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 Ethanol Law Passed in Iowa on Tuesday


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Josie Taylor | May 19, 2022

A new state law in Iowa would require most fuel stations to sell a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. This will rapidly expand the fuel’s availability, but the law’s long-term effects might be more potent, according to the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 2128, which will boost the use of corn-based ethanol to fuel the state’s vehicles, into law on Tuesday. Her action capped a protracted and hard-fought legislative initiative that began last year.

The new law is also expected to boost the sales of diesel blends that contain 20% biodiesel, which is often made with soybean oil.

Monte Shaw, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director, predicts that E15 will be available at 1,000 more stations by 2026, when the ethanol requirement goes into effect. That would more than quadruple the current total, according to state data.

First, the law also requires new fuel station infrastructure — the tanks, fuel lines and pumps — to be compatible with higher blends of ethanol, which can degrade certain plastics and rubbers. That will help facilitate future increases in blend requirements, perhaps with gasoline blends of 30% or 40% ethanol, Shaw said.There are current federal rules that prohibit the summer sales of certain E15 blends because federal regulators have considered them more likely to evaporate in warmer temperatures and pollute the air. The Biden administration lifted that restriction for this summer to help reduce fuel prices.

Iowa’s prime corn yields likely gone


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 11, 2022

Iowa State University agronomist Mark Licht says Iowa corn farmers are unlikely to see high yields this planting season.

Cold and rainy temperatures delayed planting in the spring months in 2022. As farmers look to finish up planting, Licht told Iowa Capital Dispatch the next few months are expected to be drier than normal. The two challenges present a likelihood that crop yields of Iowa corn will be low this year compared to recent seasons.

“I don’t mean that we can’t still have above-trend-line yields, I just don’t think that we’re going to see the record-breaking yields that we’ve seen in the last couple years,” he said. “I think we’ve maybe taken the top end off of it. How much is yet to be determined.”

At the beginning of the second week of May, Iowa farmers were two weeks behind the average planting schedule to the past five years. It was the slowest planting pace in nearly a decade. Only 14 percent of seed corn was in the ground on Sunday, as April weather made it particularly difficult to plant potentially successful seedlings. Research on corn yield from Iowa State University shows the most successful corn crops are planted before middle May.

Iowa farms have three weeks left in the planting season before yields get considerably lower in June.

EPA creates waiver for E15 fuel sale in in May


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 6, 2022

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a fuel waiver last week allowing heightened levels of ethanol in gasoline to be sold later into the summer.

The waiver is an attempt by the Biden-Harris administration to lower fuel prices as they continue to increase. The waiver allows gas stations to sell cheaper blends with 15 percent ethanol, also known as E15 fuel, to address the fuel supply gaps created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The waiver only extends until May 20, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, but the EPA can extend the waiver if they see fit.

The waiver affects a small percentage of gas stations across the country that sell corn-based ethanol fuel. Only 2,300 gas stations nationwide offer a 15 percent ethanol blend, compared to the more than 140,000 gas stations across the U.S.

During a stop in Iowa in April, President Joe Biden said the waiver would continue into the summer. There are not any current projections as to when the waiver would be extended nor for how long. Iowa’s delegation in Washington D.C. have pushed for year-round use of E15. Currently, the fuel cannot be sold from June to September because of air pollution concerns.

West Des Moines Successfully Treats Water for Forever Chemicals


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Josie Taylor | May 5, 2022

The treated drinking water of West Des Moines no longer has detectable amounts of PFAS, commonly called “forever chemicals.” West Des Moines Water Works shut down a contaminated well in 2021 after finding troubling levels of PFAS. 

Initial tests of West Des Moines water in November showed it contained the two prominent PFAS in a combined concentration of 5.3 parts per trillion. A subsequent test in March did not detect either. Those tests can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion.

“We were pleased to see that,” said Christina Murphy, general manager of West Des Moines Water Works. “We do everything we can to mitigate the presence of those compounds.”

Two other West Des Moines wells showed contamination in lesser concentrations than the one that was shut down, and the water utility is minimizing its use of them, Murphy said. 

Ames stopped using its most-contaminated well after DNR sampling found a combined concentration of 38 parts per trillion, but its treated drinking water appeared unaffected by the change. Initial tests of the treated water showed it had the two PFAS in a combined concentration of 9.6 parts per trillion in December. In March, it was 10 parts per trillion.

