Iowans ask to halt CAFO construction until water is clean


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Large livestock feeding operations often pollute local waterways with organic waste. (Waterkeeper Alliance/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 19, 2017

Local, state and national organizations showed up at the capitol in Des Moines this week to ask lawmakers to halt Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) construction until fewer than 100 of Iowa’s waterways are impaired.

Called Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture, the coalition rallied behind Independent Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan as he introduced a group of 15 bills designed to tighten environmental regulations on large hog farms. At present, 750 of the state’s waterways are polluted to the point of impairment due to industrial agriculture byproducts.

Bill Stowe, CEO of the Des Moines Water Works and member of the coalition, said that industrial agriculture is making Iowa’s “rivers, lakes and streams filthy — filthy with nutrients, filthy with bacteria, filthy with organic matter,” according to the Register.

He added, “Iowans need to push back on this and join together with leaders here in the Legislature to stop the status quo.”

There are 13,000 CAFOs in the state of Iowa and that number continues to grow. The current regulatory document for new hog facilities was developed in 2002 and only requires CAFOs to meet 50 percent of its requirements to be approved for construction.

Senator Johnson’s package of bills would also require CAFO applicants to notify nearby landowners and give county supervisors the power to determine CAFO locations. Johnson said, “It’s time to get tough on the poor siting of hog confinements, including those being built in environmentally sensitive areas, where the smell and sound of someone else’s money is in your bedroom every night.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Reynolds has said that she would consider the legislation if it reaches her desk.

States resist federal move to expand offshore drilling


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A 100 foot flame flares above the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. (Jim McKinley/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 18, 2018

More states are lining up to be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling in the United States.

The administration released a proposal earlier in January to make nearly all U.S. coasts available for drilling over the next five years. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department’s Ryan Zinke granted Florida’s coasts exempt from the deal after a short meeting with Gov. Rick Perry, citing concern for the state’s tourist economy. Shortly after, requests to be excluded from the proposal from other coastal states rolled in. Governors and state officials from Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware have asked for meetings with Zinke to discuss the plan’s threat to tourism industries.

Governor John Carney of Delaware posted a Tweet last week, “Tourism and recreation along the Delaware coastline account for billions in economic activity each year, and support tens of thousands of jobs.”

The only states in support of the plan are Alaska and Maine.

Aside from repelling tourists, offshore drilling has serious implications for ocean life and human health. One drilling platform typically releases 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the sea. Drilling fluids, or drilling muds, which lubricate wells and cool drill pipes, contain toxic chemicals that harm aquatic life. When oil is pumped, water from underground surfaces along with it. Called “produced water,” it contains anywhere from 30 to 40 parts per million of oil. For example, each year in Alaska’ Cook Inlet, 2 billion gallons of produced water contaminates the area with 70,000 gallons of oil.

This new plans marks another rollback of Obama’s environmental legacy, which prohibited offshore drilling in 94 percent of U.S.’s coastal waters.

Following massive spill, Keystone XL gets go-ahead in Nebraska


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TransCanada tweeted a picture of the affected area around the recent oil spill in South Dakota. (TransCanada)
Jenna Ladd | November 22, 2017

More than 200,000 gallons of oil spilled from the Keystone Pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota late last week, yet further expansion of the pipeline’s bigger brother, Keystone XL, was approved by the state of Nebraska on Monday.

TransCanada, the company that owns both pipelines, shut down the Keystone Pipeline last Thursday morning at 6 am after detecting a drop in pressure, indicating a leak. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled onto privately owned land roughly 200 miles north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The company is still investigating the cause of the pipeline’s rupture.

Just three days after the oil spill, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission decided the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through Nebraska. Caving to pressure from Nebraska’s conservative legislators as well as industry and labor groups, the five-person commission agreed to allow the pipeline to cross through Nebraska. However, the pipeline must follow an alternative route. While the pipeline will enter and exit the state in the originally proposed locations, the commission will require its route to follow an existing pipeline’s path. This change will make responding to leaks more efficient according to regulators.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 10-25 million gallons of oil spill each year. Not only do oil spills destroy habitat, kill plants and animals, and compromise agriculture, they also threaten public heath by contaminating drinking water and degrading air quality.

Thursday’s oil spill came exactly one year after Native American protesters were sprayed with water cannons in 23 degree weather as they attempted to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through North Dakota, citing oil spills as a primary concern.

 

After 3 years, the Flint water crises is still happening


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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 9, 2017

It has seemed like a while since the Flint water crises has hit news circuits. The small city in Michigan has reached an almost celebrity status as a beacon of misfortune, plagued by lead poisoning, poverty, and, famously, unemployment, as examined in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me.

