Water sustainability graduate program coming to University of Iowa


 

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The IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering center which sits on the banks of the Iowa River in Iowa City. (University of Iowa)
 Jake Slobe | September 22, 2016

The University of Iowa recently won a $3 million grant to develop a Sustainable Water Development program for graduate students.

The grant comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that provides funding for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

Set to launch in the fall of 2017, the program will train UI graduate students how to address the water, food and energy challenges that face communities with limited resources. This often includes rural areas, agricultural-based communities and developing countries. Around 50 master’s and doctoral students will be accepted into the program.

The new program will train a new, more diverse generation of water sustainability professionals to look at situations individually and apply solutions that are specific to each community, said engineering professor and Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Executive Officer Michelle Scherer, who is a co-principal investigator on the grant.

The Sustainable Water Development program curriculum will  get off to a running start taking full advantage of already existing resources UI campus resources including the UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the world-renowned IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering. The program curriculum is designed to be flexible, prepare students for, both, academic and non-academic careers, allowing them to choose and tailor their training paths to fit their particular goals. 

A graduate certificate in Sustainable Water Development also will be offered to students.

While the new program will be beneficial to the university, advances in water sustainability are not new to Iowa.  This grant comes shortly after a $96.9M grant was given to Iowa from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to develop a statewide watershed improvement program, the Iowa Watersheds Approach (IWA).

 

On The Radio- Water quality takes center stage at Farm Progress Show


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Water quality improvement strategies were discussed at this year’s farm show following the Des Moines’ Waterworks lawsuit against three Iowa counties due to high levels of nitrates that were drained into drinking water. (Tony Webster/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | September 19, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses the emphasis on water quality at this year’s Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa.

Transcript:  Water quality was on the main stage at this year’s Farm Progress Show.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Held in Boone, Iowa every summer, the Farm Progress Show aims to educate farmers about new technology for their fields, covering everything from tractor equipment to new seed strains. This year’s show emphasized the importance of water quality.

In twenty-fifteen Des Moines Water Works sued three north western Iowa counties for polluting the drinking water of over five-hundred thousand Des Moines residents. Water Works claims that Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties’ ag drainage systems transported high levels of nitrates from farms into the Raccoon River.

The Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance released a statement at the show, saying that creating and implementing effective solutions to water quality challenges would create economic development in rural Iowa. The alliance aims to identify gaps in building a “conservation infrastructure” that would result in less nitrate and phosphorus runoff from Iowa farms.

The Des Moines Water Works trial was set to begin in August of this year but has been delayed and is now rescheduled to begin in late June of twenty-seventeen.

For more information on the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance and the Farm Progress Show, visit Iowa environmental focus dot com.

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

Iowa Supreme Court hears Des Moines Water Works lawsuit oral arguments


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A drainage tile flowing into a waterway in Sac Country, Iowa. (iprimages/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 16, 2016

Five Iowa Supreme Court Justices heard arguments on Wednesday in a legal suit filed by the Des Moines Water Works against three northwest Iowa counties for the pollution of 500,000 residents’ drinking water.

A Des Moines Water Works attorney asked the court to reconsider the legal immunity that drainage districts have been granted for nearly a century and to determine whether the water utility could seek monetary damages. Removing nitrates that flowed into the Raccoon and Skunk rivers cost Water Works $1.5 million last year alone. The utility said that the water has exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking limit of 10 milligrams per liter several times in recent years.

Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe said that monetary damages for past contamination and increased federal oversight of drainage districts are both important. As nitrate levels in waterways increased throughout the 1990’s, Des Moines Water Works built the largest ion exchange nitrate removal facility in the world, with a $4.1 million dollar price tag. The utility said that a larger facility will be necessary by 2020, claiming the project would cost up to $183.5 million dollars. Farming communities in Sac, Calhoun, and Buena Vista counties are concerned that farmers will be responsible for payment should the damages be awarded. Typically, if county officials decide to lay new drainage tiles or repair old ones, farmers have footed the bill.

Michael Reck, a lawyer representing the three counties, presented several examples in which Iowa courts honored the legal immunity of drainage districts. Des Moines Water Works attorney John Lande said that this is the first time public health has been at stake in such court proceedings. He argued that drainage districts were established to protect the public health of  Iowa communities. He said that they have repeatedly failed to do so when nitrate levels were found to be four times the EPA’s limit downstream.

Whether or not damages are awarded, the Iowa Legislature has been moved to consider water quality protection measures. A reallocation of tax money from public schools to water quality projects failed to pass last year, as did a 3/8-cent water quality sales tax bill. Some say that they are hopeful the sales tax proposal will be reintroduced this year. The policy would generate $150 million dollars a year for built water quality management projects.

Iowa Environmental Council 2016 Annual Conference


Jenna Ladd | September 15, 2016

The Iowa Environmental Council will host its 2016 Annual Conference titled ECOnomics: Dollars, Sense & Sustainability next month in Ankeny. This year’s conference will focus on policies, programs, and practices that benefit the economy, communities and the environment.

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Keynote Speaker Jon D. Erikson

The keynote address, “We the Planet: Building an Ecological Economy in the Age of Humans,” will be given by Jon D. Erikson. Erikson is a Fellow of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a Professor at the Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. The daylong event will also feature Speaker of Honor Rob Bilott. Bilott will discuss the regulatory, legal and scientific challenges of ‘unregulated’ drinking water contaminants during his address. The conference also features a panel of business owners that practice environmental stewardship.

