Study finds Iowa groundwater is extracted at unsustainable rate


jordan-aquifer
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.

Grinnell College blown off course on campus wind energy project


The John H. T. Main Residence Hall on the Grinnell College campus. (Wikimedia)
The John H. T. Main Residence Hall on the Grinnell College campus. (Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | October 28, 2014

Plans for a 5.1-megawatt wind farm on the Grinnell College campus have come to a halt after officials with the college and its utility provider were unable to reach an agreement.

Officials from Madison, Wisconsin-based Alliant Energy said that if the plans for the wind farm were to go through, Alliant would “have to curtail much of the project’s energy production” to accommodate for another wind energy developer which applied for an interconnection agreement before the private liberal arts college which serves approximately 1,721 students. The company, Optimum Energy, would have priority for generating and selling energy back to Alliant, according to Alliant Energy policy.

The Grinnell College Board of Trustees first approved of the plan in February 2011. The $13 million project consisted of a three turbine wind farm which was expected to provide the college with more than half of its energy consumption. Research by Grinnell College alumnus Mia Devine led to the 2007 installation of a wind turbine on the Conard Environmental Research Area, a 365-acre field station about 11 miles west of campus. The wind farm project was based off of similar projects at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

The utility board will examine interconnection issues in an attempt to resurrect the plan but Grinnell College Environmental and Safety Coordinator Chris Bair thinks it is unlikely the project will move forward. Officials with the college have considered other energy alternatives such as solar panels and biogas.

Iowa State University ranked “greenest” college in Iowa


Nick Fetty | July 26, 2014
Image via eCollegeFinder
Image via eCollegeFinder

The annual Iowa-Iowa State football game is still seven weeks away but the Cyclones recently beat the Hawkeyes in a different kind of contest.

Iowa State was ranked as the “greenest” campus in Iowa according by a list compiled by College Prowler. The website did not provide the criteria used to judge each school but stated: “These days, schools boast a high number of LEED-certified facilities and sustainability initiatives. The following colleges and universities are striving for a more eco-friendly future.” Pitzer College – a liberal arts college with 1,084 undergraduates located in Claremont, Calif.  – took the top spot on the list with a perfect score of 10.

Iowa State was 46th overall with a score of 9.19. Other Iowa schools to make the list include Grinnell College at 64th (9.04), Luther College at 66th (9.01), Central College at 85th (8.93), the University of Northern Iowa at 134th (8.75), and the University of Iowa at 279th (8.45).

Iowa State University has two buildings that have achieved platinum-level LEED certification, three at the gold-level, and one at silver. The university also has several LEED projects currently under construction. In 2013, Iowa State received gold certification from STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) because of its sustainable programs and initiatives.

The University of Iowa has two buildings with platinum-level LEED certification, six at gold, and several projects in the works. Iowa also received golf certification from STARS and continues to work on various sustainability projects.

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will duke it out for state bragging rights on gridiron on September 13. This year’s contest is in Iowa City and kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

Private and community colleges in Iowa focus on green initiatives


Nick Fetty | July 15, 2014
Stewart Memorial Library on the Coe College Campus. Photo by Swagato; Flickr
Stewart Memorial Library on the Coe College campus.
Photo by Swagato; Flickr

Private colleges in Iowa are keeping up with the national trend of increased green initiatives at private colleges and universities.

Coe College in Cedar Rapids is undergoing an effort to decrease consumption of electricity (by 25 percent) and natural gas (by nearly 50 percent) on campus. This is expected to save the college roughly $220,000 annually in energy and operational costs and also reduce Coe’s carbon footprint by about half. Coe along with three other higher education institutions in the state have joined the Alliance for Resilient Campuses.

Green initiatives are taking place at other private schools in Iowa including Luther College which currently has the state’s largest array of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Central College is gradually moving toward an all-electric/hybrid fleet of vehicles and Grinnell College is planning a wind farm north of campus that is expected to produce 80 percent of the college’s energy consumption.

Iowa’s community colleges are also adopting sustainable practices. Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College is utilizing solar panels and wind turbines to generate energy. More than 675,000 square feet of building spaces is heated and cooled using geothermal energy and a new trash diversion program has decreased the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 80 percent.

The state’s public universities have also embraced sustainable practices. There are currently six gold-level LEED-certified buildings on the University of Iowa campus and two buildings that have received a platinum rating. Next year Iowa State University plans to replace the coal boilers at its power plant with boilers powered by natural gas while the University of Northern Iowa plans to retrofit three buildings in fiscal year 2014 to achieve greater energy efficiency. All three public universities were named to the The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.

6 Iowa schools make “Green Colleges” list


Photo by Lower Columbia College, Flickr.

A little less than a year ago, The Princeton Review came out with their “Guide to 322 Green Colleges”.

The list highlights universities and colleges that have taken numerous steps to make their campus more environmentally friendly.

Six Iowa schools made the list: University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, Grinnell College, Luther College and Maharishi University of Management.

Click here to find out what “green” initiatives got these schools on the list.

Grinnell College’s alternative spring break options help the environment


Grinnell College campus. Photo by Amy Nicole, Flickr

During their spring break, a number of Grinnell College students will volunteer their time to help the environment. Some of the students will head to Cedar Rapids to aid flood relief efforts. These efforts include construction and painting in flood recovery areas.

Other students will stay in Grinnell to help sustainable farming efforts. These students will volunteer at Barney Bahrenfuse’s farm and the Grinnell Sustainable Agriculture Project farm.

Bahrenfuse’s farm is “beyond organic”. He avoids chemicals and antibiotics, and his animals are given ample room to roam.

Some of the food produced at the Grinnell Sustainable Agriculture Project farm will be served in Grinnell’s dining hall.

For more information on alternative spring break options, read The Gazette’s article here.

Iowa colleges participate in Recycle Mania


Photo by University of Maryland Press Releases, Flickr

Beginning last month and continuing till the end of March, Loras College, Simpson College, Wartburg College, University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Mount Mercy University, Upper Iowa University and Grinnell College are all competing in Recycle Mania.

These schools are competing to see who can recycle the most per capita, who has the best recycling rate as a percentage of total waste and who has the least amount of combined trash and recycling at the end of eight weeks.

Through two weeks, campuses across the nation have reduced the equivalent of 18,522 metric tons of CO2.

Read more about Wartburg College’s efforts here. Last year, Wartburg started a $2 million project focused on environmental sustainability.