Northeastern Iowa flash flood waters higher than 2008 levels


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Flood waters rose above many bridges along the Upper Iowa River this week. (Michael Massa/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 26, 2016

Iowans have seen their fair share of extreme rain events this summer. This week, three northeastern counties were drenched again.

Between six and eight inches of rain fell on Winneshiek, Chickasaw, Allamakee counties over Tuesday night as a series of thunderstorms moved through the area. Upper Iowa River gauges indicated that the river rose more than ten feet overnight near Decorah, Iowa. The area was pelted with almost an inch of rain per hour from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. Residents in Freeport, a small community just east of Decorah, were hit especially hard. Those living along the Upper Iowa River received little notice. Emergency officials notified the neighborhood at about 5 a.m., after much of the flooding had already occurred.

“I woke up this morning when my neighbor called me and said ‘You out of bed yet?’ and I said no and he said, ‘Well you better get up,’ because the water was up to his deck,” said Ron Teslow of Freeport. Teslow had more than three feet of water standing in his basement, and he was more fortunate than others. Jon Aske, also of Freeport, said his basement collapsed in on itself as a result of the flooding, “About 4:15, 4:30 (Wednesday morning) we just heard a crash and the basement foundation crashed in,” he recalled. An emergency shelter was established at a local church for those that were flooded out of their homes.

In Fort Atkinson, a town twenty minutes south of Freeport,  Rogers Creek, a tributary of Turkey River, was reported to have risen nine feet in three hours. City officials said that they expected the Turkey River to crest more than a foot above the 2008 flood levels later Wednesday afternoon. Mayor Paul Herold wondered, “If they’re going to call that a 500 year flood, what are they going to call this?”

Decorah City Manager Chad Bird said the situation was the same in his town.”In some areas of town, the water was higher today than it was in ‘08,” he said referring to the 2008 floods. He pointed out, however, that this flood was due to flash flood conditions whereas the 2008 incident was a prolonged flooding event.

One causality has been reported after a car was swept off the roadway by water from the Turkey River in Chickasaw County early Wednesday morning. Flood warnings stayed in effect until Thursday for most of Northeast Iowa. Richland and Crawford counties of Wisconsin were also effected.

North Liberty Community Pantry Garden fosters health, community


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Garden and Volunteer Coordinator Ilsa Dewald working with youth volunteers in the North Liberty Community Pantry Growing Together Garden. (Steven Williams/Special Projects and Marketing Coordinator)
Jenna Ladd | August 16, 2016

The North Liberty Community Pantry has come a long way since its first days serving families from a First Methodist Church closet.

While the pantry is still an outreach ministry of the North Liberty church, its facilities are hardly comparable to the organization’s modest beginnings in 1985. The pantry is now housed in a modern building that features a client-choice shopping model. The building also features refrigerated and frozen food capacities, which is all part of the pantry’s mission to offer clients equal access to wholesome foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy. Executive Director Kaila Rome explains, “Everyone deserves to have the option of healthy nutrition choices, along with the access to knowledge and resources to implement healthy eating.”

Two years ago the pantry expanded that effort through the establishment of the North Liberty Community Pantry Growing Together Garden. The pantry received a Gardening for Health grant through the Wellmark Foundation’s initiative to provide healthier options to people experiencing food insecurity. The grant was matched by North Liberty community donations and provided funds for a paid garden coordinator, necessary equipment, and installation. The 9,600 sq. ft. garden is situated just west of the pantry and provided just over 800 pounds of organically grown produce for pantry goers last year.

When produce from the garden hits the pantry shelves, it is often accompanied by cooking instructions and other foods that pair well with it. “We’re still small enough where we get personal interaction with almost every family, or at least we try to, where we can ask them, ‘Hey, have you tried this recipe?’ What worked and what didn’t, people will bounce ideas off of each other so it’s been really great to see that just from having fresh produce. It’s just one of those things that you don’t think can bring people together, but I think it has,” said Rome.

Garden and Volunteer Coordinator Ilsa Dewald also provides more pointed skill-building through the organization of salsa and canning classes for families. Both community members and pantry families attend classes, encouraging cohesion among North Liberty residents. Rome added, “There’s just a big co-mingling of individuals from people who have used our services, maybe need to use our services in the future to people who just stop by the pantry to pick up their CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] share.”

In combination with donations from local farmers, the pantry is able to provide about three pounds of produce to clients per pantry visit. Rome said, “Just because someone is in need doesn’t mean that their needs change, they still need vegetables, they still need produce, they still need meat and dairy items…We’re not just handing out cans of beans and canned soup, but it’s more than that. It’s about giving back, even if you’re receiving services here, people will volunteer in the garden and it really helps them feel like they are able to contribute.”

