Des Moines water bills expected to increase 10 percent in 2016


The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | December 30, 2015

As 2015 wraps up, Des Moines residents can prepare for a 10 percent increase on their water bills in 2016.

The rate increase comes in the midst of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa drainage districts. The water utility claims the drainage districts are not doing enough to prevent nitrate pollution in public waterways which has forced the utility to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility. The additional equipment costs up to $7,000 per day to operate which is eventually passed on to the more than a quarter of a million customers in the Des Moines area.

Rates are expected to go up in April of 2016. Bill Stowe – CEO of the Des Moines Water Works – recently told Iowa Public Radio that it will cost $80 million to update its nitrate removal system and that he’s been disappointed by the state’s political leadership regarding the situation.

“I’m particularly disappointed in the last year that we haven’t had political leadership from either party in Iowa to step forward and move this towards some kind of negotiated settlement…We believe we’re going to prevail in a court of law.”

Stowe added, “If we don’t [previal] we believe there will be big public policy consequences from that.”

A lawyer representing the water districts is arguing that the districts little authority outside of draining land and therefore cannot be held accountable “for damages that result from actions over which the districts have no control,” as reported by the Sioux City Journal. Earlier this year a motion was filed asking U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett to drop eight of the 10 charges against the drainage districts.

Bennett expects to have a ruling on the issue by mid-January.

Trust aims to preserve Iowa farmland


The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust aims to promote sustainable farming techniques and prevent soil erosion. (Paw Paw/Flickr)
The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust aims to promote sustainable farming techniques and prevent soil erosion as seen on this soybean field in Wisconsin. (Paw Paw/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 20, 2015

A recently introduced Iowa program aims to help out first-time farmers as well as those managing organic and sustainable operations.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is a private nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving Iowa’s farmland. Lawmakers have supported this bi-partisan effort with its advisory board including Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton). The “working group” will consist of public and private stakeholders with 71-year old Corydon-resident Mary Ellen Miller being the first to donate 40 acres of land to the cause. In November the trust got a $20,000 interest-free loan from the Slow Money National Gathering.

The trust aims to put more emphasis on locally-grown products as Iowa currently imports 90 percent of its edible food. Additionally, the trust aims to promote sustainable agricultural practices to preserve soil as Iowa ranked second in the nation for amount of soil lost due to erosion in 2010, according to the Farmland Information Center. The trust also aims to assist novice farmers who may struggle acquiring land.

“It’s my dream to own an organic, diversified farm. Right now it’s really hard to find land. There’s lots of competition from developers, and some farmers sell land to larger farms. I am hoping I can find something through SILT,” aspiring farmer Kate Mendenhall said in an interview with Iowa Public Radio.

The Farmland Information Center also reports that Iowa is one of 28 states that have programs to protect land.

Edit: This post originally misstated that SILT was introduced by lawmakers.

Iowa City film fest to feature documentary about frac sand mining


Nick Fetty | August 21, 2014
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Caroll Mitchell/Flickr)
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Carol Mitchell/Flickr)

The 8th annual Landlocked Film Festival will take place in downtown Iowa City this weekend and among the films being shown is a documentary that examines the affects that frac sand mining has had on the environment as well as the communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Price of Sand – directed by Minnesota native Jim Tittle – examines the recent boom in mining operations for pure silica. This silica is used in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) operations as well as for manufacturing materials such as glass and toothpaste. The silica acts as a proppant or “a material used in hydraulic rock fracturing in order to keep the fissures open and thereby aid extraction.” The size and shape of different proponents play “a critical role in keeping fractures open and at the desired conductivity.”

These frac sand mining operations are most common along the “driftless area” – also called the Paleozoic Plateau – which “is a unique region of the Upper Mississippi River Basin with a landscape that is rich with ecological and economic opportunities. The area was by-passed by the last continental glacier and has differential weathering and erosion that results in a steep, rugged landscape referred to as karst topography.” The driftless area includes portions of southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northwest Illiniois, and northeast Iowa. Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa currently have a “moratorium on mining.”

Proponents of the practice say that frac sand mining provides a valuable resource while creating jobs. Opponents say that it brings increased traffic as well as wear and tear on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to rural areas. Opponents are also concerned about the potential health effects associated with frac sand mining.

The viewing will take place at 4 p.m. on Friday August 22 in Room A at the Iowa City Public Library. It will be followed by discussion from a panel of experts from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.

“The size and the shape of silica make it a particularly dangerous substance. It is regulated as a human carcinogen. It causes siliceous, it causes tuberculous, it causes problems with kidney disease. According to studies on siliceous we can get a certain amount, maybe up to three micrograms per cubic meter, and we have no ill health effects but above that level, so if we have agricultural dust as well as dust coming from a sand plant, we may be above that threshold and then we may begin to see the scarring and the progression of disease associated with silica exposure.”

-University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Nursing Professor Crispin Pierce during an interview with Iowa Public Radio on August 21, 2014.

Iowa Public Radio discusses environmental issues affecting Iowans


Nick Fetty | July 8, 2014
Recycling recepticles in the Iowa City predestrian mall.  Photo by Scott Schumacher; flickr
Recycling recepticles in the Iowa City predestrian mall.
Photo by Scott Schumacher; flickr

On Mondays this July, Iowa Public Radio’s Ripple Effects series will examine environmental issues across the state.

This week’s edition featured stories about trash including a River to River segment about landfills in Iowa and waste-to-energy technology such as Ames’s Resource Recovery System. Mike Smith of the Iowa DNR discussed the possibility of groundwater contamination due to landfills while representatives from two waste-to-energy facilities discussed these alternative energy methods in Iowa.

Talk of Iowa discussed recycling in Iowa and offered advice for proper recycling practices. The report states that 50 to 80 percent of recyclable materials ends up in landfills and also examines the ecological benefits of composting. “Most of what we throw away everyday are the carbon and nitrogen – green and brown components – food and paper waste that building organic matter for soil. This is not rocket science but it is soil science,” said Scott Koepke, Chief Gardener for Soilmates Organic Garden Education Service in Iowa City.

IPR invites listeners to provide their feedback on environmental issues in Iowa by filling out this survey.

IPR’s ‘River to River’ discusses how new EPA carbon emission standards will affect Iowa


Nick Fetty | June 5, 2014
Photo by Michael Paul Willis; Flickr
Photo by Michael Paul Willis; Flickr

Today’s segment of ‘River to River’ on Iowa Public Radio discussed how the EPA’s new carbon emissions standard will affect Iowa.

Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa environmental engineering professor and CGRER co-director, contributed to the program as did producer and Little Village Magazine editor Adam Burke, who produced a documentary about air quality in Muscatine (pictured above) where in 2012 residents filed a lawsuit against the Grain Processing plant.

An audio podcast of Thursday’s program can be downloaded via iTunes.

An in-depth look at GMOs


Screen shot 2014-01-10 at 1.18.54 PMNathanael Johnson from Grist.org, and environmental news and opinion site, has gone on a six month adventure to create a  26-part series on GMOs.

To explore the series, follow this link. 

To learn more about Johnson and his work, head over to IPR.