There are layers to the water crises that are slowly being revealed as time goes on. The public knows this: The water issues started when Flint changed water sources to the Flint River in 2014. The switch was meant to be a temporary one, a sort of placeholder while Flint officials waited to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, a move estimated to save the region millions of dollars.

What followed in the next few years was improper water treatment, corroded pipes, and government inaction, all of it cumulating into what has eventually become a massive nationwide discussion on ethics, the environment, and how the two intertwine.

On October 16th, 2015, the water supply was switched back to the Detroit River, but the level of corrosion in the pipes was still a major concern for Flint citizens, resulting in several declarations of urgency: a state of emergency order from Obama in January of 2016, and an emergency order from the EPA.

Recently, criminal charges have been filed against three Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees, all of them found guilty of withholding a report on the unsafe levels of lead found in Flint children.

A paper detailing the possible effects of the water crises on fertility is currently being worked on by Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas. Both have released their comparisons of birth and miscarriage rates from before and after the water crises, and have found that birth rates in Flint have decreased by 12% while fetal death rates have increased by a staggering 58%.

Flint is a black-majority city with a poverty rate of around 40%, and while this doesn’t at first seem to have an effect on the crises at hand, studies have found that communities of color are hugely more disproportionately affected by lead poisoning and environmental health risks than white communities.

Clean Water-Livable Communities conference next month in Fairfield


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Jenna Ladd | October 24, 2017

A statewide conference titled “Clean Water-Livable Communities” is scheduled to take place in Fairfield, Iowa on Thursday, November 9th from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

The conference will center around strategies to make clean water a top economic priority in Iowa. Four panel sessions are scheduled including: Iowa Water Overview; Robust, well-managed soils create clean water; Funding our clean water solutions; and Economic opportunities that result from clean water.

John Ikerd will be featured as the day’s keynote speaker. After receiving his PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri, Ikerd worked in traditional agriculture for about a decade before he shifted his focus to sustainable agriculture during the farm crisis of the 1980’s. Since then, the Missouri-native has published six books about sustainable agriculture and economics, including Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense and Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People Through Agriculture. Ikerd now lives in Fairfield, Iowa and co-teaches a Sustainable Economics course at Maharishi University of Management.

The conference is organized by the American Sustainable Business Council, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Southeast Iowa Food Hub and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. Tickets will be available soon at http://www.fairfieldacc.com/site/buy-tickets.html.

What: Statewide Conference Clean Water-Livable Communities

Where: Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, 200 N. Main Street, Fairfield, Iowa

When: Thursday, November 9th from  9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Cost: $35 for non-students, $20 for students (includes lunch)

Midwest drinking water quality symposium draws large crowd


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The symposium’s attendees included students, state legislators, water utility workers, environmental and public health representatives and farmers. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 18, 2017

Approximately 150 people gathered at Drake University in Des Moines for the “Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest-A Symposium” on September 21 and 22. Sponsored by several University of Iowa centers including the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (EHSRC), Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), and the UI Public Policy Center, the event featured thirteen speakers.

Four plenary discussions about topics such as the health impacts of nitrate in drinking water, how to communicate with the public about water quality, unregulated contaminants in drinking water and more.

Complete PowerPoint presentations from the symposium’s presenters can be accessed here.

Drainage districts have power to improve water quality


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One-third Iowa cropland is a part of a tile drainage system, which are regulated by drainage districts. (USGS)
Jenna Ladd | October 12, 2017

A new report out of a non-partisan Iowa City-based research center, Iowa Policy Project, states that drainage districts have the power to improve water quality in the state.

About one-third of cropland in Iowa is tiled for drainage. Agricultural drains channel water, which often carries heavy nitrate loads, from fields into local water waterways. Iowa’s nitrate runoff is a primary contributor to the growing Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Researchers Sarah Garvin, Michael Burkart and David Osterberg recommended using Iowa’s “quasi-governmental” drainage districts an agent of change. The report explains that the districts have the statutory authority to mitigate nitrate runoff by “requiring water quality monitoring and reporting, wetland conservation and restoration, and mandating the installation of bioreactor at discharge points to reduce nitrate loads.”

The report also points out that under statutory mandate, drainage should be “a public benefit and conducive to the public health, convenience and welfare.” Nitrate levels in water at or below the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 10 mg/L is considered safe for consumption. However, some new research suggests that nitrate levels below this can pose some health threats. In either case, the report reads,”Public health and welfare should be interpreted to mean keeping our waterways free of nitrate pollution.”

David Osterberg, lead energy and environment researcher at Iowa Policy Project, said, “It’s going to require managers of drainage districts to step up at a time when their county supervisors cannot, even if they wanted to, and at a time the state legislature has stood in the way of local authority on industrial agriculture.” He added, “In this case, with drainage districts, the authority to take some steps already exists.”

The executive summary and the full report can be found here.