Celebrate Earth Day in Iowa!

The Earth is worth celebrating! 

Julia Poska| April 18, 2019

On April 22, people around the world celebrate Earth Day, spending time cleaning, greening and appreciating the life-giving planet we too often take for granted.

Iowa, of course, will join in on the party. Read below about Earth Day events cities in Iowa will host next week, as well as some activities you can do individually to make a difference.

Des Moines: Festivities in the state capital will begin this weekend. On Friday, Des Moines Parks and Recreation will host an Earth Day Trash Bash, where registered teams will pick up trash around the city. Everyone is welcome to join in on the kick-off party and several other events hosted Friday and Saturday as part of the bash, including a Downtown Earth Day Tour through the science center, botanical garden and riverwalk. A number of other events  on Saturday and Monday include wildlife restoration, crafting and stream cleanup.

Cedar Rapids: The city’s 10th annual EcoFest will be on Saturday, April 20. The day’s events include performances, presentations, hands-on activities, tours, awards and more. Last year over 4,000 people attended!

Dubuque: The Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium will participate in a nationwide Party for the Planet event Saturday. Visitors attend presentations, meet animals and do hands-on activities to learn about environmental conservation. Participation in the celebration will be included with general admission and free for children 3 and under.

Davenport: Visit the Freight House Farmer’s Market Saturday morning for speakers, demonstrations, music and activities to learn about problems facing the planet and how you can help fight them. 

Iowa City: You can celebrate for days on end in Iowa City! On Monday, compete in Earth Day Eco Trivia at the East Side Recycling Center. Tuesday, celebrate the 100 Grannies for a Livable Future 7th anniversary. Plant trees at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area Wednesday, and on Friday talk to UI scientists at the Sciences Library. Saturday join Parks and Rec for an Earth Day festival.

University of Iowa student organizations have been hosting Earth Month events for weeks, and still have more to come. Consider visiting the Student Garden Open House Saturday, April 27 for food and DIY Chia Pets with the UI Gardeners and attending an environmental benefit concert the following night with the UI Environmental Coalition.

If you’d like to celebrate on your own or with friends consider these activities:

  • Picking up trash in your neighborhood or at a local park
  • Planting something yummy
  • Starting a home compost pile
  • Going for a nature walk
  • Attempting to make zero-waste for one whole day
  • Cooking a plant-based meal



Dubuque to hold water quality summit next week

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 7.16.36 PM
Screenshot from the event’s promotional flyer. 

Julia Poska | February 21, 2019

The 11th Annual Dubuque Area Watershed Symposium will be Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium from 3 to 9pm. The event is free to the public, but pre-registration is required to attend.

Subtitled “The True Value of Clean Water”, the event will focus on Iowa’s water quality concerns and current efforts to resolve them.  One of the first items on the agenda will be a presentation on the City of Dubuque’s recent Iowa Partners for Conservation Grant: $326,712 to be put towards engaging local farmers and helping them become leaders in efforts to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Catfish Creek Watershed.

Other presentations will cover conservation practices, land-use practices, soil health, and water quality.

Later in the evening, keynote speakers Michael Schueller, director of environmental operations the State Hygienic Lab, and Larry Webber, IIHR research engineer and co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center, will share their knowledge and ideas about Iowa water quality.

The organizers want to hear from non-experts, too, and will hold a roundtable discussion on drafting the Dubuque County Conservation Strategic Plan, as well as encourage questions after the keynotes.

For more information visit the City of Dubuque’s official website.




Iowa’s biggest solar power operation is under construction

Dubuque will soon be home to the largest solar power operation in Iowa. (zak zak/flickr)

Katelyn Weisbrod | June 21, 2017

Construction for the biggest solar power operation in the state is underway.

Alliant Energy is building 15,600 solar panels on 21 acres near Dubuque to produce enough energy to power 727 Iowa homes every year. The $10 million project should be up and running by August.

The energy company is working with the city of Dubuque and the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation to establish the operation. Another smaller solar site will be constructed closer to downtown Dubuque, and will have an educational component for visitors. The city of Dubuque has been a leader in sustainability in Iowa, and is a member of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities through the University of Iowa.

