Northeast Iowa streams, springs and wells test positive for disease-causing microbes

E. coli bacteria, which was found in its pathogenic form in northeast Iowa waters (flickr).

Julia Poska| May 3, 2019

Luther College biologists have found disease-causing bacteria and parasites in Winneshiek County water, in some cases at disease-causing concentrations, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Over half of the 48 surface water samples Jodi Enos-Berlage and Eric Baack took at streams and springs tested positive for cryptosporidium, a parasitic protist that can cause digestive distress for weeks. Half of the 22 private wells tested showed cryptosporidium, too, but at significantly lower levels, the researchers said.

Twenty percent of the surface waters tested positive for the Shiga toxin, as well, which is produced by the pathogenic strain of E. coli. At some sites, the concentration of the toxin in just one cup of water would be high enough to cause fever and digestive distress if consumed.

The biologists also tested for indicators of human and animal feces, which could have carried those pathogens into the water via farm runoff or aging septic systems. Baack told IPR he was surprised to find low-level  fecal contamination widespread in surface waters.  The researchers found less fecal contamination in wells.




Iowa’s Luther College studies options for solar energy storage

A 552.96 kW solar array on a field near the Luther College Campus (Center for Sustainable Communities/Luther College)
A 552.96 kW solar array on a field near the Luther College Campus (Center for Sustainable Communities/Luther College)
Nick Fetty | May 31, 2016

A small liberal arts college in Northeast Iowa is considering ways to make solar energy more economically feasible to power its nearly 200 acre campus.

Officials at Luther College are weighing their options for ways to better utilize the storage capabilities of solar energy generated by the campus’s various solar arrays. A report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Luther College could save about “$25,000 in energy costs for each of the next 25 years if it installs a 1.5 MW solar array and a 393 kW battery.” The analysis assumes that a third party investor will cover the cost of additional solar systems and would accept a five percent return on investment. Kate Anderson, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, estimated that if the measures in the analysis are implemented it would save the Decorah-based college one to two percent annually on electricity costs.

Luther College currently has several on-campus solar arrays with the potential of producing more than 1,000 kW of electricity. Officials with the college hope to generate 70 percent of the campus’s power from renewables by 2020 and to become carbon neutral by 2030. Last month, the college dedicated three new solar arrays capable of producing 820kW of electricity, making Luther the host of the most solar photovoltaic (PV) in the state.

Luther College ranks third among liberal arts colleges nationwide for solar PV generating capacity, behind Oberlin in Ohio and Bowdoin in Maine.

Iowa’s largest solar farm opens in Kalona

Nick Fetty | July 31, 2014

The largest solar array in Iowa will host its grand opening today in rural Kalona, approximately 25 miles southwest of Iowa City.

The array will feature 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This is almost three times the size of the state’s current largest solar array located on the north edge of the Luther College campus in Decorah. The Kalona farm is expected to generate about 1.1 million kilowatt hours per year which is enough energy to power roughly 120 homes.

The project is a collaboration between Farmers Electric Cooperative and Eagle Point Solar. Farmers Electric Cooperative was formed in 1916 and is based out of Frytown just north of Kalona. The cooperative provides electricity for about 650 members in rural eastern Iowa and aims to generate 15% of its energy using renewable sources by 2025.

Eagle Point Solar is a Dubuque-based solar panel company with more than a dozen projects in Dubuque, Peosta and New Vienna in Iowa as well as Galena and East Dubuque in Illinois. Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Eagle Point Solar was not violating state law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque generated by solar panels on the roofs of city buildings. The ruling was viewed as a major win for solar energy advocates.

In an editorial published in the Des Moines Register, CNA Corp.’s Military Advisory Board member Ronald Keys said renewable energy sources such as the Kalona solar farm “is good not just for Iowa’s economy and environment, but it also helps set the tone for how to secure our nation’s energy, economic and security future.”

Iowa State University ranked “greenest” college in Iowa

Nick Fetty | July 26, 2014
Image via eCollegeFinder
Image via eCollegeFinder

The annual Iowa-Iowa State football game is still seven weeks away but the Cyclones recently beat the Hawkeyes in a different kind of contest.

Iowa State was ranked as the “greenest” campus in Iowa according by a list compiled by College Prowler. The website did not provide the criteria used to judge each school but stated: “These days, schools boast a high number of LEED-certified facilities and sustainability initiatives. The following colleges and universities are striving for a more eco-friendly future.” Pitzer College – a liberal arts college with 1,084 undergraduates located in Claremont, Calif.  – took the top spot on the list with a perfect score of 10.

