Properly disposing of materials would lessen CO2 equivalent emissions in Iowa significantly

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Grace Smith | September 30, 2022

Iowans send over 190,000 tons of untouched food to landfills a year—enough to fill dump trucks spanning from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a statement breaking down landfills in Iowa and found that 20 percent of all landfilled materials are from food waste. As of 2021, food waste produces 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases per year. 

“Food waste continues to be the single largest landfilled item by weight,” says Tom Anderson with the DNR’s solid waste section. “It continues to grow. It is sad in some ways. Food gets thrown away every day.”

Most of the 20 percent of wasted food is processed, stored, and prepared leftovers. The DNR release said almost seven percent of the wasted food is still in its original packaging – in cans, boxes, and bags. Anderson said most food is wasted because of misinterpreted labels and expiration/ “best by” dates. 

The second and third largest items that end up in landfills include plastics at 8.6 percent and compostable paper at 7.6 percent. The release said that the energy and emissions impact from 854,000 tons of improperly disposed of paper, containers, and compostable materials is tremendous. If these materials were correctly recycled or composted, about 1.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions could be decreased. 

The DNR offers a list of ways to combat the growing presence of food waste in landfills:

  • Buy only what you need.
  • Learn how to preserve food. 
  • Compost leftover food. 
  • Recycle.

Iowa DNR to eliminate invasive plant in Iowa Great Lakes

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Grace Smith | September 20, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to start treating East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lake Minnewashta, and Lower Gar this week with Sonar A.S., an aquatic herbicide, to eliminate Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive plant. Eurasian watermilfoil was found in these lakes in early August. The DNR will test the water every two weeks through next Spring, per a release published on Sept. 13. 

The DNR wants to remove the Eurasian watermilfoil because it is an aggressive and invasive plant known to take over the space where native plants would normally be. By eliminating the Eurasian watermilfoil, the DNR will use Sonar A.S., which prevents the plant from producing a pigment needed for photosynthesis. This process would eventually starve the plant over a few weeks. The DNR said the herbicide has no restrictions for swimming, fishing, irrigation, or drinking water at the planned dose. 

An East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation representative told Radio Iowa the plant has been found in fairly abundant amounts in certain spots. To keep the species from spreading, the representative said washing boats and trailers after leaving a lake can help. 

A group of people from Iowa Great Lakes organizations is helping the DNR formulate a plan, and local groups are partnering to donate $335,000 toward the elimination of the invasive plant. 

“Keeping the plant out of the lakes over the past 30 years has allowed time for better tools to be developed for managing this plant,” said Mike Hawkins, district fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR. “I’m confident we can work together locally to manage it long-term. In the meantime, we plan to take our best shot at eliminating it.”

Pheasants are seeing a population boom

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Elyse Gabor | September 5, 2022

Recent population surveys show that Iowa’s pheasant population has grown exponentially. This was caused by a lack of snowfall and mild winter conditions.  

According to Todd Bogenschutz, wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “If hunters enjoyed last year, they should enjoy this year.” 

Over the years, the population of the birds has drastically decreased. It became so low that hunters were able to shoot hens. This is now illegal as hens are vital for increasing the population numbers.  

The decrease in population was likely caused by loss of habitat, especially in hay acres. Numbers have shrunk to half of what they were 30 years ago. The decline is also caused by the weather and harsh winters with many inches of snowfall. However, due to the moderate winter this past year, the birds are experiencing a population boom.  

Pheasant hunting season opens in late October.  

Swim warning lifted at Spirit Lake beach

Spirit Lake, Iowa
Via: Flickr

Last week, Crandall’s Beach in Spirit Lake, Iowa, reported excessive amounts of bacteria, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Officials noted the area as “swimming not recommended.” The warning was caused by a large amount of blue-green algae toxins that contained traces of E. Coli bacteria.  

Due to the recent rains and new test results, officials have lifted the warning. The rain likely caused the bacteria to flush out into the lake, making the beaches safe for swimming. The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) tests the lakes once every seven days during the summer months as levels of bacteria easily shift in a matter of days.  

Currently, Emerson Bay Beach has issued a warning against beachgoers swimming in the water. The beach is located in West Okoboji, Iowa, just a few miles from Spirit Lake. This beach is among six other beaches in the state that also contain elevated levels of bacteria.  

Iowa’s first outbreak of koi herpes kills thousands of Storm Lake carp

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Grace Smith | August 11, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed on Aug. 9 that koi herpes killed thousands of carp at Storm Lake in Iowa in recent weeks. Although this virus has been detected in nearby states including Minnesota and Wisconsin, this outbreak is the first appearance of the virus in Iowa. 

Koi herpes is a very contagious and deadly viral disease that attacks fish gills and creates wounds in the bodies of the fish. The DNR said that although the virus is contagious, it is unlikely to completely eliminate the Storm Lake carp population. In addition, there are no instances of koi herpes affecting people or other fish species. 