Alliant, which serves customers in Iowa and Wisconsin, already owns several renewable energy operations, including other solar projects, four wind farms, and a few hydroelectric dams.

“We see the cost of solar going down and the efficiency going up, and we anticipate more and more customers who demand renewable energy,” Alliant’s vice president of generation operations Terry Kouba said to the Associated Press. “Alliant will invest in more solar projects in the future, and we will look back at this Dubuque project and say, ‘This is where it began.'”


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.

CLE4R project continues to educate Iowans, improve air quality

In an effort to educate Iowans about particulate air pollution, CLE4R has made Air Beam air quality monitors available for check out at the Dubuque Public Library, Dubuque Community School Districts and at the University of Iowa. (Taking Space)
Jenna Ladd | March 28, 2017

Clean Air in the River Valley, also known as CLE4R, is a collaborative effort to improve air quality in the city of Dubuque and nearby communities.

The project is a partnership between University of Iowa IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering the city of Dubuque, and surrounding Upper Mississippi River Valley communities. Founded in October of 2015, CLE4R’s four pillars are environmental education, technology, partnerships, and planning.

Most parts of eastern Iowa and western Illinois experience air pollution that makes the air unhealthy for residents during at least some part of the year. CLE4R aims to reduce particulate matter in the air that is smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5). This type of air pollution is particularly common in Iowa’s Upper Mississippi River Valley communities.

Dr. Charles Stanier, University of Iowa associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, is director of the program. He said, “We have reached over 1,000 Iowans with high quality information about air quality and the health benefits of clean air. We have done this through our in person events, our website, media coverage, and social media.”

CLE4R has also worked to offer Iowans the practical experience of measuring air pollution in their communities independently. Stanier explained, “CLE4R has introduced all the stakeholders in the project: city staff, teachers, environmental groups, and local businesses, to the AirBeam hand held particulate [matter] monitors that are available for checkout from the City of Dubuque, the University of Iowa, and the Dubuque School District. ”

The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education Program and is set to end this July. Representatives from CLE4R will be present at the Dubuque’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) festival on April 22nd and at Iowa City’s Science Technology Engineering Art and Math (STEAM) festival on April 23rd.

On The Radio – Dubuque mayor calls for efforts to mitigate human-induced climate change

CGRER's Nick Fetty interviews with Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 confernece in Paris on December 8, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
CGRER’s Nick Fetty (left) interviews with Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP21 confernece in Paris on December 8, 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
December 28, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Dubuque mayor Roy Buol and efforts his city has taken to address human-induced climate change.

Transcript: Dubuque’s Mayor Buol says action needed to address climate change

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol 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.

During his visit to the City of Light, Mayor Buol met with three other mayors from the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative – as well as mayors from other river basins around the world – to discuss clean water, food production, and other environmental sustainable initiatives that the different communities have undertaken.

Buol discussed some of the efforts taking place in his northeast Iowa city of nearly 60,000 residents such as the Bee Branch Storm Water Project which aims to redirect water flow in one of the city’s more flood-vulnerable neighborhoods following heavy rains and flash flooding.

Buol shared this effort with other mayors with the hope they might be able to pursue similar projects in their own communities. He said that human-induced climate change is something that needs to be addressed and that can be done through measures implemented by city-level governments.

BUOL: “The reality is that the climate is changing and it’s changing at a rate that has really accelerated compared to past history. The ebbs and flows of climate. I’m convinced man is a part of that process and we’re already seeing those changes occurring across the country, across the world. Extreme rains events, extreme drought events, temperature rises, sea-level rises. If we don’t start to mitigate those things now we’re going to be a point soon that it’s irreversible.”

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

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

Iowa at COP21: Q&A with Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 11.24.00 PM

Nick Fetty and KC McGinnis | December 8, 2015

CGRER met up with Dubuque mayor Roy Buol at the COP 21 conference in Paris on Tuesday to discuss initiatives he and other mayors around the world have taken to address climate change.

*Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity*

FETTY: I understand that you’re over here in Paris to meet with other mayors along the Mississippi River to discuss water quality, agriculture, and other issues. What have you discussed thus far?

BUOL: I’m here with three other mayors from Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative and we’re here to talk to other mayors from other river basins about sustainability with a focus on clean water and food production. We’ve had some good meetings. We had an event in the Blue Zone yesterday and have another one today to announce what we’ve come up with and I think we might even have some signatories to that agreement.

FETTY: What are some of the initiatives that Dubuque has been doing in regard to sustainability and adapting to climate change? Are there any ideas you have recommended to the other mayors?

BUOL: I’ll tell you about some of the things that other mayors have ask me about. There are over 500 mayors here at the COP which I think really has brought a new energy to COP 21. In Dubuque we have three major projects in regard to sustainability and resilience. We have the Bee Branch Storm Water Project that we’re actually daylighting the creek to one of our older neighborhoods that’s had six disaster declarations in the last twelve years from flooding and flash flooding. So this project will literally create a creek that will redirect water at a very slow speed and when it’s not flooded it will serve as a linear park in one of our more challenged neighborhoods. It will be doing a lot of things to help clean that water as it drains into the Mississippi River. So that’s a climate resilience piece that we’re addressing.

Our historic Millwork District which is basically vacant and abandoned, we’re refocusing those old buildings into apartments, retail space, space for the arts. We received one of the first TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants for streets. We have pervious pavers which will control runoff and filter water back into the system naturally.

Our third major project was our Water Resource and Recovery Center which was a 70 million dollar project. It replaces what used to be an incineration system for storm water. Today the byproduct of that process is fertilizer for farm fields and methane for capturing, cleaning, and putting into six micro-turbines that will produce the power that will actually run that facility and provide heat that will help with the digestive process. We’re looking at expanding that as we get richer types of waste. Also, we can actually compress that CNG (natural gas) to be used in the future.

FETTY: Are there any ideas that other mayors have discussed that would be applicable to Dubuque?

BUOL: We just had some discussions with other river basins about what they’re doing to clean water. Many of them are similar to the things we’re doing on the Mississippi. Creating flyways for instance, creating those backwater settings where migratory birds and things can live and water can be filtered through those areas. Creating hydropower has been done in many countries as a way to get away from petroleum-powered energy sources. There are a lot of similarities to what we’re doing. When we talk to people from these other river basins, especially in arid areas, where they have these extensive droughts, and we have these tremendous rainstorms, so they’re dealing with something a little different of a situation than we are on the Mississippi. For us it’s about clean water, taking the nutrients out of the water to make it cleaner for everyone down river. By 2050 we’re looking at another two-and-a-half billion people in the world. We’ll be at nine-and-a-half billion people. You put that on top of the fact that we’re going to dealing with some climate change that’s really going to change the way that food is produced. In the United States it’s an engineered process. We can plant a lot of crops in a very short period of time. We have seeds that are resilient to drought. Those types of things other countries don’t have. But if we meet that nexus where we’re providing food for the rest of the world and other basins aren’t up to speed, it will devastate our farming. It will create water really rich in nutrients that will contribute to the gulf hypoxic zones that we already have. We’re dealing with some major issues in the future if we don’t start to mitigate them now and help other river basins create that resiliency.

FETTY: Why is the issue of climate change something that Iowans should care about?

BUOL: The reality is that the climate is changing and it’s changing at a rate that has really accelerated compared to past history. The ebbs and flows of climate. I’m convinced man is a part of that process and we’re already seeing those changes occurring across the country, across the world. Extreme rains events, extreme drought events, temperature rises, sea-level rises. If we don’t start to mitigate those things now we’re going to be a point soon that it’s irreversible. One thing that I’ve heard here mentioned a lot of times is people talking about a different kind of energy with this COP 21 and that’s based on the number of mayors here and the projects that are happening in their cities which is really making a difference. Creating those best practices as examples that can be used globally. It seems to be a different COP from what I’ve heard from a lot of participants from around the world.

FETTY: Yesterday we spoke with Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and he talked about how it can be easier to get things done at the city level as opposed to the state or federal level since it is a smaller level of government. Do you agree?