The Growing Together Garden does more than provide families with the health benefits associated with eating more vegetables and fruits. It also provides a model of a local food system that is not only reserved for those with an abundance of resources such as arable land, start up money, and leisure time, all while curbing greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional food systems. The garden’s food equity work is echoed by fellow non-profit group Grow: Johnson County, which was recently leased two acres of county land by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to combat food insecurity and promote health through a garden education program. The organization grows vegetables exclusively for hunger-relief programs like Table to Table and The Crisis Center and provides garden education to disadvantaged populations. Grow: Johnson County’s Education Director Scott Koepke commented on the North Liberty Garden Project during its infancy, “This is not your typical garden. This is designed to be sustainable for years to come, and large enough to provide food for hundreds of people.”

With home and community gardens on the rise, up 200% since 2008, it seems projects like these will only continue to pick up steam; which, according to Koepke is a good thing, “Food insecurity isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Muscatine business receives governor’s Overall Environmental Excellence Award


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Improper disposal of hazardous waste from household appliances can lead to ozone degradation and water contamination. (Steve Snodgrass, flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 10, 2016

Weikert Iron and Metal Recycling of Muscatine was one of seven recipients of the governor’s Overall Environmental Excellence Award last week.

Founded in 1982, Weikert Iron and Metal Recycling has specialized in demanufacturing and recycling appliances and properly disposing of hazardous materials since regulations for appliance handling were passed in 2002. In 2015 alone, the company demanufactured over 5,000 refrigerators as well as thousands of air conditioning units, microwave ovens, dehumidifiers, and other appliances. With each disassembly, the business properly disposes of all hazardous materials including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury switches, refrigerants, and sodium-chromates.

A family run business, owner Mike Weikert admits that compliance with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) regulations can be difficult but worth the trouble, as improper disposal can cause water contamination and ozone degradation. Kurt Levetzow, of Iowa DNR, agrees, “The reason these were written was due to the hazardous components found in many of the appliances, some are carcinogens.”

Iowa DNR nominated Weikert Iron and Metal Recycling for the award. Levetzow commends their efforts,”Removal, storage, handling, record-keeping, there’s a lot of things these guys have to do to comply. And they’re probably one of the best in the region at maintaining compliance.”

Six other businesses, organizations, and communities also received the award including: Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority; Des Moines
Central Community Schools Global Science Class and the Central Green Team; City of Monona; Pure Fishing, Spirit Lake; Price Creek Watershed Project; Iowa County Soil and Water Conservation District, Williamsburg; Walnut Creek Watershed Coalition, Windsor Heights.

 

On The Radio – New Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator provides multifaceted momentum


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Eric Holthaus (second from right) leading a waste audit with students in 2013 at the University of Iowa, where he served as Recycling Coordinator from 2012 to 2015. (Lev Cantoral/University of Iowa)
Jenna Ladd | August 8, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment takes a closer look at Cedar Rapid’s first-ever sustainability coordinator and University of Iowa graduate, Eric Holthaus. 

Transcript: New Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator provides multifaceted momentum

Cedar Rapids has hired its first-ever sustainability coordinator.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Eric Holthaus, a University of Iowa graduate, was hired on to provide focus and strategy to existing city-wide sustainability initiatives and to spearhead new efforts. Since beginning his work with the city in November, he helped implement a 90 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of the Northwest Cedar Rapids Transit Garage and establish a policy that prohibits city vehicles from idling for longer than one minute.

Upon his hire, Holthaus created a 21-point sustainability assessment of the city. In addition to other findings, he notes that Cedar Rapids has clean drinking water, but difficulty with “food deserts,” or areas of town where populations have restricted access to food.

At the end of June, Holthaus and his team released a document titled, “State of Affairs: Cedar Rapids’ Pursuit of Sustainability.” The document lays a foundational definition for sustainability and why it matters to people in Cedar Rapids.

To Holthaus, sustainability reaches beyond environmental issues,

HOLTHAUS: “And so sustainability to me is be able to have a high quality of life, and it also means to me to connect the social and economic aspects. A lot of people don’t meet their daily needs, you know, if there’s an opportunity for us to eat better, to have cleaner water, to have more access to those resources, how can prioritize people that have the least and build stronger communities when we do that intentionally?”

Cedar Rapids is only the third city in the Hawkeye state to create a sustainability coordinator position, following Iowa City and Dubuque.

