Study finds Iowa groundwater is extracted at unsustainable rate


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The Jordan Aquifer lies beneath most of Iowa; locations with water use permits for tapping into the aquifer are shown above. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | February 7, 2017

A recent study found the groundwater in Iowa’s Jordan Aquifer to be much older than previously known, and scientists say that could have implications for water use in the state.

Researchers from the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa in collaboration with Grinnell College, the UI Geology Department and Iowa Department of Natural Resources used isotopic age dating to estimate the age of groundwater in the Jordan Aquifer. The study measured major and minor ions, stable isotopes (d18O and dD) and
the radioactive isotope Chlorine 36 in eight wells scattered across the aquifer. The peer-reviewed journal article explains that the groundwater in northern and central Iowa is somewhere between 70,000 to nearly 180,000 years old.

The study points out that ethanol production in the state relies heavily on groundwater from the Jordan aquifer, which also provides roughly 300,000 residents with drinking water. From 2003 to 2013, annual use of groundwater from the aquifer for ethanol production increased by 7.4 billion liters per year.

Keith Schilling is a research scientist at the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa and the study’s leading author. He said,

“The implications for biofuel refineries and any water use of the aquifer is the realization that the groundwater is very old. It is not going to be recharged in any human timeframes so we should make sure that water from the aquifer is being managed appropriately.”

Beyond the lagging groundwater regeneration rate, the study also notes that increased groundwater pumping can result in detrimental water quality changes such as radium contamination. The authors conclude with a call for new ethanol refineries to steer clear of the Jordan Aquifer and utilize more sustainable groundwater sources instead.

Indian factory captures and utilizes carbon dioxide


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An Indian chemical plant has figured out how to turn its carbon emissions into baking soda. (Ramkumar/Flickr)
Jake Slobe | January 30, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses a chemical plant in India that has discovered how to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions.

Transcript: An industrial plant in India has become the first in the world to capture and utilize carbon dioxide emissions to turn a profit.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The factory, located at an industrial port in southern India, captures carbon dioxide emissions from its own coal-powered boiler which are then used to make baking soda, and other chemical compounds found in detergents, sweeteners and glass. Two young Indian chemists developed a new way to strip carbon dioxide from emissions using a form of salt that binds with carbon dioxide molecules in the boiler’s chimney. According to the inventors, the new approach is less corrosive and much cheaper than conventional carbon capturing methods.

Carbon Capture and Utilization at the 3.1 million dollar plant is projected to keep 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. Carbonclean, the London-based group that invested in the project, predicts that capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide could offset five to ten percent of the world’s total emissions from burning coal.

For more information about this breakthrough system, visit iowaEnvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Nearly 140,000 gallons of oil spill from Iowa pipeline


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Heavy snowfall in northern Iowa early this week complicated diesel oil clean-up efforts in Worth County, Iowa. (echoroo/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 27, 2017

Nearly 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel erupted from a broken pipeline onto an Iowa farm earlier this week.

The pipeline, located in north-central Worth County, was first discovered to have ruptured on Wednesday morning. Since then, clean up crews have managed to remove roughly 18 percent of the petroleum product despite high winds and heavy snowfall, according to a Thursday morning interview with Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Jeff Vansteenburg. Vansteenburg said that the diesel fuel and contaminated snow are being taken to a facility in Minneapolis, Minnesota while the remaining contaminated soil will be moved to a landfill near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Vansteenburg reported that the diesel fuel did not reach the nearby Willow Creek and wildlife reserve. The cause of the leak is still under investigation.

Magellan Midstream Partners, an Oklahoma-based company, owns the pipeline, which stretches through Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Last October, another pipeline operated by Magellen Midstream Partners ruptured and released anhydrous ammonia, resulting in the evacuation of 23 homes and the death of one person near Decatur, Nebraska. The company was also fined over $45,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 after roughly 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked into a Milford, Iowa creek.

The Worth County spill is the largest diesel fuel spill since 2010 according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Since 2010, 807 spills have been reported to the administration causing an estimated $342 million in property damages and spewing 3 million gallons of refined oil products into the environment.

President Trump signed executive actions on Tuesday reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Ed Fallon is the director of Bold Iowa, an organization fighting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects. Fallon said, “We’ve been saying all along it’s not a question of if a pipeline will leak, it’s a question of when and where and how bad it will be.”

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is charged with regulating pipelines in the U.S. Inside Energy reported last year that the agency is underfunded and understaffed. It read,

“According to PHMSA, the agency has 533 inspectors on its payroll. That works out to around one inspector for every 5,000 miles of pipe. A government audit in October [2016] found that that PHMSA is behind on implementing new rules. It has 41 mandates and recommendations related to pipeline safety that await rulemaking.”

A 2016 report by Inside Energy provides a map of all the oil pipeline spills reported since 2010.

New administration stifles publication of climate change science


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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Haydn Blackey/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2017

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has worked to eliminate climate science from the public arena.

