Iowa Group Turns the Water Pollution Issue into a Clickable Map


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | September 2, 2021

The Environmental Working Group has developed a clickable map that describes some of Iowa’s most pressing pollution problems in fine detail. 

This map, called “water atlas” shows that Iowa is being polluted by manure and commercial fertilizers. This is something that affects every Iowan. These pollute Iowa’s waters, which makes tap water more expensive for residents. 

The Environmental Working Group map details fertilization statewide and the nitrate and phosphorus pollution associated with the practices in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As many already know, these states are agriculture hot spots. 

Soren Rundquist, the organization’s director of spatial analysis, said the idea for this interactive map was to make data points easily accessible for Iowans, so they could understand what is going on. 

Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan has declared the Des Moines River “essentially unusable” for tap water at times due to algae toxins from farm runoff. 

Water Works drew national attention when it sued upstream drainage districts to force them to address pollution, but a federal judge threw the case out. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of Iowans supported the lawsuit. 

Iowans clearly want safe drinking, and the Iowa Environmental Working Group has made it easier to understand what is going on.

UI Professor Explains Forever Chemicals


Josie Taylor | June 28, 2021

University of Iowa professor, Dave Cwiertny gave a presentation via Zoom to a CGRER member. He explained PFAS chemicals in drinking water, which are also referred to as forever chemicals. He gave an explanation for what they are, why people should be concerned, and what can be done now.

Professor Cwiertny near the beginning of the presentation tells us why PFAS exists in the first place. PFAS is a man-made chemical that does have some desirable traits. They have oil and water repellence, temperature resistance and friction reduction. They are used in non-stick cookware and fire fighting foams. Areas near fire fighting locations, like airports, landfills or near food processing locations are at a higher risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. Here you can view the PFAS cycle.

PFAS chemicals are something to be concerned about because they can cause problems, specifically for pregnant women. Exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, preterm birth and other problems.

If you have an unregulated private well, you should check if you are near a location that has history of PFAS contamination. Free testing could be available through Iowa Grants to Counties. If you have public water, contact your provider and ask about their plans testing for PFAS chemicals through the Department of Natural Resources.

If you have extra concerns or questions you can contact Professor Cwiertny through his email (david-cwiertny@uiowa.edu) or by phone (319-335-1401).

UI Professor Talks About Drought on Iowa Press


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 21, 2021

On Friday, University of Iowa professor Larry Webber, along with Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan were interviewed on Iowa Press. They both answered questions about water quality in Iowa, and more specifically how the drought is affecting water.

Corrigan and Webber were both calm during the interview, and did not act scared about Iowa’s future. They were disappointed at times, but held out hope. 

The interview was started by asking Corrigan and Webber about the recent news that the Supreme Court would not move forward with a lawsuit that was brought forward by a couple of groups dealing with agriculture pollution on the Raccoon River. They both expressed disappointment. Professor Webber said “we’ve had a lot of talk and the talk has been going on now for a decade”, and now we need progress. 

Both interviewees were asked if they believed there would be a Flint, MI type of situation in the near future. Both men shut that thought down quickly. They said that Iowa is not experiencing anything like Flint, meaning Iowa does not have drinking water contaminated with lead, and they reassured that Iowans are taking this seriously. 

Corrigan shared that Des Moines was asked to cut down on their water use, and that the citizens of Des Moines did that. He said that they have seen a 5 million gallon reduction in water from day to day. He holds out hope that Des Moines will not get to the place of needing to ration water completely. 

Webber ended the interview by sharing that he believes federal leadership is needed in times like this. He wants more leadership in USDA in order to help farmers handle a drought effectively. 

Majority of Iowa currently experiencing some degree of drought


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 11, 2021

Nearly 90 percent of Iowa’s land is experiencing a drought of differing degrees due to low levels of precipitation in May.

32 percent of the state rated abnormally dry, 47 percent is in a moderate drought, and 10 percent received a severe drought rating according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map. Precipitation in May was more than an inch below average this year. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported on Thursday that the statewide average was 3.71 inches, ranging from 1.95 to 8.53 inches across Iowa. The start of June also saw a below average rainfall, dragging drought indicators lower.

The warm and dry conditions in the last month mixed with a below-average rainfall has expanded the land impacted by drought conditions. Northern Iowa saw drought conditions increase to cover two-thirds of the top half of the state according to the report. Southern Iowa saw similar levels of drought expansion as well.

Current weather conditions led to “below normal” stream-flow conditions across half of Iowa. Several river basins in the state are seeing lower flows, but portions of the Raccoon and Des Moines river basins have “much below normal flows”. The decrease could lead to about 69 percent less runoff than normal at the Missouri River basin above Sioux City, the report said.

As of June 10, only southeastern Iowa is free of drought and abnormal dryness conditions.