DNR fisheries biologist Ben Wallace said Storm Lake created great conditions for the disease to spread, as many carp make direct contact with each other throughout the lake. “The virus could have been here a long time within the adult population with many having some level of immunity to the virus and were asymptomatic,” Wallace said in a DNR release.

The carp washing to shore, which began a couple of weeks ago, created a problem for the community regarding where to dispose of the fish’s bodies. On Aug. 6, Storm Lake’s public service workers took a few hours to collect the bodies and get rid of them in the local landfill. 

The DNR did tests on Storm Lake water at the end of July which did not display any algae toxins dangerous to people.

Compostable food makes up 20% of Iowa waste

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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.

Monarch butterflies listed as endangered

Photo of a monarch butterfly in Iowa City

Grace Smith | July 22, 2022

North America’s monarch butterfly is now listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organization working in nature conservation and sustainability, as of Thursday. 

Between 1980 and 2021, the population of Western monarchs dropped 99.9 percent. The number of Eastern monarchs dropped 84 percent from 1996 to 2014. Many factors contributed to the decrease in monarch population, including farmers’ use of genetically modified crops that kill weeds — with milkweed being the only food monarch caterpillars can feed on. In addition, the combination of climate change affecting plant growth and the butterflies’ high sensitivity to changing climate is also leading to the monarch decline. 

Iowans and other midwestern states are currently working to support the butterflies. Organizations like the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium and the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project provide resources and participate in practices to help the butterflies. In 2020, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources published a news release saying that the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium is seeking to establish 480,000 and 830,000 acres of habitat for monarchs by 2038.

Climate change created unpredictability in rainfall, impacts crops

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Grace Smith | July 18, 2022

State Climatologist Justin Glisan said storms in Iowa are hitting smaller areas with more intensity and an increase in rainfall with unpredictable patterns. Iowa’s humidity levels have 13 percent more atmospheric moisture than 35 years ago, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. As the climate warms, water vapor in the air will continue to increase, which creates an imbalance in soil moisture for crops.

Although there has been an increase in water vapor with the presence of climate change, July has been extremely dry, and trends show April and October as wetter months this year. This trend and the below-average rainfall during dry months create lessened crop production, which Iowa saw in May when spring planting conditions were not optimal. 

This year, unlike some past dry years, topsoil and subsoil are labeled “adequate” in moisture, to help crops continue to grow during dry months like July.

With the condition of the soil and projected trends, Glisan said the 2060s and 2070s are when precipitation severity catches up to climbing temperatures. So, innovations in agriculture technology and increased rainfall are aiding crops and increasing yields.

Iowa dairy farmer fined for massive leak in manure container

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Grace Smith | July 8, 2022

Last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fined farmer Terry Van Maanen $10,000, the most the DNR can charge, for ignoring signs of a leak in a manure digester. In January, the facility in northwest Iowa that captures gaseous fuel from cow manure began filling up. The DNR said it was noted there was a drop in levels by five feet, but no investigation arose from the level drop. Then, in February, the manure digester, operated by a Colorado-based company named Gevo, leaked 376,000 gallons of manure water into nearby creeks near Rock Valley, Iowa. 

At the start, Gevo operators were unsure of the leak and assumed it was the disappearance of foam at the surface of the water, but later reported the leak to the DNR on Feb. 7. The large spill leaking thousands of gallons of manure water caused E. Coli measurements in nearby streams and rivers to increase.

The DNR fined Van Maanen because he has responsibility over the Winding Meadows Dairy facility which has about 2,400 cows, even though other workers may have been operating the digester at the time of the leak. To fix issues from the leak, Gevo put epoxy, or very strong glue, in areas of the container where leaks are likely. Environmental Specialist for the DNR Jacob Simonsen said the facility is back in operation.

Extreme heat, flooding affects agriculture significantly

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Grace Smith | June 23, 2022

Agriculture, which is one of the most important aspects of Iowa and surrounding economies, is experiencing many challenges because of climate change and extreme temperatures including a negative impact on livestock and crops, as well as a decrease in revenue

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said that climate extremes have a large negative impact on yield and livestock productivity in Iowa. In addition, the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement said confined livestock stuck in severe heat conditions are at a greater risk of death. Not only does this present itself as a problem in Iowa, but also in Kansas. On June 15, the heat killed over 2,000 cattle in Kansas, a portion of the Great Plains, which remains in a drought because of extremely high temperatures. Parts of Kansas hit up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit last week, which assisted in the deaths of the cattle. 

The heat is not the only thing affecting agricultural practices in Iowa. Flooding has caused issues including a loss in revenue for farmers. An IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering study from the University of Iowa, which was published April 26, 2022, found that in a 2-year return period, or a span of time when an occurrence is likely to surface, cropland has a 50 percent chance of flooding in a given year. The study also said that annually, Iowa loses $230 million in seed crops because of farming in areas that are likely to flood. 

Members of the industry have adapted in many ways. Seed providers have altered hybrid corn and made it more tolerable to drought and heat. In addition, farmers have reacted to an increase in precipitation by utilizing quicker planters that can move across a field faster. But, without technological changes to combat climate change in the Midwest, productivity could decrease significantly.