Environment

Environmental stories

Ocean Biology Processing Group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr, Creative Commons

First established in 1970, Earth Day is celebrated worldwide on April 22nd every year to celebrate and support the protection of the environment. Has it worked?

Ralph Rosenberg, Executive Director of the Iowa Environmental Council, says Earth Day has evolved from raising awareness, to sparking action, to returning results.

"There's an urgency now," says Rosenberg. "People have seen some progress in 46 years, but we do need to see awareness and action year-round."

Flickr / David Morris

New data from the Iowa DNR shows that drier than normal conditions so far this year have actually been ideal for the state.

Heavy rainfall during the autumn raised concerns that Iowa would experience flooding after the snow melted this spring. But the dryness has normalized hydrological conditions so now stream flow, soil moisture, and water supply are all in normal range. 

Jim Pease

Lions, zebras, and elephants are not native to the Iowa landscape, but a lot can be learned from these African creatures and from the challenges they face.  

On this wildlife day edition of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe sits down with wildlife biologist Jim Pease, who has just returned from a trip to Africa. His guide, Jim Heck, of Explorer’s World Travel, also joins the conversation to talk about their journey and what they saw, including an up close and personal encounter with the Great Migration.

John Pemble/IPR

After high hopes for action at the statehouse this year on water quality, it appears that lawmakers will soon be adjourning without reaching consensus on how to pay for the cleanup of Iowa rivers and streams. 

So far the Republican House and Democratic Senate have not been able to agree on a funding plan for water quality improvements.

The governor, the House, and the Senate each had competing funding mechanisms for cleaning up the water.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) says the three interested parties are like ships passing in the night.

Dean Borg/IPR

Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources is giving University of Iowa a unique air quality permit that will provide the UI flexibility in using renewable fuels as an alternative to coal.

The ‘Plant-wide Applicability Permit’ enables the UI to average air quality across the 437 emission sources on the campus, instead of reporting individually.

DNR Director Charles Gipp says the permit -- one-of-a-kind in Iowa -- allows the UI to try new, renewable energy sources without violating air quality standards.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa House continues working on legislation to fund water quality improvements at what some are calling historic levels.   The House bill would appropriate $750 million over the next 13 years, what Governor Branstad calls a good start.  

Nitrogen levels in the Raccoon River have prompted a lawsuit from the Des Moines Water Works.  Mike Delaney with the Raccoon River Watershed Association and the Sierra Club says the public needs to know how much nitrogen is in their watersheds.

Dean Borg/IPR

As Iowa legislators search the state’s budget for money to fund water quality projects, an Iowa environmentalist believes it may be on grocery store shelves.

Ralph Rosenberg, Executive Director of the Iowa Environmental Council, estimates a five-cent tax on plastic bottles containing water and other beverages could bring the needed money to the state.

“We’ve heard it may raise as much as $20 to 25 million a year,” Rosenberg told reporters Friday, following taping of an Iowa Press program on water quality at Iowa Public Television.

Univ. of Iowa Press

Ecologist Cornelia F. Mutel of rural Iowa City has written a string of insightful books about the Iowa environment, beginning with "Fragile Giants: a Natural History of the Loess Hills" back in 1989.   At that time, grandchildren were in her distant future.  Now that she's a grandmother, she wants to do everything she can to make sure there will be a healthy earth for her grandkids' lives.

Pipeline developer Dakota Access, the subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer partners has been granted eminent domain powers by the Iowa Utilities Board in order to build the Bakken pipeline, an interstate crude oil pipeline that would cut diagonally across the state for 343 miles. It’s the first interstate pipeline that could be built in the state in 15 years.

Utility crews say they're making great progress restoring power to thousands of customers who had lost it during last night and this morning's snowstorm. Parts of northwest Iowa were hit the heaviest, with up to 12" or more falling in Plymouth, Ida, Cherokee, and Woodbury Counties, and as much as 17" reported around Sioux City.

Del Ramey / Flickr

Lots of animals nest, and spring is the height of nesting season.

"It is a natural behavior that crosses all continents around the world, and something that really, everybody does in some way, including humans," says wildlife biologist Jim Pease. 

Julie Englander/IPR

If you find an injured raptor in eastern Iowa, there’s a place to take it. Two people have established a new raptor rehabilitation center because they felt there was a lack of medical resources for injured birds in the area.

USDA

A Republican lawmaker in the Iowa House who works in environmental protection in his day job has a new plan for paying for water quality, but his fellow Republicans have nixed the idea.  

Water quality is on the agenda at the statehouse this year because of a proposal from Governor Branstad to use some school funds to clean up Iowa waterways.

Representative John Wills of Spirit Lake works for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Dickinson County.  

Conservation Fund

Prairie-chickens once thrived in the prairies of Iowa, but by just after 1900, they were on the verge of extinction.  Today, these beautiful birds with a unique mating ritual can be found in only 9 of Iowa's 99 counties.

IDOT

Whiteout conditions caused by today’s snowfall and high winds has closed Interstate 35 in both directions between Ames and Clear Lake. 

