Mussels as water cleaning ‘ecosystem engineers’


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Mussels play helpful roles in river ecosystems (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | March 12, 2020

A group of citizens in Muscatine, Iowa are pushing to restore the over harvested Mississippi River mussel population. The “Mussels of Muscatine” group hopes to create learning opportunities, reverse damage to the river ecosystem and improve water quality.

The group wants to convert a dilapidated pump house into a mussel research and propagation facility, according to the Des Moines RegisterThat plan faces several logistical hurdles, but the idea that mussels could help reverse some of Iowa’s water quality degradation is valid.

CGRER member Craig Just, a University of Iowa associate professor of environmental engineering described mussel’s role as ‘ecosystem engineers’ to the Register. As the molluscs filter nutrients from the water to feed, they remove pollutants like nitrogen. Just said mussels can also remove microorganisms like algae and phytoplankton, which are harmful to ecosystems when their populations explode.

Just pointed to several challenges to restoring the Mississippi mussels as well. Iowa soil erodes into waterways at high rates, which would bury mussels and prevent them from reproducing. Mussels also must eject their larvae into fish gills, a difficult process to recreate in a lab or propagation facility.

Major flooding on Mississippi River likely again this spring


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Most of the Iowa/Mississippi River boundary can expect to see moderate flooding this spring (via NWS). 

Julia Poska | February 20, 2020

Iowa communities along the Mississippi River will most likely see major flooding this spring.

A National Weather Service flood outlook released last week shows an over 50% chance of extensive inundation all along the state’s eastern boundary. Probability of moderate flooding is at 95% in most areas. Western Iowa faces lower, but still significant risk.

Heavy precipitation in 2019, still-saturated soils and heavy snowpack to the north contribute to the elevated flood risk.

Radio Iowa reported that Gov. Kim Reynolds said official are coordinating with local emergency management teams. Reynolds said the Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water already to make room for melted snow to the north.

Last summer’s Mississippi River flooding was the longest in recorded history, lasting nearly 200 days. A coalition of river city mayors estimated damage to be over $2 billion along the length of the river.

You can find 2020 flood outlook data at specific Iowa sites using the interactive feature at this NWS page. 

EnvIowa Podcast Revived: Talking human/environment systems with Silvia Secchi


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Dr. Secchi in the CGRER offices. Photo by Julia Poska, Jan. 2020. 

Julia Poska| February 3, 2019

The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research is excited to announce the revival and reimagination of our EnvIowa podcast. This weekly podcast will feature 10- to 20-minute interviews with Iowa environmental experts, mainly our own member scientists.

While these researchers are certainly well versed in the complicated jargon of their disciplines, our interviews aim to make their ideas accessible to a general audience. Questions focus not only on the research itself, but how the experts believe it can be applied to solve environmental challenges.

Today’s installment features an interview recorded January 28 with Dr. Silvia Secchi, an interdisciplinary economist and geographer at the University of Iowa. Listen to learn more about Dr. Secchi’s fascinating research on human/environmental interactions in the Mississippi River watershed and how agriculture in particular plays a role within the larger system.

Listen here!

 

 

Flooding along the Mississippi River continues to move south


A hay bale get swept away by the rising Mississippi River near Commerce, MO on Dec. 31, 2015 (Missouri National Guard/Flickr)
A hay bale gets swept away by the rising Mississippi River near Commerce, Mo. on Dec. 31, 2015 (Missouri National Guard/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | January 5, 2016

Deadly flooding along the Mississippi River surges southward this week as areas of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi are expected to reach moderate to major flood stages.

The river is expected to crest early this week along the Tennessee-Arkansas state line and then along the Arkansas-Mississippi state line later in the week. Parts of the Mississippi River along Louisiana may not crest for another week and half.

Seven million people in 15 states are facing the threat of flooding and so far 29 have lost their lives in Illinois and Missouri.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon issued a federal emergency declaration for his state on Saturday which was approved by President Barack Obama.

“The fast-rising flood water inundated several thousand homes and businesses and left behind a trail of destruction, debris and refuse that will have to be cleaned up quickly so that rebuilding can begin and the region can recover,” Gov. Nixon said in a press release. “I appreciate the debris removal assistance the federal government has agreed to provide, and the speed with which the president responded to our request. Federal assistance with debris removal can help ensure the region moves forward from this historic disaster.”

Though Iowa has not been devastated by flooding, heavy rains in the middle of December likely contributed to high river levels south of the Hawkeye State. Des Moines saw 3.78 inches of rain between December 12 and 14 which shattered the previous December precipitation record of 3.72 inches set in 1931. Last week Iowa governor Terry Branstad deployed roughly 45 Iowa National Guard members to assist with flood efforts in Missouri.