Congress warning of urgent drought crisis in the West while Iowa’s eases


Via Flickr,

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 28, 2021

Nearly 90 percent of the American West is currently experiencing drought conditions while recent rains are helping Iowa have a less severe outlook than predicted earlier this year.

More than 35 percent of Iowa is currently in some level of drought or abnormal dryness, down 12 percent from three months ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Some northwest Iowa counties are enduring drought conditions while southern Iowa is currently in the clear. The wet weather is easing the current dry spell, but that is not the case for the majority of the Western United States currently, especially in the Southwest.

Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah are seeing particularly dry conditions this year. The people who rely on the Colorado River for access to water and power could see serious issues in coming years if nothing is done to ease droughts in the area. The river’s reservoirs are dangerously low.

The U.S. Drought Monitor estimates there are 57 million people who are currently living in drought areas across the western part of the country. 2021 might join 2003 and 2013 as one of the potentially worst stretches of droughts in the United States. A dangerous fire season is predicted this year as dry conditions worsen.

One of the reasons for the lack of rain is this past winter’s wet season being relatively dry. The Pacific Northwest, however, is seeing more similarities with Iowa since it had normal snowfall this past winter.

Environmental Panel Approves New Water Quality Rules


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 24, 2021

An Iowa environmental panel approved new controversial water quality rules last week. Critics are worried it will threaten Iowa’s waterways.

The Environmental Protection Commission, which is a group appointed by the Governor, approved rules on water quality certifications related to permits. They approved heavy equipment that is currently banned to be used in waterways. It also removes wetland loss restrictions. 

Some groups however, like The Iowa Environmental Council believe the new rules will take away important protections for Iowa’s waterways. This council is made up of 80 environmental groups and 500 individual members. This group is also concerned that water quality standards will be easier to violate. 

The Iowa Environmental Council stressed concerns over the Department of Natural Resources because they claim these new rules will limit what DNR can consider when looking at permits. DNR, however, gave a statement to the Des Moines Register making it clear that they still intend to guarantee safe water for Iowans. 

In their statement, the Department of Natural Resources gave support for the new rules passed by the panel. They say these rules will take action to prevent pollution, along with other positive actions.

DNR 2019 precipitation summary recalls Iowa’s rainy year


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From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Julia Poska | January 10, 2020

2019 was Iowa’s 12th wettest year on record, with an average of 41.49 inches of rainfall across the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Rainfall in May, September and October was especially high, while the summer months experienced below average rainfall.

The two-year 2018/2019 period was the wettest on record, with 19 more inches of precipitation than average. Stream flows were above normal all 2019 following heavy snow in the winter months. The rainy spring and fall seasons are indicative of projected climate change models for the region.

2019 temperatures in Iowa were cooler than average, however, by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit. During the January “Polar Vortex,”one station in Emmet County recorded a -59 degree windchill. Summer was slightly cooler than average, though July and September were warm, andChristmas week broke record temperature highs.

 

Calculate your food’s impact this Thanksgiving


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Thanksgiving dinner (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska| November 27, 2019

As Thanksgiving is a holiday both reflectance AND eating a ton, Americans who are grateful for both the food on their plate and the planet that provided it might be interested in the BBC’s “Climate Change Food Calculator,” published in August.

The food calculator provides estimates of annual greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use for one person’s consumption different food items based on how frequently the user says they eat those foods. Results are based on global averages.

The food calculator does not have information on turkey specifically, but below are results for daily consumption of other foods often shared on Thanksgiving:

  • Potatoes: 16kg greenhouse gases
  • Wine: 114kg greenhouse gases, 5,026 liters of water
  • Bread: 21kg greenhouse gases, 8,995 liters of water
  • Chicken: 497kg greenhouse gases, 33,294 litres of water, 616m² land
  • Beans: 36kg greenhouse gases, 8,888 liters of water
  • Pork: 656kg greenhouse gases, 95,756 liters of water, 926m² land

So enjoy your feast tomorrow, if you are having one, but remember to thank the Earth for the resources it took to get your meal on your plate, too.

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.

On the Radio- Flooding in Polk County


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A view of downtown Des Moines (Jason M/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 30, 2018

This week’s segment discusses the recent flooding in Polk County.

Transcript:

Flooding in Polk County has impacted over five thousand homes this summer.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

A June 30 torrential rain storm brought unprecedented volumes of rain as high as nine inches primarily to Des Moines and surrounding areas, leaving residents displaced and sixteen million dollars in damage to public infrastructure, homes, and businesses.

Des Moines has set aside over eleven million dollars to buy out eighty of the most devastated homes, and is offering interest free loans to its residents for repairs.

And it’s not just the monetary damage. The floods resulted in at least one death when flash-flood waters swept away a sixty-five-year-old man trying to get to safety.

As reported by The Des Moines Register, some of the flood damage to homes and businesses was due in part to insufficient storm sewer systems.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dog-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.