University of Iowa drinking water exceeds maximum contaminant levels for disinfectant by-products


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Chlorine treatments react with organic matter in waterways to form Total Thihalomethanes, which have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2017

University of Iowa facilities management received notice on February 1 that its drinking water system contains levels of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) that exceed the federal drinking water standard.

In an email sent out to University faculty, staff and students on February 9, it was reported that the drinking water tested on average between 0.081 and 0.110 mg/L over the last year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for TTHM is 0.08 mg/L.

TTHM is a group of four chemicals: chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane and bromoform. TTHM form when chlorine reacts with natural organic matter like leaves, algae and river weeds in drinking water. In its statement, the University said that more chlorination was necessary this year because higher than usual temperatures led to more organic waste in waterways.

The notice read, “You do not need to use an alternative (e.g., bottled) water supply. Disease prevention specialists with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics say special precautions are not necessary.”

Chloroform and dibromochloromethane are Class B carcinogens, meaning they have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. TTHM has also been linked to heart, lung, kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage, according to a report by the University of West Virginia.

University officials cautioned, “However, some people who drink water-containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

A study by the California Department of Health suggests that even short-term exposure to high TTHM levels in drinking water can have serious consequences for pregnant women. Scientists monitored 5,144 women during their first trimester of pregnancy. Participants who drank five or more glasses of cold home tap water containing 0.075 mg/L or more of TTHM had a miscarriage rate of 15.9 percent. Women that drank less than five glasses per day or who had home tap water with less than 0.075 mg/L TTHM had a miscarriage rate of 9.5 percent.

A reverse osmosis filtration system for the University of Iowa drinking water supply is currently in its design phase. Facilities management expects to have the new system up and running within the next 18 months. Officials say it will help address Iowa’s nitrate problem and filter out naturally occurring organic matter, resulting in fewer TTHM.

On The Radio – Student Garden coming closer to campus


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The current student garden is located off campus on Hawkeye Park Road in Iowa City. (Jake Slobe)
Jake Slobe | October 24, 2016

This week’s On The Radio discusses the announcement of a new, on campus student garden coming early next year.

Transcript: The University of Iowa Student Government is working with student gardeners to develop a new garden on campus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The UI Student Government, last month, voted unanimously to give $17,000 to UI Student Gardeners to build a brand new garden on campus. The new garden will be located near North Hall.

Formed in the spring of 2009, the UI Student Garden has been producing a variety of spring and summer produce for meals served to university students, faculty and staff at the Iowa Memorial Union.

Currently, the student garden is located several miles from campus and can be inconvenient for student gardeners.

The new garden is expected to ready for planting by early next year allowing students to begin planting as soon as next spring.

More information about the student garden can be found at iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

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

City council extends recycling services to all Iowa City residents


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Changes to Iowa City code make curbside recycling services available to all residents of Iowa City. (Mike Mahaffle/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 20, 2016

Iowa City council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ramp up recycling efforts in the city.

The first consideration of the amendment to City Code Title 16, Article 3H passed  7-0. It requires recycling services to be available for all multi-family units; currently the city only services single-family households up to four units. Changes made to city code will also provide curbside food-waste collection services and prohibit residents from dumping computers and televisions into the municipal landfill.

City council member Rockne Cole is a long-time proponent of the measure. He said, “We’re looking at diverting over 1,700 tons of material from the landfill.”

University of Iowa and community environmental groups have been advocating for a city-wide recycling program for years. Jacob Simpson, UISG City Council Liaison, said that these changes benefit students who wish to continue recycling after moving off campus. He said, “At the university, we have the opportunity for students to recycle in the dorms and practice something that they’ve learned, and then a lot of the time, they have to go off campus, and they don’t have that ability,” Simpson added, “I think now that the city has taken this step to provide this in off-campus buildings, we cannot just see a benefit to Iowa City, but I think this is going to be something that benefits the state and beyond, as people become more accustomed to recycling.”

City director of Transportation Services Chris O’Brien said that all residential complexes built after January 1, 2017 must immediately comply with the new recycling policy. Landlords that own existing dwellings will be granted a grace period to get in compliance.

City council member Cole added, “It’s a real great victory for the University of Iowa, our community and most importantly, the environment.”

CGRER researcher awarded for developing self-cleaning culvert


Dr. Marian Muste with his self-cleaning culvert design. (IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering/University of Iowa)
Dr. Marian Muste with his self-cleaning culvert design to the left. (IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering/University of Iowa)
Nick Fetty | July 14, 2016

University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research member Marian Muste was recognized earlier this year for his efforts in developing a self-cleaning culvert.

Region 3 of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Research Advisory Council recognized Muste’s project along with three others in the Midwest region. Muste’s project is among 16 nationwide to be dubbed the “‘Sweet Sixteen’ High Value Research Projects” of 2016.