To learn more about Eric’s position, or to read more about Cedar Rapids’ sustainability goals, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.

For the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

 

 

On The Radio – Workshop brings together scientists and educators


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Teachers participating in a curriculum development workshop at the Critical Zone Observatory environmental science workshop last month. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | August 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers the Critical Zone Observatory environmental science educator workshop that took place last month.

Transcript: Workshop brings together scientists and educators

Two University of Iowa professors from different disciplines came together last month to host an event aimed at helping teachers better connect with their students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Nearly two dozen Eastern Iowa teachers got together last month for a workshop that taught them about hands-on activities and lesson plans to better engage their students and potentially attract them to STEM careers. The event was organized by UI earth and environmental sciences professor Art Bettis along with College of Education clinical assistant professor Leslie Flynn. The event was also sponsored by the UI State Hygienic Laboratory and the Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory, a National Science Foundation-supported research collaborative that studies the impact agriculture has on land, air, and water in the Midwest.

The workshop consisted of two parts: a morning session that had the teachers at a research site in eastern Iowa County learning about hand-on activities and potential field trip opportunities for their students. The teachers took water samples and tested them for various metrics such as nitrate levels. In the afternoon, the teachers took part in a curriculum development exercise at the State Hygienic Lab.

Dr. Bettis – who is also a member of the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research – said he was happy the event was able to bring together scientific researchers and public educators.

Art Bettis: “With the CZO, we want to, just like all scientists we want to be able to get our science out to the public and there’s multiple ways of doing that but I’m a pretty firm believer that one of the really, really critical and best ways to do it is through education.”

For more information about the Critical Zone Observatory Environmental Science Workshop, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

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

Bakken oil pipeline gets the final go-ahead in Iowa


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Bakken pipeline construction site (wittepx/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 27, 2016

The Bakken oil pipeline received a final go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday for construction in Iowa. Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas company, Energy Transfer Partners, had already received full permission from all other states along the pipeline’s path including Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The company received notice yesterday from Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Illinois that all construction in Iowa complies with federal environmental laws and is authorized.

The Army Corps of Engineers verification letter permits the construction of parts of the pipeline that cross bodies of water, including major rivers. While the Iowa Utilities Board previously granted development in parts of the state, this is the final regulatory hurdle for the Bakken pipeline. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community organization that opposes the pipeline, is concerned about its crossing of 64 Iowa waterways.

Dick Lamb, a landowner in Boone county along the pipeline’s route, echoes their concern, “It isn’t a question of if, but when it will leak, and when it does it will irreparably destroy valuable Iowa farmland and the waterways we depend on.” An going lawsuit filed by 10 affected landowners challenges Dakota Access’ use of eminent domain to gain access to private Iowa land.

Many labor unions in Iowa look forward to the development of the Bakken pipeline. President of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, Bill Gehard, said, “Thousands of American workers from labor unions throughout the Midwest are already benefiting from this project, and these final permits will secure their jobs for the entirety of construction.”

The water crossing permits mandate follow-up inspections for compliance to regulation and monitored wetland mitigation. The finished pipeline will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, crossing 18 Iowa counties along the way. It will move 570,000 barrels of oil daily into Midwest, East coast, and Gulf Coast markets.

On The Radio – Iowa congressman calls for National Flood Center


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Iowa Representative Dave Loebsack proposes the establishment of National Flood Center at a press conference in June of 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 25, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers congressman Dave Loebsack’s proposal of a National Flood Center last month.

Transcript: Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack proposed the establishment of a National Flood Center during a stop in Iowa City last month.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Representative Loebsack made the announcement at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Hydraulics Laboratory on the eve of the 8th anniversary of the 2008 floods, which devastated much of the congressman’s district in southeast Iowa. Loebsack plans to introduce to congress the National Flood Research and Education Act which would establish a consortium within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study and mitigate future flooding across the country. While Loebsack’s proposal does not directly call for a center to be established at the University of Iowa, he said he thinks the UI and the Iowa Flood Center already have many of the resources already in place to establish a flood center with a national focus.

Loebsack’s proposal calls for 10 million dollars to fund the center, which he said would be an investment that will save money in the future.

Loebsack:

“Really, I think we’ve got to look at floods in a comprehensive way. I think we have to test new methods and build on promising methods and techniques that these folks can talk to us about so we can better predict and prevent flooding in the future in the first place, and having this national flood center, should we get this legislation through and get it established, I think will allow us really to save lives and protect our families and our businesses and our homes and our communities. And it would save us billions of dollars eventually.”

For more information about Representative Loebsack’s proposal, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

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