Hours after swearing in, the new administration removed climate-related information from the White House website. The only reference to climate change now visible on the site is a promise to throw out “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

The Trump administration also ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change webpage on Tuesday, according to reports from two anonymous EPA employees. The sources say the page could go down as early as Wednesday. The agency has also been banned from making press releases, writing blog posts and communicating via social media while the Trump administration make its transition into power.

In a recent interview with NPR, Doug Ericksen, the head of communication for the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, said that throughout the transition period, scientists will be subject to an internal vetting process before they can make their conclusions public.

Ericksen said, “We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration.”

He did not say whether the review process would become a permanent hurdle for EPA scientists. Ericksen said, “We’re on day two here…You’ve got to give us a few days to get our feet underneath us.”

Any internal vetting at the EPA directly contradicts its scientific integrity policy. The policy, established in 2012, “Prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”

It is not unusual for new administrations to curb public outreach while its agencies adjust to the transition of power but government vetting of scientific work is uncommon.

Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the Global Climate Program at the nonpartisan World Resources Institute, said, “It’s certainly the case that every administration tries to control information, but I think that what we’re seeing here is much more sweeping than has ever been done before.” Light added, “And in particular, it’s noteworthy that it seems to be aimed at a cluster of science-driven agencies that primarily work on the environment and climate change.”

Iowa Energy Plan unveiled


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Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds unveiling the statewide Iowa Energy Plan               (iaenvironment.org)
Jake Slobe | January 23, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the recently released Iowa Energy Plan.

Transcript: A new state plan for Iowa’s energy policies will serve as a framework for current and future state leaders.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After a year of planning and collaboration with stakeholders from around the state, the Iowa Energy Plan has been unveiled and is available for review.

Chaired by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Energy Plan was initiated to set state priorities and provide strategic guidance for Iowa’s energy future. The plan assesses current and future energy supply and demand, examines energy policies and programs and identifies emerging challenges and opportunities.

The new energy strategy envisions electric car-charging stations across the state, anaerobic digesters that turn animal waste to energy, and top state and federal researchers finding ways to store wind and solar energy.

The plan details dozens of objectives and strategies, but is overall guided by four categories — economic development, energy efficiency and conservation, energy resources and transportation and infrastructure.

For more information about the Iowa Energy Plan, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

2016 marks third consecutive hottest year on record


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Ethiopia, among many other African countries, experienced extreme drought and famine in 2016. (European Comission DG Echo/flickr)

 Jenna Ladd | January 19, 2017

Yet another record was set on Wednesday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released its annual Climate Report.

The report announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. Deke Arndt is the chief of the monitoring group at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C.

Arndt said, “[Last year] was the warmest year on record, beating 2015 by a few hundredths of a degree, and together those two years really blow away the rest of our record.” He continued, “And that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number.”

Rising temperatures were not limited to certain regions. Experts said that some part of every major ocean and every major continent experienced record heat. The Arctic, however, saw some of the most extreme warming. During Fall of 2016, temperatures were a full 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average across large parts of the Arctic ocean.

Scientists say the long-term warming caused by climate change was intensified by the El Niño weather phenomenon during 2015 and 2016. Their combined effect caused drought and famine in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, among other countries. Now that El Niño is coming to an end, Arndt said that the annual temperature-recording breaking probably will too, but an overall warming trend will continue.

Arndt said, “The long-term warming is driven almost entirely by greenhouse gases. We’ve seen a warming trend related to greenhouse gases for four, five, six decades now.”

The Climate Report, along with a separate analysis by NASA which duplicated its results, were released on the same day that confirmation hearings began for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who staunchly supports the fossil fuel industry, is identified as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” in his official biography.

The complete report and a summary of its findings can be found here.

Anti-smog police: one part of Beijing’s fight for air quality


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A new environmental police force will patrol Beijing’s streets searching for air quality violations like garbage burning and open-air barbecues. (Ilya Haykinson/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 10, 2017

A new environmental police force is taking to the streets of Beijing to combat the city’s dangerous smog problem.

Beijing’s mayor, Cai Qi, announced this weekend that the officers will patrol the city looking for “open-air barbecues, garbage incineration, biomass burning, [and] dust from roads” that add to the city’s smog problem. Cai Qi’s announcement comes after Beijing experienced particularly dangerous air quality during the first week of 2017, and 72 Chinese cities were placed under pollution alerts.

Mayor Cai Qi said, “I totally understand the public’s concerns and complaints over air pollution,” and admitted to routinely checking the air quality index “first thing in the morning.”

The mayor announced that the city is taking additional measures to improve air quality. Beijing will close its only coal-fired plant, and in 2017 “coal consumption will be cut by 30 percent to less than 7 million tonnes” and “another 300,000 high-polluting old vehicles will be phased out,” according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

Despite last week’s “red alert,” which temporarily shut down some pollution-producing operations, China’s environment ministry found that some 500 construction sites and businesses as well as 10,000 vehicles remained active in violation of the ban.

Chinese officials acknowledge that industry and automobiles are the primary causes of the hazardous smog problem, but reports state that the government is hesitant to crack down on major polluters in fear of economic consequences.

A study published in the November edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that smog is related to one-third of all deaths in China, amounting to at least one million deaths per year.