ECOnomics: Dollars, Sense & Sustainability will take place at the DMACC Ankeny Campus on October 6th, 2016. The event has been approved for 3.25 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit, and discounted rates are available for students. For more details or to register, visit the event website.

Keynote speaker Jon D. Erikson offers a crash course in ecological economics during his work with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics in 2011.

 

 

National Drive Electric Week events planned for three Iowa locations


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The engine compartment of an all-electric Toyota Rav 4. (Jeff Youngstrom/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 13, 2016

National Drive Electric Week is hosting its fifth annual celebration and outreach effort this week at locations across the United States.

The week-long celebration is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. National Drive Electric Week is hosting 232 events during the week of September 10th through the 18th. At each event, electric vehicles provided by local owners and car dealerships will be available for public observation, test-drives, and rides.

The popularity of electric vehicles in Iowa is on the rise. According to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, approximately 1,000 electric vehicles are already in use in the state, and that number has the potential to reach 100,000 by 2040. David Darrow of Grimes, Iowa will display his Tesla Model S P85D at the Drive Electric DSM Car Show. He said, “For daily driving, it’s just unbeatable. It just makes other cars feel kind of clumsy and rough. When you take out the delay of sucking air and fuel, and you take out the delay of a shifting transmission, it’s amazing the difference driving an electric car.”

Electric vehicles help to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and produce zero tailpipe emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. While electric vehicles can have a much larger price tag initially, the cost can be offset by fuel cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state incentive programs. Also, as production volume goes up, prices are likely to go down.

National Drive Electric Week will host three events in Iowa this week:

Drive Electric DSM Car Show
When: Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m.
Where: Western Gateway area of downtown Des Moines,
between Locust St. and Grand Ave.

Drive Electric Week Event West Des Moines
When: Thursday, Sept. 15 from 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Where: Valley Junction Farmer’s Market
304 5th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265

Drive Electric Week Event Cedar Rapids
When: Saturday, Sept. 17 from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Where: NewBo City Market
1100 3rd Street SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401

USDA awards two Iowa businesses innovation research grants


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Two Iowa firms recently received agricultural research grants from the USDA as a part of a national program. (Brain Abeling/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 8, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded two Iowa companies with small business innovation and research grants.

In total, $7.4 million dollars was granted to 76 businesses in 35 states. Former Iowa Governor and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the grants are meant to provide support for innovative agricultural research and bolster rural communities. Vilsack said,”This program basically focuses on ag innovation, the innovation that can impact and affect production of crops and livestock or the protection of crops and livestock.” He added, “An idea, a thought basically then is developed and the assistance we provide here will allow that idea and thought to potentially get up to scale, to get commercial-sized and to get out in the marketplace.”

Both of the Iowa companies are receiving $100,000 from the grant program for work on specific projects. The first, Accelerated Ag Technologies of Urbandale will use the funds to help develop reliable maize pollen preservation techniques. Vilsack said that this research is linked to corn production. An Ames company will recieve the second $100,000. Vilsack said, “Gross-Wen Technologies of Ames is working on developing a new biobased product from wastewater that will essentially result in a slow-release, algae-based fertilizer.”

In an interview, Vilsack said, “we cannot underestimate the role that small business innovation has played in bringing jobs back to their hometowns.” He added that these businesses are crucial, especially while much of rural America is still recovering from one of the worst economic recessions the U.S. has seen.

State approval of new wind farm echos rising support for wind energy nationwide


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Evening skies over the Century Windfarm in Blairsburg, Iowa. (Brain.Abeling/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 1, 2016

A $3.6 billion dollar wind energy project was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board late last week.

The initiative is a part of MidAmerican Energy’s goal to eventually provide 100% renewable energy for its customers in Iowa. Expected to be completed by late 2019, the Wind XI project will add 1,000 wind turbines to Iowa’s grid. Ashton Hockman, a spokesperson for MidAmerican, said in an email earlier this week that while the exact locations are still being finalized, the farm will be located on multiple sites around the state. She added, “Wind XI will add up to 2,000 megawatts of wind generation in Iowa and is the largest wind project MidAmerican Energy has ever undertaken.”

MidAmerican Energy plans to earn back all $3.6 billion dollars through federal production tax credits over the course of ten years. As such, the company did not seek financial support from the state and will not need to raise rates for customers, according the MidAmerican representatives.

Iowa has long been a top producer of wind energy nationwide. It became the first state in the country to produce more than 30% of its total energy using wind earlier this year, and is second only to Texas in total megawatts produced, a state nearly five times its size.The project, first announced by MidAmerican CEO Bill Fehrman last April, will be the largest wind operation in the country according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

New findings from AWEA show that support for wind energy production is on the rise, even across party lines. Polling results show that public support for wind energy seems to rise as the industry grows. In Texas, the top wind producing state in the country, over 85% of voters support wind energy. Nationwide 70% of registered voters have a favorable impression of wind energy, including 60% of Republicans and Independent voters. As the election draws nearer, AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said,

“Candidates running for office on both sides of the aisle in this important election year should take note: The more wind farms we build, the stronger support from U.S. voters grows. As wind power has more than tripled over the last eight years, so have its economic and environmental benefits. Wind technician is the fastest growing job in the U.S., and the billions of dollars of investment in local economies have revitalized many rural communities.”