Iowa dairy farmer fined for massive leak in manure container


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | July 8, 2022

Last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fined farmer Terry Van Maanen $10,000, the most the DNR can charge, for ignoring signs of a leak in a manure digester. In January, the facility in northwest Iowa that captures gaseous fuel from cow manure began filling up. The DNR said it was noted there was a drop in levels by five feet, but no investigation arose from the level drop. Then, in February, the manure digester, operated by a Colorado-based company named Gevo, leaked 376,000 gallons of manure water into nearby creeks near Rock Valley, Iowa. 

At the start, Gevo operators were unsure of the leak and assumed it was the disappearance of foam at the surface of the water, but later reported the leak to the DNR on Feb. 7. The large spill leaking thousands of gallons of manure water caused E. Coli measurements in nearby streams and rivers to increase.

The DNR fined Van Maanen because he has responsibility over the Winding Meadows Dairy facility which has about 2,400 cows, even though other workers may have been operating the digester at the time of the leak. To fix issues from the leak, Gevo put epoxy, or very strong glue, in areas of the container where leaks are likely. Environmental Specialist for the DNR Jacob Simonsen said the facility is back in operation.

July 5 derecho intensity linked to climate change


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Grace Smith | July 7, 2022

A derecho swept through parts of Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on July 5. South Dakota experienced fallen power lines and trees from wind gusts higher than 90 mph. Huron and Miner, states in South Dakota, had wind gusts higher than 95 mph. The derecho that swept intense wind through the Midwest may be linked to climate change. 

The derecho on July 5 is a progressive derecho, a summertime-occurring derecho fueled by an area that is hot, dry, and contains strong winds. A similar occurrence happened in August of 2020 when a derecho with extremely high winds hit over 700 miles in 14 hours across the Midwest destroying crops, homes, trees, and more. Meteorology professor at the University of Northern Iowa Alan Czarnetzki said, after the 2020 derecho, human-induced warming of the planet’s surface can increase the likelihood of stronger derechos

After the derecho on July 5, scientists also say climate change can increase the intensity of storms like derechos. According to NASA, as the air continues to warm from climate change, other storms including hurricanes may also be affected, creating heavier rainfall and stronger wind. 

In 2021, the world’s surface temperature was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

Crops in Northwest Iowa Suffer Due to Drought


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Josie Taylor | July 6, 2022

Corn and soybean plants are continuing to suffer in some parts of Iowa from excessive heat and drought. This has been seen especially in far northwest Iowa where drought conditions are worsening. 

Large areas of Plymouth and Woodbury counties are in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. It’s the first time in nearly a year that any part of the state was that dry. 

Much of the state’s corn crop is at its peak demand for water, and the soybean crop is approaching its peak. A small percentage of corn had begun to show silk for pollination as of Sunday, and about 13% of soybeans were blooming, the USDA report said.

In the past three weeks, the percentage of the state’s corn that is rated good or excellent has dropped from 86 to 77. 

Although there is drought in part of the state, soil moisture is still improved from a year ago. About two-thirds of the state’s topsoil and subsoil has adequate or surplus moisture, whereas last year more than half of the soil was short, according to the USDA report.

E. Coli Founda t Terry Trueblood Lake in Iowa City


Photo taken by Josie Taylor on June 6, 2022

Josie Taylor | June 29, 2022

High levels of bacteria were found in the water at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The City of Iowa City has warned against swimming in the lake because of this. 

The city has done regular water tests at the lake, called Sand Lake, in previous summers, but this is the first time there has been a no-swim advisory due to high levels of E. coli bacteria. E. coli can carry parasites or other pathogens that sicken swimmers. It can come from geese, humans or agricultural runoff. 

Paddle boarding and other activities that do not require going in the water will still be allowed at the lake. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources does weekly water tests at 39 state park beaches between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. The agency reported 106 swim advisories for E. coli or microcystins last summer.Iowa City has posted signs at Sand Lake advising against swimming. The advisory will be in effect until water quality improves, the city said. Updates will be posted on the city’s Parks & Recreation website.

Bottle Bill Will Decrease Bottle Redemption Centers


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Josie Taylor | June 28, 2022

There may be a significant reduction in the number of places that redeem cans and bottles in Iowa after changes to the state’s bottle bill go into effect in July. 

The Sierra Club of Iowa estimates that about 1,700 businesses that sell the beverages are required to take back those containers right now, but changes to the law that were signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last week and will go into effect July 1 will exempt most of those businesses that prepare ready-to-eat food. That includes a large number of grocery stores and those within a certain distance of a redemption center.

