AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming


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Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.

 

60 degree Christmas part of a larger pattern of atmospheric warming


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Temperatures across Iowa at 2:51pm Dec. 25 (via Iowa Environmental Mesonet). 

Julia Poska| December 27, 2019

High temperatures on Wednesday, December 25 2019 broke records across the state of Iowa and much of the Midwest.

Des Moines reached 60 degrees, breaking the 1936 record of 58 degrees. Cedar Rapids reached 58 degrees, breaking the previous record of 54, according to Weather Underground.

The Christmas day highs were preceded and followed by unseasonably warm weather as well.

Though a 60 degree December day is not unheard of (the Des Moines Register reports that at least one December day in Iowa has reach 60 degrees 29% of years since 1878), average winter temperatures in the Midwest are undoubtedly rising.

A Union of Concerned Scientists report shares that average annual winter temperatures in the Midwest have risen about 4 degrees since 1980. Winter temperatures are forecast to continue rising, while snow and days below freezing will decrease.

U.S. formally withdrawals from Paris Agreement, but 26 Iowan parties are still in


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The Paris Agreement aims to limit harmful emissions (via flickr)

Julia Poska | November 6, 2019

The United States has officially notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

President Trump announced his intent to withdraw on the campaign trail and again in January 2017. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Monday that the administration had begun the formal, one-year withdrawal process that day. U.N. rules declared Nov. 4 the first day formal withdrawal was possible, according to the BBC. 

If a new president is elected in 2020, he or she may choose to reenter the agreement, which intends to minimize global temperature increase by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in participation nations.

In the meantime, over 3,000 U.S. cities, counties, states, businesses, tribes and institutions have declared intent to cut emissions in line with the agreement via the “We Are Still In”  declaration. In Iowa, 26 parties have signed on including…

  • The cities of Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Fairfield
  • Johnson and Linn Counties
  • Coe College, Grinnell College, Kirkwood Community College, Luther College, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa

 

 

Does October snow contradict climate change theory? Absolutely not.


Julia Poska | October 30, 2019

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Map from Iowa Environmental Mesonet (accessed through Des Moines Register).

Iowans across much of the state awoke Tuesday morning to find a blanket of fresh snow atop vibrant orange and yellow autumn leaves, many still attached to the trees. Parts of east and east central Iowa saw as much as three to four inches, according to the Des Moines Register. 

The National Weather Service  puts eastern Iowa’s average date of first one-inch snowfall in early December.  The unseasonable flurry might have some Iowans questioning how serious Midwestern climate change–characterized by increasing average temperatures– could really be.

But climate (average temperature and precipitation over several decades) is not the same as weather (daily atmospheric conditions). Years of abnormally high snowfall or abnormally cold weather could impact climate averages over time, but singular snow and frost events are products of normal weather variation throughout the year.

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Records show that overall, average annual temperatures in Iowa and most of the world are increasing, despite weather variation. This pushes local 30-year climate averages (shown below for Iowa City) up by small increments over time.

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From U.S. Climate Data

 

Iowans can still expect snow and cold in coming decades, though the overall frequency and intensity of such events may decline over time. Somewhat milder winters will be followed by much hotter, dryer summers, with an increased number of intense rainstorms added to the mix.

University of Iowa unveils new water well map


Many Iowans rely on wells for their water | Photo by Pedro Craveiro on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 25th, 2019

Varies research teams at the University of Iowa recently launched an interactive private well map for Iowa residents. Lead by CHEEC (The University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination), the Iowa Geological Survey and the UI Hydroinformatics Lab, the Iowa Well Forecasting System–otherwise known as the IWFoS–is a powerful tool for the public.

Users looking to build new wells can use the map to determine the new well site and the quality of the water in that area. By looking at the water quality data of existing wells adjacent to the potential new build, a safe location for a new source of water can be determined.

Thousands of Iowans relay on wells for their water. CHEEC director David Cwiertny estimates that roughly 60% of Iowans rely on groundwater, with about 300,000 Iowans relying on private wells specifically. While recent news about nitrate levels from agricultural fertilizers has been concentrated on Iowa’s rivers, Iowa’s wells suffer from contamination issues too, and the comprehensive data that IWFoS provides is vital for those looking to expand a town’s water resources.

