Plan to curb air-pollution in India released last week

Haze and particulate matter are visible in this photo taken west of New Delhi. (Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 11, 2016

Ten solutions for breathable air in India were presented at the The Energy and Resource Institute’s World Sustainable Development Summit last week in New Delhi.

The National Clean Air Mission follows a recently released World Bank report which announced that air pollution led to 1.4 million deaths in 2013. The report, which was presented by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) along with University of California-San Diego, is a part of a larger governmental initiative called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission. Seventeen authors from institutions around the world including the University of Iowa, IIT-Kanpur, Stockholm University, University of Maryland, Max Plank Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the California Air Resource Board contributed to the report.

The report said, “This Clean Air Mission should…mandate…government policies for air pollution mitigation across several ministries dealing with transport, power, construction, agriculture, rural development and environment as well as across city and state jurisdiction.” The document also emphasized the need to address the burning of agricultural residue as a major source of air-pollution. It said, “This strategy aims at reducing open burning of agricultural residue and instead of using them as a source of energy.”

Beyond agriculture, the report noted that transportation is a main contributor to air-pollution in the country. Sumit Sharma from TERI said, “Shifting freight transport from road to lower-emission modes like rail and inland waterways and coastal shipping is required.” It also suggested that India scale up its emission trading schemes (ETS), which are government-mandated, market-based systems of controlling pollution. The report read, “The government is already working with ETS in three industrial clusters in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, which needs to be scaled up.”

The report’s authors also suggested the development cleaner fuel options while focusing on larger particulate matter and ozone in the air.

On The Radio – 2016 Iowa Climate Statement


Jake Slobe | October 10, 2016

This week’s on the radio discusses the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement. The full statement can be found here.

Transcript: The sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement was released on October fifth.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The document, titled Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture, was signed by 180 science researchers and faculty from thirty-eight Iowa colleges and universities. This year’s statement centers around Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s U.S. Department of Agriculture Initiative “Building Blocks for Climate-Smart Agriculture.” Vilsack’s initiative aims to expand nation-wide voluntary, incentive-based programs for farmers to combat human-induced climate change.

The climate statement champions proven conservation techniques such as planting perennial plants on marginal cropland and reduced-till or no till farming that would decrease nation-wide net emissions and increase carbon storage in soil. Statement authors note that the document is part of a larger effort, strengthened by the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to offset human-caused climate change.

For more information about the 2016 Iowa Climate Statement or to read the full document, visit

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

Iowa scientists urge action on Climate-Smart Agriculture

 Jake Slobe | October 5, 2016

Iowa researchers and educators at nearly every college and university in the state have produced annual statements describing the real impacts Iowans are experiencing from climate change.

Released today, the sixth annual statement titled, “Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture,” was signed by 187 science faculty and researchers from 39 Iowa colleges and universities. Listen to the statement here:

This year’s climate statement comes shortly after a month of heavy rain and flooding throughout Iowa.

Director of  Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University David Courard-Hauri has been involved with the Iowa Climate Statement since its inception in 2011. He says,

“Iowa’s recent extreme rainfall events and flooding reminds us that climate change is real and needs to be addressed on both the farm and in our communities.” 

This year’s statement illustrates the need and benefits of more widespread adoption of proven soil conservation practices. Specifically, it discusses U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Tom Vilsack’s initiative, Building Blocks for Climate-Smart Agriculture. The USDA plans to implement climate-smart agriculture primarily by increasing incentive-based programs allowing farmers to confront these challenges head on.

Co-director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research Jerry Schnoor said that Iowan farmers are beginning to experiencing real impacts from climate change in the forms heavier rains, increased flooding and soil erosion.

“We believe Iowa should play a leadership role in this vital effort, just as our state has already done for wind energy.  We urge our representatives to help Iowa’s innovative farmers and land managers establish a multi-faceted vision for land stewardship by vigorously implementing federal, state, and other conservation programs.” 

