will help cities and their residents translate this research into actions — new policies, incentives for individual behaviors and community resilience.”

The above graphic outlines the four phases of the research project along with the 16 ISU faculty that are involved. (Iowa State University)

On The Radio – Des Moines event examines water quality and infrastructure in Iowa

Could Flint Happen Here
(Public Policy Center, University of Iowa)
Nick Fetty | June 13, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers Des Moines symposium, “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?”

Transcript: Des Moines event examines water quality and infrastructure in Iowa

After unsafe lead levels were detected in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, an upcoming event aims to educate Iowans about water issues in the Hawkeye State.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center and the UI’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination have organized a symposium in Des Moines scheduled for this weekend entitled “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?” The all-day event will include panels of water experts from various agencies and institutions including the University of Iowa, Drake University, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

David Cwiertny, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, helped to organize the event.

David Cwiertny: “With Flint being in the news we wanted to organize a symposium that would address, “Could such a crises happen here in Iowa?” We also wanted to make sure we thought about issues beyond just lead contamination that might also be relevant in Iowa so we’ll be talking about agriculture and its impact on drinking water as well as challenges beyond nitrate and what’s going on in Des Moines.”

The event is open to the public and scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Friday June 17 at the Community Choice Credit Union in downtown Des Moines.

For more information and to register, visit

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

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.

On The Radio – Iowa experienced unusually warm and wet conditions in 2015

Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Storm clouds roll through Polk County south of near Elkhart in November 2015. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | February 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at unusually high temperatures and precipitation levels that Iowa experienced at the end of 2015.

Transcript: Warm fall and winter

While global temperatures continued to set records, Iowa experienced an unusually warm and exceedingly wet winter in 2015.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that between August 31 and December 31, only 25 days recorded below average temperatures in Iowa. Temps during that period were 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, the warmest for that period since 1931.

Iowa also experienced by far its wettest December ever in both rain and snow, with a single storm system in mid-December shattering the records set by most winter months since record keeping started in 1873. Grundy Center’s 8.2 inches of precipitation dwarfed its previous December record of 3.7 inches set in 1982, while Des Moines’ 5.4 inches broke its previous record of 3.7 inches set in 1931. This continued a trend of unpredictability in weather patterns – which even included the first ever recorded tornado warnings in December. The heavy precipitation contributed to devastating flooding downstream from Missouri to Texas.

For more information about Iowa weather, visit

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

Des Moines water bills expected to increase 10 percent in 2016

The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | December 30, 2015

As 2015 wraps up, Des Moines residents can prepare for a 10 percent increase on their water bills in 2016.

The rate increase comes in the midst of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa drainage districts. The water utility claims the drainage districts are not doing enough to prevent nitrate pollution in public waterways which has forced the utility to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility. The additional equipment costs up to $7,000 per day to operate which is eventually passed on to the more than a quarter of a million customers in the Des Moines area.

Rates are expected to go up in April of 2016. Bill Stowe – CEO of the Des Moines Water Works – recently told Iowa Public Radio that it will cost $80 million to update its nitrate removal system and that he’s been disappointed by the state’s political leadership regarding the situation.

“I’m particularly disappointed in the last year that we haven’t had political leadership from either party in Iowa to step forward and move this towards some kind of negotiated settlement…We believe we’re going to prevail in a court of law.”

Stowe added, “If we don’t [previal] we believe there will be big public policy consequences from that.”

A lawyer representing the water districts is arguing that the districts little authority outside of draining land and therefore cannot be held accountable “for damages that result from actions over which the districts have no control,” as reported by the Sioux City Journal. Earlier this year a motion was filed asking U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett to drop eight of the 10 charges against the drainage districts.

Bennett expects to have a ruling on the issue by mid-January.

On The Radio – Des Moines mayor touts ability of city governments to pursue sustainability

CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor (left) interviews Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie at COP21 in Paris. (CGRER)
CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor (left) interviews Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie at COP21 in Paris. (CGRER)
December 21, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie and sustainability initiatives he has led in Iowa’s capital city.

Transcript: Des Moines mayor touts ability of city governments to pursue sustainability

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie was among more than 500 mayors from around the world in Paris earlier this month as part of the COP21 international climate conference.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Mayor Cownie sat down with University of Iowa civil and environmental engineering professor Jerry Schnoor at the international climate conference in Paris to discuss ways that city governments can help in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions and also to discuss specific initiatives taken in Iowa’s capital city. One such initiative was Des Moines’ LEED platinum-certified World Food Prize building, which at the time of its opening was the largest single-owner, single-occupant LEED platinum building in the world.

Des Moines was also one of the first cities to the sign the Compact of Mayors agreement, which is an accord by mayors from roughly 120 cities across the United States that have responded to the president’s plea to address climate change through local government initiatives. Cownie said he thinks that the smaller size of city government makes it easier to implement certain measures compared to state and federal initiatives.

COWNIE: “We don’t need to have an act of congress or an appropriation that might come 12 to 16 months down the road. If there are things that need to be done we can do them today. We’re working in preparedness and mitigation techniques. We recognize from past experiences some of the vulnerabilities we have even in Iowa.”

For full text and video from the interview with Mayor Cownie, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Nick Fetty.