On The Radio – Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference


The Paris climate conference, also known as COP 21, begins today and continues through December 11. (Robin Tournadre/Flickr)
The Paris climate conference, or COP 21, begins today and continues through December 11. (Robin Tournadre/Flickr)
November 30, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Iowans attending the climate conference in Paris which begins today and continues through December 11.

Transcript: Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference

Several prominent Iowa researchers and policy makers will be at an international climate summit being held in Paris this month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from 196 nations will seek to reach a legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie, University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering Jerry Schnoor, and Dubuque mayor Roy Buol will be among the Iowans present at the conference. Two dozen Mississippi River mayors have met since September to discuss the impacts of climate change on their river economies and the importance of cleaning up the Mississippi. A group of these mayors including mayor Buol will discuss these issues with delegates from seven of the world’s major river basins.

Dr. Schnoor will be reporting on findings from the conference for the American Chemical Society while the University of Iowa’s Andrea Cohen will be representing the Iowa United Nations Association. CGRER will also be providing continuous updates from the conference.

For more info about the Paris climate talks visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

http://www.cop21paris.org/

UI students get hands-on water quality experience


Students head out on a fishing trip with the water quality class at LACMRERS. Photo by Tim Schoon.
KC McGinnis | July 21, 2015

University of Iowa environmental science students are gaining tangible experience measuring water quality outside of the lab this summer.

During a summer Water Quality class at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station, students go the the Mississippi River to collect samples, catch fish, and learn about water quality up close. LACMRERS director and Water Quality Class director Doug Schnoebelen, who is also a CGRER member, describes the class as an opportunity for students to connect class concepts like dissolved oxygen and pH levels to memorable experiences with physical products.

The class comes amid increasing and public concerns over water quality in Iowa, including high nitrate levels and historic droughts and flooding in recent years. To see the full story from Iowa Now along with a gallery of images from the Water Quality class, click here.

DNR: Low levels of ethanol detected in Mississippi River after train derailment


An aerial shot of the Mississippi River near Keokuk. (Dual Freq/Wikimedia Commons)
An aerial shot of the Mississippi River near Keokuk. (United States Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nick Fetty | February 13, 2015

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have detected low levels of ethanol in the Mississippi River following a train derailment near Dubuque last week.

An official with the Iowa DNR said the fuel “dissipated fairly quickly in the first mile downstream” and that levels were barely detectable 10 miles from the crash site. Monitoring stations have been set up in approximately 6,000 feet intervals and crews been conducting approximately 100 tests each day. Officials have also monitored areas near Muscatine (approximately 130 miles downstream from the crash site) and no ethanol was detected during the initial tests.

Recovering ethanol that spilled onto iced-over parts of the river has been difficult because the ice isn’t strong enough to support machinery and other equipment for the recovery effort. Air pumps are being used in non-frozen segments of the river to extract ethanol from the water. Oxygen levels have remained steady indicating that aquatic life should not be affected.

Approximately 305,000 of 360,000 gallons of ethanol that spilled has been recovered but officials with the Iowa DNR plan to continue monitoring for ethanol levels for “quite some time.”

Multiple agencies have assisted with clean up and monitoring efforts including the U.S. EPA, Iowa DNR, Wisconsin DNR, Illinois EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Interior.

Towboat carrying fuel sinks on the Mississippi


Photo by jwinfred; Flickr

A towboat filled with thousands of gallons of diesel fuel struck a submerged object and sank on the Mississippi River on Monday.

The Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and local emergency crews responded, shutting down an eight-mile stretch of the river near Davenport, Iowa, as the vessel began leaking fuel.

Approximately 89,000 gallons of petroleum are said to be on the sunken vessel.

To learn more, head over to the Huffington Post. 

Court orders EPA to assess fertilizer runoff pollution in U.S. waterways


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Photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video; Flickr

Environmental advocates in states along the Mississippi River have won a round toward a long-term goal of having federal standards created to regulate farmland runoff and other pollution blamed for the oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and problems in other bodies of water. Continue reading

Iowa Researchers Receive USDA Conservation Innovation Grants


Photo by robives; Flickr

Tom Vilsack announced on Tuesday that Iowa will be involved  in four of 33 Conservation Innovation Grants.

One of the grants that involves Iowa will go towards a multi-state Conservation Technology Information Center. The center will focus on providing information to expand on the benefits that cover crops can provide. The economic benefits to landowners, the environmental benefits that can accrue, as well as the crop production and ag management benefits that accrue from cover crop production, said Vilsack.  Continue reading