Compostable food makes up 20% of Iowa waste


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | July 29, 2022

Iowans send 556,313 tons of wasted food goes to landfills yearly. The 2017 Iowa Statewide Waste Characterization Study showed that compostable food makes up for 20 percent of landfilled materials, which is a 50 percent increase since the last study, which was published in 2011. 

The compostable food takes up more space in landfills but also creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, worsening the climate. But, if food is composted correctly, less carbon dioxide equivalent will be generated. For example, for every metric dry ton of food that ends up in the landfill, 0.25 metric tons of methane can be generated in the first 120 days, but, if that ton of food is correctly composted, it could reduce those emissions by the equivalent of up to six metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In Iowa, six composting sites are allowed to accept over two tons of compostable food per week, including the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center. The Iowa City site is participating in multiple practices to ensure the facility stays environmentally cautious in its composting. Employees measure the temperatures of piles twice a week to confirm the heat is killing pathogens and diseases. The process of composting food waste into soil takes about a year. 

While the Iowa City composting site is remaining cautious in its practices, an Iowa improperly managed facility in Eddyville caused runoff to flow into the ground and through the community. Theresa Stiner, a senior environmental specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the Press-Citizen that the DNR encourages composting, but only if it is environmentally mindful.

EPA, states continue to combat climate change despite SCOTUS ruling


Via Pexels

Grace Smith | July 15, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court curbed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to restrict pollution coming from greenhouse gases. But, not all its power was stripped. The EPA and the Biden Administration have new plans in place to reach President Biden’s goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030. 

Joseph Goffman, Biden’s nominee for EPA’s air chief, told the New York Times the ruling against the EPA didn’t alter any current plans that the agency has. Next year, the agency plans to implement more restraints on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-powered plants. The EPA also plans to propose a regulation that cuts emissions from new gas-powered plants.

Now that the Supreme Court created a setback for action against climate change, the role of state and local level efforts increases. Colorado has passed about 50 climate laws over the last four years and is working to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2030, as well as New York. 

Although the state of Iowa doesn’t have a statewide climate plan, an Iowa City plan, which has about 35 actions, includes decreasing greenhouse gases in the community by 80 percent by 2050. In addition, Cedar Rapids’ plan to combat climate change seeks zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

E. Coli Founda t Terry Trueblood Lake in Iowa City


Photo taken by Josie Taylor on June 6, 2022

Josie Taylor | June 29, 2022

High levels of bacteria were found in the water at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The City of Iowa City has warned against swimming in the lake because of this. 

The city has done regular water tests at the lake, called Sand Lake, in previous summers, but this is the first time there has been a no-swim advisory due to high levels of E. coli bacteria. E. coli can carry parasites or other pathogens that sicken swimmers. It can come from geese, humans or agricultural runoff. 

Paddle boarding and other activities that do not require going in the water will still be allowed at the lake. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources does weekly water tests at 39 state park beaches between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. The agency reported 106 swim advisories for E. coli or microcystins last summer.Iowa City has posted signs at Sand Lake advising against swimming. The advisory will be in effect until water quality improves, the city said. Updates will be posted on the city’s Parks & Recreation website.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement projects high temperatures in Iowa


Via CGRER 2019 Iowa Heat Wave Graphics

Grace Smith | June 20, 2022

The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement released on Sept. 18, which was backed by 216 Iowa science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges, projected dangerous heat to be more frequent and severe. The statement and graphics explain the need for preparedness in the coming decades. Weather reports and projections say above-average temperatures in Iowa are likely to occur in the next few months.

Between 1976 and 2005, the number of days in a year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit was 23. The Climate Statement predicts that between the years 2036-2065, the average days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit will be up to 57 days in a low emission scenario, or 68 in a high emission situation. 

July 2019 was recorded as the hottest month in Iowa for 140 years. But, nationally, in July 2021, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the average in the 20th century, which normally sat at 60.4 degrees. This increase set a record for the hottest July, nationally, in 142 years. 

And temperatures will continue to increase. The National Weather Service and the Farmer’s Almanac, which has formulated annual weather predictions for over 200 years, said Iowa’s summer will be drier and hotter than normal, including above-average temperatures. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association released a 2022 Aug., Sept., Oct., forecast prediction on June 16 and said there is up to a 40% change increase in average monthly temperatures. Almost the rest of the U.S. is also likely to increase in temperature, with no predictions of decreasing. 

Iowa City will experience hot days this week up to 96 degrees Monday and 99 degrees Tuesday.

Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Drinking Water Sources


Elyse Gabor | May 20, 2022

Neonicotinoid Insecticides have been found in Iowa’s drinking water. This pesticide is the most used in the world as it is sprayed on many specialty and orchard crops. The chemical is often associated with harming bumblebees or honeybees.  

Neonicotinoid or Neonics for short sticks to insects, like aphids, and kills them. The insecticide is water-soluble, meaning it moves with the water rather than sticking to the soil. According to a study from the USGS, Neonics can be highly detected in Iowa streams.  

The USGS also conducted a study where they tested Iowa City’s and the University of Iowa’s drinking water to see if Neonics would be removed by conventional drinking water treatments. The results showed that conventional drinking water treatments do not remove the insecticide. However, Iowa City’s water treatment plant does a much better job of removing the chemicals as the plant uses GAC or granular activated carbon. GAC is found in common water filters, such as a Birta.  