Well forecasts–the details of well water quality and the locations of safe private wells–have been available through the Iowa Geological Survey for years, but these forecasts were generally only available during business hours. IWFoS is accessible 24/7 and uses IGS’s geological info for the well locations, combining this with datasets on well water quality from the Private Well Tracking System that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages.

Transparency with our water quality data is one of the best ways to ensure that safe natural resources are available for all Iowans, all the time.

Check out IWFoS.

Iowa Flood Center celebrates its 10th anniversary


C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory | Iowa City, Iowa| Iowa Flood Center

Sthefany Nóbriga | June 12, 2019

The Iowa Flood Center will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Thursday, June 13 at the C. Maxwell Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory from 8:30 am to 4 pm. The Iowa Flood Center invites friends, partners, and the public to take part in a day-long celebration to celebrate this ten year milestone. The day’s events include; presentations, tours, hands-on activities and more.

Social Hour and Flood Panel Discussion at the Big Grove Brewery

A social hour and flood panel discussion will take place starting at 4:30 pm at the Big Grove Brewery. The flood panel will be moderated by Erin Jordan, a Cedar Rapids Gazette investigative reporter.

The event panelists include:

•    Wiltold Krajewski: One of the world’s most respected experts in rainfall monitoring and forecasting using radar and satellite remote sensing. He is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa College of Engineering and faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering. 

•    Larry Weber:Co-founder of the Iowa Flood Center and former director of IIHR. He is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa.

•    Lora Friest:Executive director of the Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) in Postville, Iowa. A regional nonprofit organization that specializes in system change related to economic development and natural resources. 

•    Rob Hogg:State senator from Cedar Rapids, Iowa that represents portions of southwest, southeast and northeast Cedar Rapids. Senator Hogg has worked alongside legislators to pass legislation to assist Iowans with flood recovery and investing in flood protection, as well as helping establish the Iowa Flood Center.

•    Rick Wulfekuhle:  Buchanan County emergency management coordinator since 1997. Wulfekuhle has coordinated 14 Presidential Disaster Declarations and is passionate about bringing awareness to flood safety and procedures.

The panelist will gather to talk and share their knowledge and ideas about the recent floods affecting the Midwest and how the Iowa Food Center is helping the communities become better prepared for more flooding.   

For more information, visit the Iowa Flood Center.

Another round of flooding impacting southwest Iowa


Flooding in the Southwest Iowa affect residents and highways|Photo by Marion Patterson on Flickr

Sthefany Nóbriga | May 30th, 2019

People in Southwest Iowa suffered record-breaking flooding in mid-March thanks to the spring extreme rainfall and rapid snowmelt. Now, a second round of flooding is on the horizon, threatening those previously affected.

 The saturation of the soil, a large amount of rain and the river flow are once again causing road and highway closures, county evacuations and major floods warnings around the southwest part of the state. 

According to the National Weather Service, the Missouri River in Nebraska City measured approximately 22.5 feet, and it soon could reach critical stages of flooding. The Missouri River in Plattsmouth, Neb., was at 31.3 feet, and could soon reach the moderate flooding stage.

As rain continues to fall, residents from Mills County, Iowa, near the Missouri River, have been advised to evacuate the area for their own safety. In the meantime, almost 300 people have been under obligatory evacuation in the western portion of Fremont County.

The main concern of officials is not only the record-breaking rains and the rising river levels, but they are also concerned that the floods from early March, left the county with no protection against flooding, according to Iowa Public Radio.

These heavy rains have caused significant damage to the roads and interstates, the interstate highway 29 in Iowa and Missouri have closed for the second time due to the flooding; the first time was the flooding from early March, and now the road closes again after only two weeks of being repaired. Portions of highway 34 and highway 2 have also closed due to flooding. 

The traveler Information encourages divers to check 511ia.org or call 800-288-1047 if they have any questions before traveling through the Midwest. 

Experts advise people to stay cautious, and if they see roads with water over them, it’s best to turn around and find an alternate route, since it is impossible to guess how deep the water in the road could possibly be.