On the Radio- Reacting to flooding in Iowa


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Flooding near Des Moines, Iowa (flickr/Joe G.)

Eden DeWald | July 9, 2018

This week’s segment covers how devastating recent floods in Iowa have been, and what the Iowa Legislature has done to respond to them.

Transcript:

At least 951 presidential flood-emergency declarations have been made in the state of Iowa since 1988.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A study conducted in part by the Iowa Flood Center revealed that Iowa had the fourth most flood-related FEMA disaster declarations in the country from 1988 to 2016. Fourteen counties, including Johnson and Linn, had more than thirteen declarations in the twenty-eight-year span — about one every other year.

The disasters have amounted to four-point-one billion dollars in crop losses and thirteen-point-five billion dollars in property losses around the state.

After the historic 2008 floods, the Iowa Legislature created the Iowa Flood Center, which has since developed an online tool called the Iowa Flood Information System. The web-based system allows users to see flooding around the state in real time, and help them understand the risk in their homes, farms, or businesses. This resource can help communities better prepare for future floods, or improve land use planning.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

“Frost-free” days increase, so does allergy season


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Climate Central’s graph illustrates how the number of frost-free days in Des Moines has increased over time. (Climate Central)
Jenna Ladd | April 11, 2018

Given that spring snow fell across Iowa this weekend, it may be hard to believe that the frost-free season across the U.S. is actually getting longer.

A recent report found that, on average, the last spring freeze is occurring earlier while the first fall freeze is happening later. Researchers define the frost-free season as the total number of days between the last day of 32 degree Fahrenheit or lower weather in the spring and the first day of 32 degree Fahrenheit weather in the fall.

The lengthening of this season means that pollen-producing plants have a longer growing period. One study in particular found that the growing season for ragweed, a common allergen in the U.S., lengthened by two to four weeks between 1995 and 2009. This data was collected from ten sites from the southern U.S. through Canada. Iowa has added nine days to the average length of its frost-free season from 1986-2015 when compared with the average from 1901-1960.

Not only are allergy-causing plants benefiting from longer growing seasons, but an uptick in atmospheric carbon dioxide also increases pollen counts. Last year was the worst allergy season in recent record and experts expect this year to be similar.

Dr. Joseph Shapiro, an allergist and immunologist from California told CBS news, “A recent study showed that pollen counts are likely to double by the year 2040, so in a little more than 20 years we’re going to see a significant increase [in seasonal allergies].”

Climate Central’s recent report provides an interactive graph that allows users to select a U.S. city and see how the frost-free season’s length there may have changed since 1970.

Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy draft released


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Female monarchs lay their eggs in milkweed pods. (Charles Dawley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 15, 2018

A draft of the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy was released on Monday, and Iowa plays an integral role in its success.

North American monarch butterfly populations have decreased by 80 percent in the last two decades, and their numbers are less than half of what is needed to guarantee a sustainable population. The black and gold pollinators spend their winter months in Mexico and southern California and travel to the northern midwest for the summer. Female monarchs lay eggs exclusively in milkweed pods.

Released by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the conservation strategy draft explains that midwestern states plan to establish 1.3 billion new milkweed stems over the next two decades. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is included within the midwestern effort. Written by Iowa State University’s Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, its aims to establish between 480,000 and 830,000 acres on monarch habitat by 2038.

Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, said, “The consortium has worked collaboratively with diverse stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to expand habitat on our agricultural land, urban areas, roadsides, and other public land. We appreciate the many partners that have been involved and are encouraged by the work already underway.”

Iowa’s strategy provides evidence-based recommendations for creating monarch habitat and aims to document all voluntary efforts. 127 to 188 million new milkweed stems are estimated to be planted in Iowa in accordance with the plan.

Given that the vast majority of Iowa land is in agricultural production, the plan’s authors emphasize that agricultural lands must be a part of the solution. The strategy considers both expanding on existing conservation practices and planting milkweed stems in underutilized farm land as viable options. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will decide in June 2019 whether the monarch butterfly should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Chuck Gipp, director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said, “Iowa falls entirely within the monarch’s northern breeding core. This means that every patch of milkweed habitat added in Iowa counts, and Iowa is perfectly situated to lead the way in conservation efforts for the monarch butterfly. The recovery cannot succeed without Iowa.”

The full draft of the Mid-American Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.
The complete Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy is available here.

EPA predict counties’ climate disaster resiliency


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Those counties that are deemed more likely to bounce back from a climate disaster are in dark blue, while those most vulnerable counties are light yellow. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Jenna Ladd | March 2, 2017

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has developed a Climate Resilience Screening Index (CRSI) and determined the expected resiliency of each county as the climate continues to change, making floods, droughts and wildfires more common.

The report was released in October and used 117 measurements to figure each county’s severe weather risk, governance, society, built environment, and natural environment into an overall resiliency score. Fortunately, researchers found that many U.S. counties have moderate to strong likelihood of bouncing back following a natural disaster however, the outlook varies.

The Appalachians, many counties in the southeast and the western Midwest and some counties in southwestern Texas were found to have lower resiliency scores. The factors that decrease a region’s resiliency in the face of climate disaster include limited access to internet and radio to communicate during an emergency, insufficient infrastructure for evacuation and the absence of local construction industries to rebuild afterward. Southeastern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee scored the lowest collectively in the U.S.