Iowa State was 46th overall with a score of 9.19. Other Iowa schools to make the list include Grinnell College at 64th (9.04), Luther College at 66th (9.01), Central College at 85th (8.93), the University of Northern Iowa at 134th (8.75), and the University of Iowa at 279th (8.45).

Iowa State University has two buildings that have achieved platinum-level LEED certification, three at the gold-level, and one at silver. The university also has several LEED projects currently under construction. In 2013, Iowa State received gold certification from STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) because of its sustainable programs and initiatives.

The University of Iowa has two buildings with platinum-level LEED certification, six at gold, and several projects in the works. Iowa also received golf certification from STARS and continues to work on various sustainability projects.

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will duke it out for state bragging rights on gridiron on September 13. This year’s contest is in Iowa City and kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

Private and community colleges in Iowa focus on green initiatives

Nick Fetty | July 15, 2014
Stewart Memorial Library on the Coe College Campus. Photo by Swagato; Flickr
Stewart Memorial Library on the Coe College campus.
Photo by Swagato; Flickr

Private colleges in Iowa are keeping up with the national trend of increased green initiatives at private colleges and universities.

Coe College in Cedar Rapids is undergoing an effort to decrease consumption of electricity (by 25 percent) and natural gas (by nearly 50 percent) on campus. This is expected to save the college roughly $220,000 annually in energy and operational costs and also reduce Coe’s carbon footprint by about half. Coe along with three other higher education institutions in the state have joined the Alliance for Resilient Campuses.

Green initiatives are taking place at other private schools in Iowa including Luther College which currently has the state’s largest array of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Central College is gradually moving toward an all-electric/hybrid fleet of vehicles and Grinnell College is planning a wind farm north of campus that is expected to produce 80 percent of the college’s energy consumption.

Iowa’s community colleges are also adopting sustainable practices. Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College is utilizing solar panels and wind turbines to generate energy. More than 675,000 square feet of building spaces is heated and cooled using geothermal energy and a new trash diversion program has decreased the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 80 percent.

The state’s public universities have also embraced sustainable practices. There are currently six gold-level LEED-certified buildings on the University of Iowa campus and two buildings that have received a platinum rating. Next year Iowa State University plans to replace the coal boilers at its power plant with boilers powered by natural gas while the University of Northern Iowa plans to retrofit three buildings in fiscal year 2014 to achieve greater energy efficiency. All three public universities were named to the The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.

Critics say utility policies hampering sustainability efforts at Luther College

Nick Fetty | June 26, 2014
A wind turbine near the Luther College campus. Photo by Ellen Macdonald; Flickr
A wind turbine near the Luther College campus.
Photo by Ellen Macdonald; Flickr

Officials at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa have proposed a 1.4 MW gas turbine project which could produce half the electricity used on campus each year but current utility rates and policies make this project not feasible.

The project could also provide heat for the campus through a process known as cogeneration. However, officials with the school have determined this project would not be feasible based on current rates that Alliant Energy charges for sporadic use of grid power or “the standby rate.”

Luther College consulted the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois-Chicago to conduct a feasibility study. The study found that the project would take 55 years to pay for itself based on Alliant Energy’s rates compared to the 15 years it would take based on rates through MidAmerican Energy.

The college currently has numerous sustainability measures such as utilizing wind and solar power as well as recycling and composting. A report by the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment states that Luther College has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent since 2003-2004 and Luther was one of five Iowa institutions named as top green schools in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.

On the Radio: Luther College reduces carbon footprint with solar energy

Photo courtesy of Luther College.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s episode spotlights Luther College’s new solar energy array.

Luther College has installed a solar energy field as part of their effort to become a carbon neutral campus by 2030.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

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Luther College builds Iowa’s largest solar array

Photo courtesy of Luther College.

The largest solar energy production site in the state will be brought online later this month on the campus of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

The new $1.2 million solar energy field will consist of 1,250 separate solar panels, and is part of Luther’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2030. The field will provide electricity for Baker Village, an all-electric student housing facility.

“It’s a big thing to show students that we can have a 0 percent carbon footprint,’ said Jim Martin-Schramm, who teaches a Luther course on ethics, energy and climate. ‘The project has educational value in addition to economic and environmental value.”

For more information on Luther College’s sustainability efforts, visit their website.

On the Radio: Car-sharing helps reduce Iowa’s fuel consumption

Photo by davereid2, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s episode focuses on the benefits of cycling in Iowa.

Car-sharing services are popping up across Iowa to offer transportation flexibility while helping the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

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