The Iowa Department of Transportation says the gate system at the U.S. 30/I-35N and I-35S/U.S. 18 interchanges have been activated and the gate arms are down. Northbound I-35 travelers must exit at U.S. 30. Traveler services are available at the nearby U.S. 30 exits into Ames.  Southbound I-35 travelers must exit at U.S. 18. Traveler services are available at the nearby U.S. 18 exits into Clear Lake and Mason City.

Marufish / Flickr

In Des Moines Thursday Night, the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network hosted a panel about the future of energy policy and technology. One recurring theme was that Iowa is an agent for change when it comes to clean energy. Heather Zichal, a native Iowan, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and former top advisor on clean energy to President Obama, says that doesn’t come as a surprise.

Photo Courtesy of the Raptor Resource Center

Last year was a tough year for the famous Decorah eagles and the Raptor Resource Center. The eagles battled for their nest, and the center's director Bob Anderson passed away unexpectedly mid-summer. But things are starting to look up. That's according to John Howe, the center's new executive director. 

"After Bob's passing, we got a lot of support, and we really appreciate it," he says. "We're moving forward."

The center started building a new nest for the eagles very close to the first nest, and they lured them home with trout. 

Clay Masters/IPR file photo

Des Moines residents can expect their water bills to go up 10 percent in April. It comes as the state’s largest water utility is in the middle of a lawsuit with three northern Iowa counties.

Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe says the utility has removed more nitrates from the city’s water supply of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers in the last year than any other.

Flickr / Jeff Gitchel

Parts of Iowa are still facing flooding as a result of this past weekend’s rain. The National Weather Service says as rainwater in central Iowa flows southeast into rivers and streams, agricultural fields and low-lying roads will be submerged. 

"The one thing to note though is that the streams widen as they go down stream, so they they can handle more water" says NWS meteorologist Rod Donavon. "The impacts will be lessened as we get down towards the Ottumwa area, for example, on the Des Moines River." 

John West / Wikimedia Commons

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie has returned to Iowa from Paris where he took part in the United Nations Convention on Climate Change as a representative for the U.N.'s Compact of Mayors.

He says in Des Moines, they’ve been trying to improve energy efficiency in city buildings since joining the effort.

Versaland / https://www.facebook.com/versaland/

In his new book, author Courtney White points to the seemingly intractable challenges faced on earth: the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, rising food demands from a population that’s projected to rise from the current 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050, and the dwindling supply of fresh water.

Photo by Amy Mayer

In a packed-to-capacity community room in Boone, the three-member Iowa Utility Board heard testimony today over the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, which would carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, across Iowa, to Illinois.

Before testimony got underway, opponents of the pipeline staged a protest outside the community building on the Boone County Fairgrounds.

There was a time when it was a rare treat to spot a white-tailed deer in Iowa.  That treat is no longer rare.  Today, it's our monthly Wildlife Day on Talk of Iowa, with wildlife biologist Dr. Jim Pease of Ames.  Jim tells us about the history of deer in the Hawkeye State, their place in the environment and our complicated relationship with them.

Asia Society / Flickr

Louie Psihoyos first made waves in water and in cinematic circles in 2009 with his Academy Award-winning documentary about dolphins "The Cove." Now, the Dubuque-native is expressing his passion for protecting the Earth once again in his new film "Racing Extinction."

Bird Feeder Study

Oct 22, 2015
James Adelman

Birds that spend a lot of time at feeders are more likely to contract disease. A new Iowa State University study of House Finches in Virginia found birds that visited feeders often were more likely to spread an eye infection similar to pink eye in humans.  The study's lead author James Adelman says they tracked individuals in the wild and found that those that spent the most time at feeders were the most likely to get sick.

Shever / Flickr

The University of Iowa's Center for Global, Regional and Environmental Research has been studying climate change in Iowa and around the world for 25 years this year. 

Greg Carmichael, co-director of the center and professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, says public opinion has come a long way since the center's founding and that climate change deniers are "dead wrong" about the facts. 

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Two busloads of opponents of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline across Iowa protested outside the state’s Utility Board offices Thursday.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement organized the demonstration and delivered a box full of letters objecting to the plan.

Longtime Des Moines social activist Frank Cordaro was among the protesters.  

“Today we’re at the utility folks, the folks who are supposed to be protecting this state," he says. "And we’re here to tell them don’t let dirty oil come to our state.”

Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan

Whether a person loves squirrels for their acrobatics or wishes they would leave the bird feeders alone, squirrels are here to stay.  Over the years, wildlife biologist Jim Pease has collected more than twenty names Iowans have given ground squirrels, ranging from "squinneys" to "liners." 

During this Talk of Iowa program, he talks with host Charity Nebbe about diets,  habitats, ground squirrels and tree squirrels.

Flickr / Coen Dijkman

If you've ever wanted your own horse, you can adoption one Saturday in Decorah for $125. About 40 animals will be available for adoption.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management says there are approximately 58,150 horses and burros roaming the western U.S. But to maintain a healthy wild population and a healthy habitat, the agency says those numbers need to drop by more than half. 

Iowa State University

With Iowa trees readying themselves for fall and the changing colors of leaves, look no further than Ames, Iowa for a new healthy seedling.  Bill Graves, Associate Dean of the Graduate College and Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University, says he is excited about the Swamp White Oaks offered this year.  Graves loves to see people who enthusiastically purchase trees from ISU as well as discovering what becomes of those trees.

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