Those counties with higher social cohesion, levels of education and natural resource conservation are predicted to fare much better. The Pacific Northwest was determined most resilient to the changing climate, with region one of the U.S., including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island following close behind.

The report’s authors suggest that index’s information be used to determine where climate mitigation resources are allocated in the future. However, it is unlikely that the current administration will use the information to inform any real climate policy.

Dr. James DeWeese is a research analyst studying on climate resilience at the World Resources Institute and was not involved in this study. He said to the Pacific Standard, “Whatever happens, I definitely think the CRSI is something innovative. I haven’t seen much else like it.”

The executive summary and full report can be found here.

Report outlines economic benefits of clean water in Iowa


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Trees are reflected in a clear Iowa pond. (Richard Hermann/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | February 21, 2018

A recent report from Iowa State University argues that removing nutrient pollution from Iowa’s water would provide economic benefits for the state.

Economists with ISU’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) first summarize the cost of nutrient pollution in Iowa’s waterways. They write that forty-nine public water systems treat water for nitrate pollution either by using nitrate removal equipment or blending the water; these systems serve more than 10 percent of Iowa citizens. The report estimates that Iowa’s public water systems have paid $1.8 million to treat nitrate in the water since 2000.

Smaller communities and rural areas are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of polluted water. Many small town public water systems do not have the resources to purchase costly nitrate removal equipment and as a result, may not be able to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water quality regulations. Private wells go largely unregulated, so consumers are responsible for picking up the water treatment costs. Findings suggest that as many as a quarter of Iowa’s wells have unsafe nitrate levels in them.

The report also comments on the lost revenue from water recreation income for the state. The number of beaches and waterways under advisory or closed each summer because of harmful algae blooms, which are fed by nitrate, continues to grow. Economists estimate that improving water quality in Iowa’s lakes by meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals would increase recreational benefits for all Iowans by $30 million per year.

Iowa Legislators recently passed a bill that will allocate $282 million to water quality improvement projects in the state over the next 12 years. Critics recognize, however, that scientists with the Nutrient Reduction Strategy have estimated that it will cost billions of dollars to adequately remove nutrient runoff from waterways in Iowa.

To read CARD’s full report, click here.

Plea for Iowa to join U.S. Climate Alliance


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An Iowa wind farm extends as far as the eye can see. (News/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 16, 2018

President Trump decided to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord in September, and since then numerous U.S. governors have expressed their desire to stay in the treaty through the U.S. Climate Alliance.

The bi-partisan Climate Alliance is “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.” Its members represent 40 percent of the total U.S. population and at least $7.4 trillion dollars in U.S. gross domestic product. Sixteen governors are members of the alliance currently, and a democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives is hoping to add Governor Reynolds to that list. Representative Charles Isenhart of Dubuque presented a letter to the Iowa Energy Center on Monday, asking that Iowa join the alliance. Isenhart also proposed a bill in the House of Representatives that would require Iowa’s membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Isenhart said to The Register,“We’ve already done a lot and are doing a lot and have some of the mechanisms in place to do more. We should be joining if for no other reason than to take credit for what we’ve already done.” The state of Iowa leads the nation in wind energy production, and is expected to generate more than forty percent of its energy from the wind by 2020.

Julie Cerqueira is executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance. She said in a letter,

“As I read the Iowa Energy Plan, it is clear that many of the state’s energy priorities align with the priorities of the Alliance — a focus on innovation, workforce development, modernizing our electrical grids and promoting the expansion of electric vehicles. Furthermore, Iowa’s long history of leadership in clean energy, in particular the successful deployment of wind power at scale, makes its membership in the U.S. Climate Alliance both logical and valuable.”

A spokesperson for Governor Reynolds says that the governor has not yet considered joining the U.S. Climate Alliance.

 

 

Crop production linked to regional changes in climate


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Corn and soy plants can cool the climate on a regional level, but intensified conventional agriculture can harm water and soil quality. (Lana/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2018

A new study by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dartmouth College detail the way intensive agriculture has influenced precipitation and temperature patterns in the midwest.

During the second half of the 20th century, corn production in the midwest increased by 400 percent and soybean yields doubled due to more intensive agricultural practices. The study, which was published in Geophysical Research Letters, found that the midwest also saw significantly more precipitation and lower temperatures during the summer months over the same period of time. They concluded that the changes were not merely correlated, but that the land use change actually caused the regional climate changes.

The authors explain that each time plants take in carbon dioxide, they release moisture into the atmosphere through pore-like structures called stoma. With more plentiful and robust plants due to intensive agriculture, the amount of moisture corn and soy crops collectively release into the atmosphere has increased in the midwest since the 1950’s. This extra moisture, the study found, has caused summer air to cool and more precipitation to fall. In the last fifty years, average summertime rainfall in the midwest has increased by 15 percent and average summer temperatures have dropped by 0.5 degrees Celsius.

Roger Pielke Sr., a senior researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder commented on the study, he said, “This is a really important, excellent study. The leadership of the climate science community has not yet accepted that human land management is at least as important on regional and local climate as the addition of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activities.”

Since completing the study, the researchers have developed a formula that accounts for the causative relationship between plants and regional climate changes that can be entered into U.S. regional climate models. It correctly predicted those changes that have been observed in the midwest over the last 50 years.

The study opens the door for further research into land use changes and how they can affect local climate.