UI study finds that Midwest is experiencing more serious floods


Coralville, Iowa during the Flood of 1993. (Alan Light/Flickr)
Coralville, Iowa during the Flood of 1993. (Alan Light/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 12, 2015

The Midwest has seen a greater number of serious floods in recent decades compared to previous years, according to a report by researchers at the University of Iowa.

“It’s not that big floods are getting bigger, but that we have been experiencing a larger number of big floods,” said Gabriele Villarini, UI assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and a co-author of the study.

The report – which was published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change – examined 774 stream gauges in 14 Midwestern states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). The researchers concluded that 34 percent of the sensors detected an increase in flooding events between 1962 and 2011. Nine percent of the gauges showed a decrease in flood events during that same time. The region including Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, and North Dakota experienced the greatest increase of flood frequency.

The authors wrote: “Most of the flood peaks in the northern part of the [Central United States] tend to occur in the spring and are associated with snow melt, rain falling on frozen ground, and rain-on-snow events.” However, the report “does not attempt to pinpoint precisely how climate change might be directly responsible for these increased flooding events.”

Serious floods have inundated the region in 1993, 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2014 and have caused more than $260 billion in damages between 1980 and 2013.

Funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources, the Iowa Flood Center, IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, and the National Science Foundation.

Iowa City film fest to feature documentary about frac sand mining


Nick Fetty | August 21, 2014
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Caroll Mitchell/Flickr)
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Carol Mitchell/Flickr)

The 8th annual Landlocked Film Festival will take place in downtown Iowa City this weekend and among the films being shown is a documentary that examines the affects that frac sand mining has had on the environment as well as the communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Price of Sand – directed by Minnesota native Jim Tittle – examines the recent boom in mining operations for pure silica. This silica is used in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) operations as well as for manufacturing materials such as glass and toothpaste. The silica acts as a proppant or “a material used in hydraulic rock fracturing in order to keep the fissures open and thereby aid extraction.” The size and shape of different proponents play “a critical role in keeping fractures open and at the desired conductivity.”

These frac sand mining operations are most common along the “driftless area” – also called the Paleozoic Plateau – which “is a unique region of the Upper Mississippi River Basin with a landscape that is rich with ecological and economic opportunities. The area was by-passed by the last continental glacier and has differential weathering and erosion that results in a steep, rugged landscape referred to as karst topography.” The driftless area includes portions of southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northwest Illiniois, and northeast Iowa. Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa currently have a “moratorium on mining.”

Proponents of the practice say that frac sand mining provides a valuable resource while creating jobs. Opponents say that it brings increased traffic as well as wear and tear on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to rural areas. Opponents are also concerned about the potential health effects associated with frac sand mining.

The viewing will take place at 4 p.m. on Friday August 22 in Room A at the Iowa City Public Library. It will be followed by discussion from a panel of experts from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.

“The size and the shape of silica make it a particularly dangerous substance. It is regulated as a human carcinogen. It causes siliceous, it causes tuberculous, it causes problems with kidney disease. According to studies on siliceous we can get a certain amount, maybe up to three micrograms per cubic meter, and we have no ill health effects but above that level, so if we have agricultural dust as well as dust coming from a sand plant, we may be above that threshold and then we may begin to see the scarring and the progression of disease associated with silica exposure.”

-University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Nursing Professor Crispin Pierce during an interview with Iowa Public Radio on August 21, 2014.

University of Michigan wins 2014 American Solar Challenge, Iowa State University finishes 3rd


Nick Fetty | July 29, 2014
The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge which ended Tuesday. Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr
The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge.
Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr

For the fifth-straight year, the University of Michigan took first place at the American Solar Challenge which concluded Monday.

Michigan’s race team – which included roughly 20 students – overcame its fair share of setbacks including various mechanical problems earlier in the summer as well as acceleration issues at the start of the race. The Wolverines persevered though and finished just 10 minutes ahead of Big Ten rival Minnesota to take the gold. Team PrISUm from Iowa State University finished third. The Cyclone team was briefly slowed down after being pulled over by law enforcement while driving through Wisconsin.

The eight-day race – which went from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis this year – gives engineering students from across the country the opportunity to design, build, and race a solar-powered car. The first American Solar Challenge was in 1990 and has occurred every other year since with some irregularity. This year’s event featured teams from 22 different universities including representation from countries as far away as Germany, Iran, and Taiwan.

Iowa’s Allamakee County looks to implement nation’s strictest frac sand mining ordinance


Nick Fetty | June 5, 2014
Photo via Erick Gustafson; Flickr
Photo via Erick Gustafson; Flickr

On Tuesday, the Allamakee County (Iowa) Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 to approve what looks to be “the most strict frac sand mining ordinance in the nation,” according to Robert Nehman, President of the Allamakee County Protectors.

The Board not only intends to protect environmental and agricultural interests with this ordinance but also aims to reduce the impact on county infrastructure – such as roads and bridges – that often see increases in heavy traffic due to frac sand mining operations. The ordinance is in response to the plethora of frac sand mining operations that have popped up all over Wisconsin since 2009.

In January, the Iowa Policy Project compiled a report about frac sand mining in northeast Iowa and the Cedar Rapids Gazette editorial board published an article about the implications of frac sand mining in northeast Iowa in February.

For more information, check out the draft of the ordinance.

EDIT: Post originally stated it was the nation’s strictest “fracking” ordinance.  The ordinance instead applies to “sand frac mining.”

On the Radio: Iowa Policy Project Report


Photo by Carol Mitchell; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers a report released by the Iowa Policy Project concerning silica sand mining in Iowa. Listen to the audio below or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Iowa Now in the Fracking Debate


Fracking is a largely debated issue, and protesting is common – Photo by billb1961; Flickr

Pattison Sand Co. of Iowa was sued by residents of Bridgeport, Wisconsin in an attempt to block a mine run by the company.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the underground pumping of water, chemicals and a special, hard, round sand. That helps open rock layers so rigs can pump out the natural gas and oil. Continue reading

New Kwik Trips wired for electric car charging


Photo by Kara Allyson, Flickr

The new Kwik Trip gas stations being added in Northeast Iowa will have a new service to provide for their customers – electric outlets for charging cars.

The gas station chain plans on adding outlets at 25 stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin so far in an attempt to catapault the chain into the future.

Midwest Energy News reports:

A convenience store chain is installing free electric vehicle charging stations at stores in three Midwest states. But will the stations – essentially standard household outlets with a sign attached – really make a difference?

The family-owned Kwik Trip chain is installing the stations at all its new stores, a total of 25 so far in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. But the outlets only provide 110 volts, which, charging for the few minutes it takes to grab coffee and use the bathroom, would barely get someone out of the parking lot and down the block. Charging for an hour at that voltage might allow a typical electric vehicle to run three to five miles.

Kwik Trip officials and electric vehicle proponents acknowledge the limitations, but say the charging stations are a significant symbolic move and also lay the groundwork for more powerful charging stations in the future. With the infrastructure laid for 110-volt stations, Kwik Trip spokesman Dave Ring said, the company can more easily upgrade the stations to higher voltage if demand increases. Continue reading