More information about this year’s climate statement as well as all previous Iowa climate statements can be found here.

Nitrates in drinking water linked to various health problems

Iowans that use private wells are more likely to have drinking water that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit. (frankieleon/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 4, 2016

A recent review of dozens of health studies by the Iowa Environmental Council suggests that elevated nitrate levels in drinking water are more dangerous to human health than previously thought.

As a part of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1962, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set the nitrate limit for drinking water at 10 milligrams per liter in order to prevent blue baby syndrome, which was a prevalent at the time. While the last known case of blue baby syndrome in Iowa was in the 1970’s, recent studies suggest that nitrates’ health impacts extend beyond this condition. The council’s report “Nitrate in Drinking Water: A Public Health Concern for All Iowans” provided an overview of several studies that linked high nitrate levels in drinking water with birth defects, cancers and thyroid problems.

The report said, “While most of the associations have been found when nitrate levels are higher than the drinking water standard, some research suggests that nitrate concentrations even lower than the drinking water standard may be harmful.”

Historically, some communities in Iowa have had trouble remaining in compliance with current drinking water nitrate limits. Based on a state drinking water compliance report, eleven public drinking water supplies exceeded the 10 milligrams per liter limit in 2015. Iowans that get their drinking water from private wells are at an increased risk. According to a Des Moines Register report, 15 percent of private wells that were voluntarily tested between 2006 to 2015 had nitrate levels that exceeded federal standards.

Concerns about nitrates from agricultural drainage tiles, rural and urban fertilizers, and water treatment systems seeping into water ways have been on the rise in Iowa. The Environmental Council is among many groups in the state that seek to bolster the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which aims to curb nitrogen and phosphorous that enters into Iowa’s streams and rivers by 45 percent. The group also supports a movement for an additional three-eighths of 1 cent sales tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Sixty-three percent of Iowans voted to approve this amendment in 2010, but state legislators did not approve funding for the measure.

Peter Weyer is interim director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa and has studied the relationship between long-term exposure to low-level nitrates in water and cancer in women. He said, “Based on our research and elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad, it looks like nitrates are problematic for other health effects.”

Soybeans may play bigger role in nitrate levels than previously thought

IIHR’s water-quality monitoring network has generated interesting data that contradicts some widely-held beliefs regarding corn and soybeans and their impact on nitrate in Iowa’s streams. (IIHR)
Jake Slobe | September 28, 2016

New research shows that soybeans may play a key role in the transport of nitrate from farmed fields to the stream network.

As Iowa farmers have planted more acres of corn to meet the increasing demand, many models predicted that nitrate concentrations in Iowa streams would increase as a consequence. However, a new study conducted by the UI’s IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering group and the Iowa Soybean Association, published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, challenges many of these predictions.

As the amount of corn planted increased and the amount of soybeans decreased, fertilizer application increased by 24 percent in the watershed. Surprisingly, the nitrate levels in the river saw no increase and in some cases saw slight decreases.

The study evaluated 7,000 water samples in the Raccoon River Watershed from 1999- 2014 and had access to fertilization data for 700 fields in the watershed. The result from the study has led researchers to believe that nitrate levels are less dependent on corn production than previously thought.

IIHR —Hydroscience & Engineering researcher Chris Jones says that clues to the reduction in nitrate levels can be found in the differences between corn and soybean  growth, soil chemistry, and the decay of other crop residues. Conversely, the dead and decomposing soybean plants can increase the amount of nitrate in the soil vulnerable to loss.

“We know we can’t just focus on fertilization of corn. We need a systems approach to improve water quality. It also demonstrates the power of monitoring water quality. Without this data, we could easily have missed this important and counter-intuitive conclusion.” 

As a result, Jones says he believes that declining amount of soybeans planted may have reduced the cropped areas most susceptible to nitrate loss, more than compensating for the increased fertilizer inputs on corn production.


