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.

Iowa River sees increased bacteria levels near Eldora


The Iowa River via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 1, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning that there is an increased level of bacteria in the Iowa River near the north-central city of Eldora.

The DNR said the city has released hundreds of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the river as it works to repair a damaged pipe, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak was identified on May 31, when an Eldora resident noticed the ground between the river and the wastewater treatment plant was wetter than normal. As the leak in the pipe is being repaired, the Eldora wastewater was switched to another pipe that bypasses an ultraviolet disinfectant system. The system specifically targets and kills harmful bacteria from March to November because it’s when the river is used recreationally.

In recent years, documentation shows the treatment plant discharges between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons per day. The repair to the damaged pipe could take days and residents of Eldora are asked to avoid the area. The DNR is also advising Iowans to avoid the area downstream of Eldora’s 14th Avenue bridge until the pipe is fully repaired, as that’s where the discharge will enter the river.

Mason City truck-washing operation fined for back-to-back violations


Oil Slick
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | April 19, 2022

A state environmental officer caught a truck washing operation illegally disposing of diluted corn oil. This incident occurred in Mason City, Iowa, after the officer was sent there by the DNR due to looking investigating the illegal dumping of an agricultural chemical the day before. 

When the officer arrived at Brookstone Specialty Services, he saw that on top of the pollution from the agricultural chemical, the business was also disposing of dilute corn oil illegally. The company was fined $10,000 for both incidents. The company is believed to have saved $11,000 by illegally dumping the pollution instead of proper disposal. 

According to the DNR, the first incident occurred in late 2020 after there had been reports of dead fish and the smell of petroleum coming from a nearby creek. An investigation revealed that Brookstone Specialty Services accidentally allowed brown sludge caused by distilling grain from the trucks and trailers to drain into Chelsea Creek. The drainage was originally believed to have gone to the city’s sewer system. Upon further inspection, it was determined that the creek also contained livestock bedding that had been washed into it. The company hired people to come and scoop the bedding from the creek to dispose of it properly. 

The second incident happened in June of 2021. Jacob Donaghy, an environmental specialist for the DNR said, ​​“We had a complaint that they were dumping this green stuff outback.” He continued on saying, “We went there and sure enough, there was green stuff out back. It was just being dumped on the soil.”

The neon green liquid was a chemical that is normally used to prevent nitrogen from leaking off of farm fields. When the container was being cleaned out, someone rinsed the residue left by the chemical and dumped out the remaining water. When Donaghy arrived to investigate the first incident, he found the neon green liquid.

Ottumwa company fined for discharge near water source


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 20, 2022

An Ottumwa company released thousands of gallons of wastewater into a rural area that led directly to underground tile lines that fed into a creek leading to the Des Moines River. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources fined the company $5,500 for the discharge.

The initial report to the DNR was made in July 2021 and the fluids were traced back to Ecosystems, Inc., in Ottumwa. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, 48,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater from Osceola was hauled to the area in semitrailer truckloads. While it is unclear how many gallons were released on the property, the wastewater went into South Avery Creek. The creek flows to the Des Moines River, which is a drinking water cite for more than 25,000 Iowans in Ottumwa.

The DNR’s investigation showed there was no known effect on the drinking water and there was no fish kill caused by the wastewater. The discharge was diluted by several inches of rain that fell before it was dumped. Such dumping is in violation with Iowa law and the company agreed to pay the fine.

‘Forever chemicals’ from Mississippi River found in Iowa drinking water


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 2, 2022

Three Iowa cities that draw drinking water from the Mississippi River were found to have toxic chemical in the water.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found trace amounts of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, in water that reaches 183,000 residents in Burlington, Davenport, and Keokuk. Previous test have shown the chemicals are also present in Ames, Sioux City, Rock Valley, and West Des Moines drinking water.

While the trace amounts are well below current federal safety standards, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported it is the first time the DNR tests found notable concentrations of the forever chemicals in a major river that serves as many states’ source of drinking water. Usually, the vastness of major rivers hide contaminations. The precise sources of contamination in the Mississippi River is unclear. The river has too large of an upstream area before reaching Iowa to pinpoint if the contamination is coming from Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa David Cwiertny said he was troubled by the results and the consistency of the contamination of a large river, especially since the three cities are so far apart.

““This suggests that the Mississippi River, at least along the 100-mile plus stretch between Davenport down to Keokuk, contains a mixture of PFAS chemicals, and any other community in that area using the Mississippi as a water supply could be vulnerable to PFAS exposure,” he said.

