Iowa residents can improve their drinking water and support environmental research by participating in the University of Iowa’s “Get the Lead Out” initiative through Oct. 26.
The program offers free lead testing kits to Iowa residents outside of Johnson County. The UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering; and Center for Health Effects and Environmental Contamination are leading the initiative to collect information for a new database of lead levels in drinking water across Iowa.
Because lead, especially toxic to children, was once used commonly in household products, it may still be present in aging household plumbing across the state.
Interested households can email email@example.com to request and receive three bottles (and instructions) for collecting tap water samples. After sending samples back to the university for testing, they will receive their results, an explanation and suggestions for improvement (such as adding a filter to the faucet).
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***
Houston can partially blame the unprecedented flooding it experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year on its skyline. A new study co-authored by Gabriele Villarini, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa, found that Houston’s topography exacerbated Harvey’s rainfall.
Researchers obtained data on rainfall and water discharge in Houston during the storm from various national agencies, and compared it to a computer model that simulated the same storm with a twist. In the model, the city of Houston was replaced with undeveloped farm fields to calculate the built environment’s effect on the storm’s behavior.
The analysis concluded that urban development in the Houston area increased the likelihood of intense fooding 21 times during that particular storm. In other words, if Houston were really an expanse of farmland instead of a city, less rain would have fallen.
“The buildings stop the air from being able to move forward, away from the ocean,” co-author Gabriel Vecchi from Princeton told NPR. “They sort of stop the air in that general area, and the air has nowhere to go but around the buildings, or up.”
Vecchi said when tall buildings push air farther upwards, the amount of atmospheric water vapor that condenses into rain increases. Houston’s skyline not only stalled the storm, but squeezed more rain out of it.
This week’s On The Radio segment discusses changing flood patterns found by University of Iowa researchers.
Transcript: The risk of flooding is changing regionally across the United States and the reasons could be shifting rainfall patterns and changes in groundwater.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
University of Iowa engineers, in a new study, have determined that the threat of flooding is growing in the northern half of the U.S. while declining in the southern half. The American Southwest and West, meanwhile, are experiencing decreasing flood risk.
UI engineers Gabriele Villarini and Louise Slater compiled water-height information from 2,042 stream gauges operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. They then compared the data to satellite information gathered over more than a dozen years by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment mission showing the amount of water stored in the ground.
The study found that northern sections of the country have an increased amount of water stored in the ground and are at increased risk for minor and moderate flooding. Meanwhile, flood risk is decreasing in the southern portions of the U.S., where stored water has declined.
The researchers hope their findings can change how flood patterns are discussed. In the past, flood risk trends have typically been discussed using stream flow, or the amount of water flowing per unit time. The UI study views flood risk through the lens of how it may affect people and property and aligns the results with National Weather Service terminology understood by the general public.
For more information about the flood research, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.
From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.
Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) member David Cwiertny has been selected to serve on the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce as minority staff. Cwiertny, who is also the Director of the Public Policy Center’s Environmental Policy Research Program, received the appointment through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS creates opportunities for scientists to offer their expertise and analytical skills to legislators while also learning more about the policy making process firsthand. Cwiertny said,
“Evidence, rooted in sound science, should whenever possible be used to inform and improve decision making and new policy. And science has never been more important for informing policy, particularly as society begins to address how best to manage and adapt to a changing climate. So in my discipline of environmental engineering and environmental science, I think there is a real opportunity for scientists and engineers to help advance policy that better enables sustainable development both in the US and around the globe.”
As an AAAS 2016-2017 Congressional Fellow, he will serve on both the energy and power and environment and economy subcommittees. Cwiertney, who is also an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, will function as a technical expert within the two subcommittees, which are responsible for all legislation and regulation related to water, air, and soil quality and energy. He added, “I’m eager to see, first hand, what the major hurdles are to translating scientific discovery into evidence-based decision making, and how we can improve and evolve our craft as researchers to better help policy makers.”
Cwiertny is one of two fellows that were selected from a pool of over 100 applicants.
This week’s On the Radio segment covers the Iowa Flood Information System website that offers many features to help Iowans prepare for and better understand floods. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.
IIHR Director Larry Weber and his wife Miechelle recently received the Johnson County Heritage Trust Conservation Award for their conservation efforts. The Webers are working toward restoring and conserving a stretch of land that they call “Old Man’s Timber.”