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.

DNR Director decides against overruling Supreme Beef feedlot


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 3, 2021

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon decided last Friday that she will not use the Director’s Discretion Rule to review an 11,600-head cattle feedlot.

More than 40 groups, individuals, and elected officials sent a letter to Lyon asking her to use the rule to veto the approval of the operation in late May. The Iowa DNR and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office notified the organizations, legislators, and individuals that the initial decision approving the Supreme Beef project will stand.

Environmental groups are concerned about the project due to its proximity to Monona and Bloody Run Creek—a protected waterway. The feedlot will be in the creek’s watershed, presenting the possibility of contaminating the water.

The Director’s Discretion Rule was objected to in the Iowa Legislature in 2006. Any challenge to the rule means the DNR must prove that the rule is not arbitrary, beyond its authority, capricious, or unreasonable. The rule can still be used regardless of the Legislature’s previous objection.

In Lyon’s letter, she said the DNR’s Legal Services Bureau advised her and said a subrule “lacks statutory authority”. Lyon cited chapters 459 and 459A of Iowa’s code as to why she could not conduct an alternative evaluation. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups disagree and are asking the DNR to formally outline how they came to their decision to the public.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, environmental groups can file a lawsuit against the Iowa DNR, but no suits have been filed.

Environmental advocacy groups ask DNR director to overrule feedlot project


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 27, 2021

Environmental groups and state lawmakers are asking Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon to block a project that plans to place 11,600 cattle near a protected trout stream in northeast Iowa.

The Supreme Beef cattle operation is planned to be near Monona and Bloody Run Creek. The creek is a protected trout stream and is considered an Outstanding Iowa Water. The feedlot will be in the creek’s watershed. Supreme Beef plans to apply manure in fields that are also in the watershed.

More than 40 groups, individuals, and elected officials sent a letter to Lyon asking her to use the “director discretion rule” to veto the approval of the operation. Lyon was appointed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to head the DNR. She formerly worked as a lobbyist for the Iowa Instituted for Cooperatives according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The letter argues the risk posed to the water quality of the Bloody Run Creek is “just too high”. Five state representatives and four state senators signed onto the letter alongside the Sierra Club and the Iowa Environmental Council. Agricultural groups like the Iowa Farmers Union also signed the letter.

The groups are asking for a “departmental evaluation” of the proposal to provide special protection of the environmentally sensitive area due to the potential for manure to run into the Bloody Run Creek’s waterway.

The approval of the feedlot was decided on April 2. According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, if Lyons does not overrule the plan, environmental groups could consider filing a lawsuit against Supreme Beef.

Rise in toxic algal blooms


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A sign warning swimmers not to take a dip in algae infested waters (Amanda S/flickr)

Eden DeWald | May 30th, 2018

With the first day of summer well on its way, so are toxic algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, are a type of photosynthetic bacteria that produce microcystin toxins. These pose both short term exposure and a long term exposure threats to humans. Skin contact with microcystin can cause digestion issues, a sore throat and even liver damage. Whereas long term contact can create side effects as serious as cancer and liver damage. Microcystins may cause damage via ingestion or skin contact. Cyanobacteria are not only a danger to humans, and can cause large populations of fish to die off and disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

Cyanobacteria blooms have become a growing threat for waterways in the United States. The amount of blooms has grown substantially even in the past few years according to the Environmental Working Group, which saw a rise from three self reported algal blooms in 2010, to 169 reported blooms in 2017. 

The Environmental Protection Agency sites commonly used fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus as causes for these algal blooms. When excess fertilizer runs off and finds its way into a waterway, it can create a dangerous potential home for cyanobacteria which utilizes these elements within its chemical processes.

Potential prevention methods for toxic algal blooms can include approaches such as planting vegetation buffer strips near waterways, and changing the way that fertilizers are applied to crops to prevent excess from being utilized.

 

On The Radio – Global sand shortage presents environmental problems


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What was once a sand mine sits abandoned in Rangkasbitun, Indonesia. (Purnadi Phan/flickr)

Jenna Ladd| August 21, 2017
This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how the international sand shortage is leading to the degradation of waterways.

Transcript: A global sand shortage is having detrimental impacts on waterways.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The demand for sand has skyrocketed in recent years due to rapid urbanization worldwide. Sand is used to make the concrete and asphalt for every new building, road, and residence. More than thirteen billion tons of sand were mined for construction last year, with 70 percent going to Asia.

At present, sand is being extracted too fast for natural systems to replenish. To keep pace with exploding demand, sand miners are dredging lakes and rivers, chipping away at coastlines and destroying entire small islands. Sand extraction in rivers often deepens the channel, making bank erosion more likely. Similarly, when miners remove sediments, they often also remove plant life, which can have adverse impacts on aquatic food chains.

More wealthy western countries are beginning to use sand alternatives. For example, asphalt and concrete can be recycled and crushed rock can be used instead of sand in some cases.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

EPA may take over Iowa waterway protection


Photo by cwwycoff1, Flickr.

In response to reports of inadequate enforcement of livestock operations’ regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency has threatened to take over protection of Iowa’s waterways from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Iowa DNR argues that the reports don’t suggest negligence, but instead are consistent with their approach of encouraging compliance instead of issuing penalties and punishments.

Read more here.

Environment Iowa’s “10 Scary Facts Plaguing Iowa’s Waterways”


Photo by BLW Photography, Flickr.

For Halloween, Environment Iowa released a list of ten discouraging facts about how Iowa’s waterways are being harmed.

The list includes the increasing number of fish kills in Iowa, the large amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen entering the waterways and the small percentage of animal feeding operations with the required environmental permits.

Read the whole list here.