Iowa Flood Center completes watershed management sites along Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek watersheds project engineer Robert Larget provides design details and outcomes at watershed management sites at a tour earlier this month. (Joe Bolkcom/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | September 27, 2016

Just ahead of major flooding that has plagued northeastern Iowa this month, citizens from communities surrounding the Beaver Creek watershed toured three of six flood control structures in the area that were funded by the Iowa Watersheds Project in 2013.

The project, a part of the Iowa Flood Center’s (IFC) effort to prevent flooding and improve water quality, is the product of a U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development grant that was awarded to the center following the 2008 floods. The Iowa Watersheds Project provided 75 percent cost-share assistance to landowners to construct water management structures like wetlands and ponds near Beaver Creek, Otter Creek, and South Chequest Creek.

The tour, held on September sixth, marked the completion of the flood prevention structures along Beaver Creek. Participants were bussed to three finished sites along with project engineer Robert Larget, who said that the structures’ designs are encouraging. He said, “The minimal for a hundred-year flood on one site should be in the peak of about twenty-four percent. We have two structures in combination that for that same event will reduce flood flows downstream by about ninety percent.”

Doug Bohlen, a participating landowner near Beaver Creek, said that his structures provide benefits beyond flood control and improved water quality for his family’s land. Bohlen said,

“With my sons and grandsons, it’s going to be good recreation for our family. I’ve always wanted a pond down there, and now there’s one. There’s so many different species of ducks. It’s hard to believe that four days after water started into the pond, there was four swans on it and there was nine sandhill cranes.”

Following the tour, participants listened as IFC civil and environmental engineer Allen Bradley presented an evaluation of the project’s performance. Researchers provided computerized models that are able to predict flood events following major rainfall. Impact differed based on on location, the size of structures, and other factors, but overall, Beaver Creek area residents will see a significant reduction in downstream flooding as a result of the watersheds project.

University Sustainability Charter Committee welcomes new members

In order to reach the goal of 40% renewable energy by 2020 at the University of Iowa, the Office of Sustainability spearheaded many biomass projects. The university has planted 2,500 acres of mescanthus across the state in order to produce about 22,500 tons of renewable biopower feedstock. (USDA/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 21, 2016

The University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability has welcomed new team members with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds to continue working toward the 2020 Sustainability Vision.

The 2020 goals were established by President Sally Mason in 2010 as a means to recognize successful sustainability initiatives and to “expand sustainability efforts in several key areas of operations, research, education, and outreach.” Some of the targets include achieving net-negative energy growth, decreasing waste production, reducing the campus’ carbon impact due to transportation, and to support and expand interdisciplinary sustainability-related research.

The Sustainability Charter Committee, overseen by the Office of Sustainability, is comprised of faculty, staff and students that assist in the implementation of sustainable practices within existing campus systems. Tony Senio, sports turf manager for the University of Iowa recently joined the committee, becoming the first person to represent the Athletics Department in the group. Senio has managed all of the Athletic Department’s plants and turf since 2008. He said, “Sustainability can be a weird thing for people. It almost comes off as a negative word, but it’s about perspective. I feel like it’s more about doing the right thing; it’s about simplicity.”

Amanda Bittorf, marketing specialist for University Housing & Dining, also joined the group, becoming the first housing and dining representative to serve on the committee. Bittorf has worked at the University of Iowa for two years and said that she has led several sustainability initiatives. “With housing about 95 percent of the first-year class, I really do think we play an instrumental role in introducing students to sustainable practices and creating habits,” she said.

To round out this year’s new members, the Office of Sustainability also welcomes a new recycling coordinator, Beth MacKenzie. MacKenzie first began working in the recycling industry in 2006 for the City of St. Louis, where she said that she dramatically increased the waste diversion rate for the city. While MacKenzie’s background is primarily in municipal government and non-profit organizations, she said that she’s excited to join the University’s team. “It just has a more vibrant culture that I think will be a fun opportunity to work in. Just being around young people; young people have really great ideas and a fresh perspective on things,” she said.