Muste’s research – “Development of Self-Cleaning Box Culvert Design: Phase II” – examines a system that uses the natural power of a stream flow to flush out sediment deposits in culverts. The system does not require intensive maintenance and can be constructed in new culverts or retrofitted for old ones. The design prevents buildup of sedimentation or vegetation in culverts which during rain events can cause culverts to overflow and damage adjacent property.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has implemented Muste’s design in a culvert along Highway 1 in Iowa City. Muste and his research team have monitored the site since the new design was installed in 2013 and he said it has been “working very well.”

Muste – who also serves on the faculty of the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Geography – concluded his report by outlining the benefits of his design.

“Besides their primary role in sediment mitigation, the designed self-cleaning structure maintains a clean and clear area upstream the culvert, keeps a healthy flow through the central barrel offering hydraulic and aquatic habitat similar with that in the undisturbed stream reaches upstream and downstream the culvert. It can be concluded that the proposed self-cleaning structural solution ‘streamlines’ the area adjacent to the culvert in a way that secures the safety of the culvert structure at high flows while disturbing the stream behavior less compared with the traditional constructive approaches.”

First growing season for downtown Iowa City rooftop garden


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Seedlings begin in a smaller, raised hydroponic bed. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
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PVC pipes deliver nutrient-rich water that will flow through root systems in lieu of soil. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 6, 2016

An Iowa City business owner has begun growing hydroponic vegetables on his downtown rooftop.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of a jewelry design studio and store called M.C. Ginsberg, has around 35 square-feet of hydroponic plants growing atop his business. Hydroponic gardens are systems in which plants can grow without soil, receiving the bulk of their nutrients from natural fertilizers in water like worm or fish waste. This nutrient rich water flows under plants and through root systems to sustain plant growth. Chad Treloar, Ginsberg’s construction lead for the project, built the garden with inexpensive, easy to acquire materials like PVC pipe, wood, and food-grade tubs.

In an interview with the Gazette, Ginsberg said that it would be possible to turn all urban Iowa City rooftops into food growing operations like his. He will harvest cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes first; he plans to give his bounty away to local restaurants and bars. In the coming years, MC Ginsberg’s garden will aim to sell its produce, depending on vegetable quality and yield dependability. Local restaurants seem eager to support the project, Oasis Falafel has already asked for all of the MC Ginsberg cilantro harvest.

In the long-term, Ginsberg is working to make hydroponic garden designs available to other downtown business owners. He aims to create a system that would allow owners to input rooftop dimensions and receive a cheap plan for hydroponic garden construction in return. He expects he could make these plans available for as little as 99 cents.

Green-roofs like these offer advantages to growers like runoff delay and stormwater management, improved air quality, and healthy foods with a small carbon footprint.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the district is looking to back more projects like Ginsberg’s as a part of their larger sustainability focus for the downtown area.

City, county officials to study possible ban on plastic bags at Iowa City landfill


(Kate Ter Haar/Flickr)
(Kate Ter Haar/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 1, 2016

Over the coming months, officials with the City of Iowa City and Johnson County will conduct research to determine the potential effects of a plastic bag ban at the Iowa City landfill.

Plastic bags account for about 360 tons – or 0.3 percent – of the Iowa City landfill’s annual intake. As part of the city’s Waste Minimizing Strategy, officials aim to not only reduce the number of plastic bags in the landfill but also cardboard and electronic devices.

The idea of a plastic bag ban has been floated in Iowa City multiple times in recent years. The Iowa City Council discussed a plastic bag ban in 2008, after San Francisco implemented a first-in-the-nation ban, however an Iowa City ban was never implemented. 100 Grannies for a Liveable Future – an Iowa City-based advocacy group – supported a plastic bag ban in 2012, but efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Another unsuccessful attempt to ban plastic bags in Iowa City occurred in 2014.

Marshall County was the first and is currently the only place in the state that has banned plastic bags after a 2009 decision by the Marshall County Board of Supervisors.

To find out about plastic bag legislation in your area, visit www.bagtheban.com/in-your-state.

On The Radio – Iowa City celebrates Regenerative City Day


Turning Iowa City into an "ecopolis" includes utilizing local renewable energy sources and constructing environmentally-friendly building (Tom Jacobs/Flickr)
Corner of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street (looking south) in Iowa City. (Tom Jacobs/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | June 6, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks Iowa City’s effort to become the Midwest’s first “Regenerative City.”

Transcript: Iowa City celebrates Regenerative City Day

Mayor Jim Throgmorton wants Iowa City to be the Midwest’s first “Regenerative City,” according to a proclamation released in May.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Throgmorton’s May 3 statement proclaiming it Regenerative City Day in Iowa City was the result of more than a year of community discussions and forums. The language of regeneration, rather than sustainability alone, recognizes the city’s responsibility to promote both the reduction of harmful practices and the promotion of environmental restoration initiatives. These may include overhauling urban farming practices, ridding parks of pesticide use, and enacting soil health initiatives like native prairie restoration, according to Throgmorton.

Throgmorton: “The proclamation is aspirational. It doesn’t have the force of policy or law but it does indicate that we intend to lead the way.”

Iowa City recently affirmed the Compact of Mayors agreement to place climate actions as a central priority in planning decisions, joining Des Moines and Dubuque.

For more information about Iowa City’s Regenerative City Day, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

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