Iowa Flood Center endangered by state budget proposal


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The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System provides an easy way for Iowans to access real-time flood and rainfall information. (Iowa Flood Center)
Jenna Ladd | April 13, 2017

The Iowa Legislature released a budget proposal on Tuesday that would effectively close down the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa.

The proposed budget cuts would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center (IFC), which was established by the legislature shortly after floods devastated much of eastern Iowa in 2008.

Dave Wilson is Johnson County Emergency Manager. He said, “Before the floods of 2008, it was hard to communicate the risk to the public in a form they can understand. Pulling the funding for that project would be shortsighted. I’m kind of shocked they are even considering it.”

Slashed funding would mean that the center’s Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) would also be shut down, according to a statement by IFC’s co-directors Larry Weber and Witold Krajewski. IFIS is an online tool that provides free, user-friendly access to “flood alerts and flood forecasts, more than 250 IFC real-time river and stream gauge sensors, more than 50 soil moisture/temperature sensors, flood inundation maps for 22 Iowa communities and rainfall products for the entire state.”

The center is also in the middle putting a $96 million federal grant to use through the Iowa Watershed Approach. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Disaster Resilience grant is currently funding flood mitigation and water quality improvement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.

State Representative Art Staed of Cedar Rapids serves on the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s Flood Mitigation Board. Staed said, “We have repeatedly witnessed the devastating impact that floods have on our Iowa communities and it’s our responsibility as state lawmakers to work with local communities to minimize and mitigate flooding and the resulting damage to life and property.”

The proposed budget would not decrease funding for K-12 education, which is expected receive a 1.1 percent budget increase this year. However, it does eliminate $397,000 in state funding for the Iowa State University Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

IFC co-directors urged concerned citizens to contact state legislators to express support for the continuation flood center funding. They write, “This bill is expected to move very quickly so it is imperative you reach out as soon as possible.”

Conservation Reserve Program amended to support new farmers


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Buffer zones curb soil erosion and help to filter nutrients before they enter waterways. (USDA National Agroforestry Center/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 30, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has modified a national conservation program in order to support beginning farmers.

Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program has paid farmers a yearly rent for removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production. Most contracts last 10-15 years. Previously, if farmers broke the contract early, they were required to return all the rental payments with interest. With the policy change, farmers may now end their contracts early without penalty if they sell or lease the land to a beginning farmer.

Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam announced the policy change, which will take effect January 9th, at the Joe Dunn farm near Carlisle in central Iowa. Dunn’s son-in-law, Aaron White, is a beginning farmer on a small acreage near Carlisle.

White said, “I think the biggest obstacle beginning farmers face is land access. This program would help alleviate some of those problems.” Lanon Baccam agreed, he said giving the next generation of farmers a chance at success makes perfect sense.

Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program is the largest private-land conservation effort in the country. It is unclear how the program’s stated goal of improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and protecting habitat for endangered species will be effected by putting environmentally sensitive land back into production for beginning famers.

More information about the Conservation Reserve Program in Iowa can be found here.

On the Radio: Increasing an understanding of erosion


Photo by bishib70, Flickr

Check out this week’s radio piece here.  It discusses the impacts of soil loss on Iowa farmers.  You can also read the transcript below:

A group of agronomists at Iowa State University wish to increase awareness of one of Iowa’s greatest environmental issues: topsoil erosion. Continue reading

On the Radio: Untilled fields mean less air pollution


Listen to this week’s radio segment on the environmental benefits of no-till farming.

For an in-depth description of no-till farming and of how farmers will need to adopt the practice to meet increased food demands of the future, see this video published by The EconomistContinue reading

UI Engineer gets NASA grant to study Iowa soil erosion


Photo by Irum Shahid

UI News Services Release

With rising commodity prices bringing more farm land under cultivation, a University of Iowa researcher is checking to see whether soil erosion may also be on the rise.

Thanos Papanicolaou, professor in the UI College of Engineering Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has received a three-year, $642,000 federal grant through the University of Northern Iowa to study agricultural soil erosion and the carbon cycle in Iowa. Papanicolaou is also a faculty research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering with a secondary appointment at the Iowa Public Policy Center.

Thanos Papanicolaou

Funded by NASA, the Carbon Cycle program will test the development of methods and models of carbon budgets at a smaller, regional scale, which will eventually be applied at larger scales. The proposed analysis is a critical component of any system for determining carbon credits that may be developed in the future, according to Papanicolaou.

The project, involving collaboration between the UI, the University of Northern Iowa and the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, investigates how soil erosion may be threatening climate mitigation policies within the state and Midwest.

“Recently, the production of bioenergy crops has surged due to U.S. government policies calling for an increase in locally produced biofuels to lessen United States dependency on foreign oil supplies and help mitigate the burning of fossil fuels,” said Papanicolaou. “For example, there is an increase in corn acreage, as well as cash corn prices, in the Midwest because of its use in ethanol production. Continue reading

Soil erosion problem and more: Leopold shares parting thoughts in Des Moines Register


Richard Leopold

On Sunday, outgoing Iowa DNR director Richard Leopold shared some final thoughts about the state of Iowa’s environment in a Des Moines Register guest column.  There, he lamented about the state’s lack of progress in cleaning its rivers, it’s underfunded state parks, and the politicization of science (“Sadly, many of the scientific “debates” of today are not scientific debates; they are about power and money.”).

Leopold also shared a startling statistic about Iowa’s increasing infertility: Continue reading