‘Forever chemicals’ found in Ames drinking water


Graphic via the Iowa DNR.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 14, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found PFAS in Ames drinking water.

The city is Iowa’s ninth-biggest city had concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in its water, detected at 3.1 and 6.5 parts per trillion. The Iowa DNR wants Ames to test the drinking water quarterly because the concentrations were found in water already cleaned by the city’s water utility service.

The chemicals were also found in wells within city limits. One well that tested positive is the site of firefighter trainings. Firefighter foam is one of the most common materials with PFAS in it.

Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Rock Valley, an Iowa town of 4,000 people, also tested positive for PFAS. Wells in the city also tested positive. All of the PFAS levels in the two towns are below federal standards, but the Iowa DNR is planning on having the cities continue testing the water. West Des Moines water also previously tested positive for the chemicals.

The Iowa DNR has released less than half its water quality tests for the state. Supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner previously said testing is underway for cities in Iowa. He said results will be posted as the department receives them.

Iowa City passes Iowa DNR drinking water analysis


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 29, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found negligible amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl, commonly known as PFAS, in Iowa City’s drinking water.

The department released their findings on Wednesday. The tests were conducted following the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory regarding two PFAS: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. If the two chemicals combined to have a concentration of 70 parts per trillion, it would exceed the EPA’s health advisory. According to a City of Iowa City release, the Iowa DNR did not detect either chemical in Iowa City’s samples.

While looking for other PFAS, Perfluorobutanoic acid was detected in Iowa City’s drinking water at 3 parts per trillion. In the release, Water Superintendent for Iowa City Jonathan Durst said the results were low and expected.

“The City will continue to work with the Iowa DNR to monitor PFAS and conduct additional on-site testing,” he said. “We are committed to providing the highest quality drinking water to our community.”

This water analysis came a month after Iowa City was found to have high levels of zinc in its water. The city reduced its daily zinc intake in early November.

Iowa cattle farmer to pay fine for contaminating creek for second time


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By Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 10, 2021

An Iowa cattle farmer was fined this week for letting manure-laden water pollute a creek repeatedly.

Lou Pick from Remsen, Iowa, will pay $9,000 after the most recent pollution killed thousands of fish in the creek near his farm. Pick allowed the water to escape a detention basin on his land near cattle feedlots multiple times in 2021.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tested Whiskey Creek and found heightened levels of bacteria and ammonia contaminants, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The water at the creek was bronze and smelled, according to a passerby’s report earlier this year. Whiskey Creek, however, does not flow into a major waterway.

According to DNR records, the water from Pick’s farm pumps into a basin, but the pump failed allowing the water to continue to contaminate the creek. This is the second fine for the farmer. In 2018 he paid $7,000 for contaminated water going to the same basin and flowing into water near Whiskey Creek.  

Downed derecho trees turn into urban lumber


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 29, 2021

Thousands of downed trees from the 2020 derecho were originally turned into mulch, but now, some can be found in furniture, art, and housing materials.

The decision was made to get rid of the massive amount of trees across Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest hit areas in Iowa, according to The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Still, clean up of downed trees lasted months. Now, some trees have become urban lumber. Urban lumber is wood cut from trees that were grown within city limits that are not turned into mulch.

Urban lumber is now available in Des Moines and Iowa City at Habitat for Humanity stores. It’s available to anyone according to Aron Flickinger, a forestry program specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Keeping the trees in their initial form and not making it into mulch keeps carbon locked instead of the chemical goes back into the atmosphere. 50 percent of the weight of wood is carbon.

Urban lumber has a multitude of uses. including cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and interior finishes.

Northeast Iowa farm co-op fined thousands for chemical discharge


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 20, 2021

A northeastern Iowa farmers’ cooperative agreed to pay a $6,000 fine for a discharge of ammonia.

Last year, the illegal discharge drained into a creek that feeds into the Turkey River, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The river is more than 150 miles long and flows into the Mississippi River. The pollution killed fish and other species present in the river. The dead fish tipped off a local fisherman who notified authorities in July 2020.

A state investigation followed that traced the pollution back to a drainage ditch in the region. The anhydrous ammonia drained into a water storage area at the Three Rivers FS Company. The company agreed to pay the fee without denying or admitting they were at fault.

The quantity of the fertilizer contamination is unknown at this time. The fertilizer was highly attracted to water and the Turkey River. According to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources order in September, Three Rivers consistently pumped snow melt and rainwater into the water storage area. Following the pumping, the water flowed into the creek.

Since the original ammonia leakage, Iowa DNR Environmental Specialist Jessica Ragsdale told the Dispatch the company has altered their practices .