According to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources list, there are 121 active redemption centers in the state, but the Sierra Club and the owner of the state’s largest redemption business estimate the true number is closer to 60 because many of the centers listed by the DNR have closed.

Can and bottle redemptions were halted for months at the beginning of the pandemic, and when they resumed there were huge backlogs of containers and long lines of people attempting to redeem them.

Many believe that the reduced number of places to redeem cans and bottles will likely propel new technologies to make the redemptions more convenient for residents. That might include drop sites where people leave bags of containers that are tagged in some way to connect them to the people, and the redemption centers later count the containers and compensate the customers.

Dust storms, high winds, droughts may impact Midwest agriculture long term


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Grace Smith | June 24, 2022

Wind gusts up to 70+ mph, dry cropland, and a thunderstorm with high winds created a haboob, or a large and intense dust storm, in Northwest Iowa on May 13. The haboob was a part of a larger aggregate of thunderstorms traveling through Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and both North and South Dakota. This haboob and other windy conditions in the Midwest cause major problems for soil. 

Wind traveling through dry cropland unearths crops and soil in and on the ground. During a study by Texas-based erosion specialist Chris Coreil at the beginning of May, high winds and droughts caused farmers to lose soil anywhere between three to 29 tons per acre in South Dakota. The haboob erosion estimates were similar, with estimates of up to 12 tons of lost soil per acre in South Dakota. 

And the extreme temperature doesn’t appear to be ending soon. Climate change is causing an increase in precipitation and an increase in droughts, which will harm soil and agricultural practices. 

One way to combat these high winds and drought conditions is with a crop cover, which right now, only 3-5 percent in most states own a cover. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released an announcement in January expanding services and opportunities for “climate smart agriculture,” and has a goal of crop covers protecting 30 million acres of corn and soybean land in the U.S. by 2030.

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 Climate Statement 2021 Read by Presenters


Since 2011, researchers and educators at nearly every college and university in Iowa have produced annual statements to communicate in plain language the state of climate science and the impacts of climate change on Iowans. 

The video above shows the 2021 Climate Statement read aloud by those who worked on it. They warn about extreme temperatures, floods, droughts and extreme storms.

The presenters also share what can be done to help prevent some climate disasters. This includes changing infrastructure to accommodate for extreme weather patterns.

All Detectable PFAS Chemicals in Iowa Exceed Heath Advisory


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Josie Taylor | June 21, 2022

The treated drinking water of a northeast Iowa city had nearly 3,000 times the safe amount of PFAS chemicals when it was tested in February, according to new federal advisories announced last Wednesday. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been sampling water in dozens of cities in the past year to help determine the pervasiveness of PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

They have been used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof products, firefighting foams and other items. Recent studies have shown that they can accumulate in people’s bodies over time and can cause numerous ailments, including cancers, liver damage, diminished immune systems and infant and childhood development delays, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, the EPA set a safety threshold of 70 parts per trillion for the two most-prominent PFAS. On Wednesday, it lowered the health advisory of one of them to .004 parts per trillion and the other to .02 parts per trillion. Current testing technology is unable to detect concentrations that small.

The DNR’s testing can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion. That means that one of the PFAS would have to be 475 times the safety threshold before it is even detected.

2019 Iowa Climate Statement projects high temperatures in Iowa


Via CGRER 2019 Iowa Heat Wave Graphics

Grace Smith | June 20, 2022

The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement released on Sept. 18, which was backed by 216 Iowa science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges, projected dangerous heat to be more frequent and severe. The statement and graphics explain the need for preparedness in the coming decades. Weather reports and projections say above-average temperatures in Iowa are likely to occur in the next few months.

Between 1976 and 2005, the number of days in a year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit was 23. The Climate Statement predicts that between the years 2036-2065, the average days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit will be up to 57 days in a low emission scenario, or 68 in a high emission situation. 

July 2019 was recorded as the hottest month in Iowa for 140 years. But, nationally, in July 2021, the combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the average in the 20th century, which normally sat at 60.4 degrees. This increase set a record for the hottest July, nationally, in 142 years. 

And temperatures will continue to increase. The National Weather Service and the Farmer’s Almanac, which has formulated annual weather predictions for over 200 years, said Iowa’s summer will be drier and hotter than normal, including above-average temperatures. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association released a 2022 Aug., Sept., Oct., forecast prediction on June 16 and said there is up to a 40% change increase in average monthly temperatures. Almost the rest of the U.S. is also likely to increase in temperature, with no predictions of decreasing. 

Iowa City will experience hot days this week up to 96 degrees Monday and 99 degrees Tuesday.