Greg LaFevre, an assistant professor in environmental engineering and in the department of civil and environmental engineering at IHR at the University of Iowa, said, “One of the things that we want to do as the next step is understand if there’s ways that we could engineer different types of activated carbon that could help remove these even better.” 

To learn more about Neonicotinoids insecticides in drinking water sources, click here.

New DNR Online Map Shows Where Contaminated Drinking Water is in Iowa


Flying Over the Fox
Via Flikr

Elyse Gabor | January 11, 2022

Last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources created an online map that allows Iowans to see if their drinking water is safe. The online map shows if cancer-causing chemicals have polluted water. 

PFAS, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, are synthetic chemicals contaminating the state’s water. These chemicals are found in everyday household items like stain-resistant furniture and clothes, non-stick pots and pans, and more. 

The DNR had tested around 59 cities for traces of PFAS. West Des Moines had the highest concentration of PFAS. Due to the findings, one of the three wells was shut down.

The map doesn’t show PFAS that were found in drinking water. This was the case for Iowa City. The map marks the city with a green dot, indicating that no PFAS were detected. However, residents did their research and found one of the two PFAS. The chemicals were found in the Iowa City Sand Pit Pond, a source of drinking water for 10% of the city’s water supply. 

The supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner said the DNR map shows the contamination of PFAS in finished drinking water that goes out to customers. To be transparent, test results of water sources can be found online. 

The Iowa Environmental Council is Holding a Clean Energy Talk


Via Iowa Environmental Council

Josie Taylor | November 16, 2021

On Thursday, November 18, the Iowa Environmental Council will hold a two-hour Bright Ideas 2021 event to discuss sources of clean energy in Iowa, like solar and wind power. 

The event runs from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Des Moines but has satellite, group-viewing options in Iowa City and Waterloo. Attendees also have the option to watch a livestream that doesn’t allow participation. 

The featured speaker is Destenie Nock, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She plans to address energy equity. 

The in-person locations include a brunch. The cost to attend ranges from $25 for online viewing to $65 for the Des Moines location. Students and young professionals will get discounts.More information is available here.

Review says Iowa drinking water has several contaminants, still meets federal regulations


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 12, 2021

The Environmental Working Group reviewed Iowa’s tap water this month and found dozens of contaminants across the state. However, most of Iowa’s water systems are compliant with federal regulations.

The organization, which is based in Washington, D.C., released its review last week. The review looked at several utilities that produce water in Iowa and found that most have unsafe levels of multiple contaminants. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, the group is also calling for stricter standards for water quality across the country.

Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa David Cwiernty told the Dispatch it is impossible to treat water so it will have no contaminants and the current regulatory framework runs on the basis of “an acceptable level of risk.”

Some of the contaminants in the review were found above the legal limit in a few systems, including radium and arsenic. The group also has an online database where people can check their water by zip code for potential contaminants. According to its website, the Iowa City Water Department has 19 total contaminants. Some of the contaminants included nitrates, trichloroacetic acid, and strontium. It was not one of the systems where excessive amounts of radium or arsenic were found.

Behavioral, public policy seminar on solar energy is coming to the University of Iowa


Via the University of Iowa’ Office of the Vice President for Research.

By Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 26, 2021

Five panelists are coming to the University of Iowa on Wednesday to discuss the need for expanded solar energy at an event titled “Decarb 2040.”

The panel is comprised of academic, community, and industry experts who plan to present research on how decisions regarding the adoption of solar power in different locations are made. The presentation will take place on Oct. 27 from noon until 1:30 pm.

Following the presentation, a Q&A will focus on future research and funding opportunities. The panel consists of the following guests:

  • Chris Hoffman, Vice President of Solar PV Sales, Moxie Solar 
  • Ion “Bodi” Vasi, Associate Professor of Sociology and Management and Organizations
  • Charlie Nichols, Linn County Planning and Development 
  • Travis Kraus, Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities 
  • Rachel Kilberg, City of Iowa City Assistant City Manager

The event is held via Zoom. Undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty are welcome to attend. Individuals can register here.

The University of Iowa’s Office of the Vice President of Research is hosting the event which aims to focus on Iowa as an energy exporter in the coming era of decarbonization. Iowa has abundant resources in solar and wind energy as well as bioenergy. The recent research focuses on how the state could use these resources to become a net exporter of energy by 2040 based on current plans to focus on energy sources that use less carbon.

Iowa City Roots for Trees program looks to plant more trees


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 17, 2021

After a successful first year, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation department’s Root for Trees program opened this week with the goal of planting more trees than ever before.

The Root for Trees Discount Program started as a part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. The project started with the goal to expand the Iowa City’s tree canopy and diversity. The program broke records last year by planting 400 trees.

The program began again on September 15 and runs until May 2022. To participate, Iowa City residents can redeem vouchers to use at a local tree nursery at a reduced cost. The vouchers work on 19 different types of trees. Once the tree is planted on the voucher user’s property, they are responsible for the care and maintenance of the tree. The voucher cuts the cost of purchasing a tree significantly. Since the voucher is based on income, residents will receive from 50 to 90 percent off at $250 tree.

According to The Daily Iowan, 360 vouchers were redeemed last year. Program facilitators are looking to have even more success in 2021. Applications to obtain a voucher are currently open to residents currently. The City of Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation department also has a guide where voucher users can learn what type of tree is best for their property prior to purchasing and planting.