BUOL: I think it does work better at the local level. Our constituents have our phone numbers, they know where we live, they meet us on the street. It’s easier to form partnerships at the lower levels of government. In Dubuque for instance we have every entity that you can think of on board with our sustainable resiliency policies. Everything from the Chamber to businesses to nonprofits to schools to city government. Even individuals who step up and get excited about a project when they know they’re going to make a difference. They become part of the solution. When we created Sustainable Dubuque we had a citizen commission of forty people that engaged the community to see what they wanted sustainability to look like and that been hugely successful in our undertaking since then because the people feel like they’re part of that decision-making process.

Check back tomorrow for more Iowa-focused coverage from COP 21.

On The Radio – Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference

The Paris climate conference, also known as COP 21, begins today and continues through December 11. (Robin Tournadre/Flickr)
The Paris climate conference, or COP 21, begins today and continues through December 11. (Robin Tournadre/Flickr)
November 30, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Iowans attending the climate conference in Paris which begins today and continues through December 11.

Transcript: Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference

Several prominent Iowa researchers and policy makers will be at an international climate summit being held in Paris this month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from 196 nations will seek to reach a legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie, University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering Jerry Schnoor, and Dubuque mayor Roy Buol will be among the Iowans present at the conference. Two dozen Mississippi River mayors have met since September to discuss the impacts of climate change on their river economies and the importance of cleaning up the Mississippi. A group of these mayors including mayor Buol will discuss these issues with delegates from seven of the world’s major river basins.

Dr. Schnoor will be reporting on findings from the conference for the American Chemical Society while the University of Iowa’s Andrea Cohen will be representing the Iowa United Nations Association. CGRER will also be providing continuous updates from the conference.

For more info about the Paris climate talks visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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


On The Radio – Two Iowa cities receive national grants for water quality

Dubuque, Iowa with the Mississippi River in the background. (Wikimedia)
October 26, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at two Iowa cities that recently received national grants to improve water quality. 

Transcript: League of Cities

One Iowa group is receiving a national grant to reduce water pollution.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa League of Cities has been named a 2015 recipient of a Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. The $700,000 grant will help fund development of a program under Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the Water Quality Offset Program. This program, being implemented in Dubuque and Storm Lake, is designed to reduce nutrient runoff from point sources without increasing costs to ratepayers. These cities have worked with their watershed groups to develop nutrient reduction projects upstream from their communities.

The NRCS grant program looks for innovative conservation practices across the country, specifically programs that demonstrate how conservation practices can lower costs for citizens in the long run. The Water Quality Offset Program allows operators at point sources of nutrient pollution to exchange nutrient reduction at one source to offset the costs of reduction at another source.

For more information about nutrient reduction programs, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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

DNR: Low levels of ethanol detected in Mississippi River after train derailment

An aerial shot of the Mississippi River near Keokuk. (Dual Freq/Wikimedia Commons)
An aerial shot of the Mississippi River near Keokuk. (United States Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | February 13, 2015

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have detected low levels of ethanol in the Mississippi River following a train derailment near Dubuque last week.

An official with the Iowa DNR said the fuel “dissipated fairly quickly in the first mile downstream” and that levels were barely detectable 10 miles from the crash site. Monitoring stations have been set up in approximately 6,000 feet intervals and crews been conducting approximately 100 tests each day. Officials have also monitored areas near Muscatine (approximately 130 miles downstream from the crash site) and no ethanol was detected during the initial tests.

Recovering ethanol that spilled onto iced-over parts of the river has been difficult because the ice isn’t strong enough to support machinery and other equipment for the recovery effort. Air pumps are being used in non-frozen segments of the river to extract ethanol from the water. Oxygen levels have remained steady indicating that aquatic life should not be affected.

Approximately 305,000 of 360,000 gallons of ethanol that spilled has been recovered but officials with the Iowa DNR plan to continue monitoring for ethanol levels for “quite some time.”

Multiple agencies have assisted with clean up and monitoring efforts including the U.S. EPA, Iowa DNR, Wisconsin DNR, Illinois EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Interior.