The state is requiring water supplies to test their finished drinking water quarterly if they have detectable amounts of PFAS.

Spring corn planting slowed by low soil temperatures


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 4, 2022

As farmers prepare to plant their corn crop this spring they are running into some issues because of low soil temperatures.

Following cold and wet weather in Iowa, the state’s corn planting season has been significantly delayed. The pushing back of planting shortens the optimal yield window for the year. Only 9 percent of Iowa’s corn crop has been planted according to a May 2 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The average by this time of year is 42 percent of the crop.

State Climatologist Justin Glisan told Iowa Capital Dispatch early planting this year was first stalled in April because of low temperatures five degrees below average. He said 2022 had one of Iowa’s top 15 coldest winters.

Soil temperatures need to be at least 50 degrees to plant corn seed that is likely to sprout. Soil temps have mainly stayed in the 40s this spring. The lack of planted crops will impact supply moving forward this year.

Ethanol Bill Passes in the Iowa House and Senate


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Josie Taylor | April 28, 2022

Legislation that would require most Iowa gas stations to sell higher ethanol blends passed both the Iowa House and Senate on Tuesday. 

The bill, House File 2128, received bipartisan support in both chambers, passing 42-3 in the Senate and 78-13 in the House. It is expected that Gov. Kim Reynolds will sign it into law. Reynolds told reporters Tuesday morning that the bill would “sustain and grow” the ethanol industry while helping consumers. 

The bill requires most Iowa gas stations to begin offering 15% ethanol blended fuel (E15) in 2026. The final version of the proposal includes a waiver for Iowa’s smallest gas stations, and state grants to help upgrade infrastructure to support E15. As fueling stations expand and install new tanks, those have to be E15-compatible.

Some Senate Democrats raised concerns about the legislation, arguing it would be a “mandate” and may clash with federal law. 

President Joe Biden visited Iowa earlier this month to announce the temporary summertime sale of E15. Under federal law, E15 may not normally be sold from June to September due to pollution concerns. Reynolds said Iowa was pushing to change the federal law, especially as more gas stations will sell the higher blend.

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


Oil Slick
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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.

Farmer in northeastern Iowa fined for creek pollution


Iowa
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Elyse Gabor | April 19, 2022

A farmer near Ossian, a town in northeastern Iowa, is fined $18,000. According to the DNR, the farmer knew that one of his soil conditioner pits was possibly leaking but continued to fill it with the conditioner regardless. The conditioner leaked into the Dry Branch Creek, which flows into the Turkey River.

A report of dead fish in Dry Branch Creek was reported last July. Upon examination of the creek, the DNR found almost 20,000 dead fish. The foamy water had an unpleasant scent, high ammonia levels, and contained larvae. These abnormalities were traced to Milan Hageman.

Milan Hageman’s small livestock operation contained two storage pits that were leaking into the underground tiling. These pits had soil conditioner that was used as fertilizer.
At the time, Hageman created ridges from gravel and earth to stop the flow and pumped the conditioner out of the storage containers. According to the DNR administrative order, Hageman “thought the creek looked cloudy and wondered if the below building pit was leaking last fall.”

Specialists at the DNR are unsure how long the leak has been occurring. The amount of conditioner that reached the creek is unknown as well.

Hageman has agreed to pay a fine of $18,280 for the investigation and fish kill. He also agreed to hire an engineer to examine the storage pits.

Wastewater Leaks into Creek in Creston


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Josie Taylor | April 14, 2022

The bank of a creek in Creston, IA collapsed and severed a sewer line on Tuesday, which spilled untreated wastewater into the creek for about four hours until city workers were able to repair it, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

According to State Records, Hurley Creek goes through much of the north and west sides of town, and there have been restoration efforts to stabilize the banks. A shift of the soil likely caused the cast-iron pipe to come apart, said Dan Olson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR. 

The wastewater leak in the creek happened Tuesday about a mile upstream of the McKinley Lake, which was created about 150 years ago by damming the creek, the DNR reported. The lake is a public attraction for a zoo with bears, elk, wolves and exotic birds, among other creatures.

Originally, the pipe was constructed under the creek bed, but it had been exposed by erosion over the years, he said. About five gallons of sewage was flowing into the creek each minute.

An estimated 1,275 gallons of sewage leaked into the creek, which Olson doubted would have much of an impact on the McKinley Lake.