Winter snow causes spring stress
April 17, 2014
Water is essential to the agriculture Iowa is known for. With winter weather comes the delayed reaction of possible flooding. Nearly 50 inches of snow have raised the fears of farmers. Agriculture also contributes to the excessive chemicals in field runoff. The corn, the cows,and the chemicals all factors for the high levels of pollutants in Iowa rivers.
Forecasts relieve flooding fears
Anyone who was in Iowa City in the summer of 2008 remembers the massive amount of flooding. This winter, Iowa’s snowfall was only slightly below the winter of 2008 at 47.4 inches.
“What we have seen so far is the main response that we will get from the snowmelt,” said Maren Soflet, NOAA.
Of course, there are many other factors involved in flooding: how much rainfall we have, how frozen the ground is, and the proximity of the rain and snow.
“So many factors are involved with flooding it is hard to tell when and if Iowa City will flood,” Soflet said.
According to the Quad-City Times, n 2008 Iowa City received 48.7 inches of snow. However, The snowiest winter was the winter of 1978-79 in which Iowa City received 52.9 inches of snow. That year there was no major flooding.
“When we have a lot of snow this time of year, people tend to get more concerned about flooding then they need to be,” Soflet said.
The amount of rainfall is a large contributor to flooding, and in 2008 Iowa City received 24.09 inches, 10 inches above normal.
“If there is a lot of rain people will get more and more nervous,” Soflet said. “It is very important to stay calm during flooding season.”
The amount of frost in the ground also affects flooding. When the ground is too hard it cannot absorb water. In 2008 Iowa City had 2 to 3 feet frost depth.
“A lot of snow runs off because the ground is frozen,” Soflet said. “That makes the rivers rise.”
Flooding affects many parts of everyday Iowan life, such as farming, ability to go to school, businesses and more.
“The general mentality of farmers these days is ‘We’ll deal with it when it comes,’” Philip Prybil, higher ground farmer, said.
Concern over how drastically farmers are affected by floods has been common, but riverbed farmers, who would be affected most, know what to expect when floods happen, and higher land farmers generally aren’t affected at all.
“We always take it [flooding] into account when we farm,” Prybil said. “It changes how much we plant, when we till, and so on.”
Unless an unforeseen storm moves in, Iowa City will not be flooded. It’s been forecast that El Niño, an accumulation of warm water that changes climates all over the world, and causes flooding as well droughts, won’t affect this spring. Adding to that comfort, almanacs and weather forecasts for April suggest there will be no major flooding.
Farming can lead to pollution in river
With over 20 million pigs in Iowa, there are over 5 billion of gallons of manure produced per year, according to David Goodner, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. The rain washes it through the corn fields, picking up extra pesticides and fertilizers along the way. Eventually all of these pollutants end up in the drinking water, where people fish and swim.
“I know the Iowa River is one of the dirtiest in the U.S.,” said Eli Shepherd, ‘14. “And when fertilizer run-off gets into the Mississippi it goes down stream to the Gulf of Mexico contributing to the dead zone.”
The dead zone is over 6,000 square miles near the Gulf of Mexico and is caused by all the pollutants that have run-off into the Mississippi River. All these chemicals end up in the gulf, causing the water to have little oxygen in it. Without enough oxygen the fish and shrimp can’t live there and die.
Iowa is a main contributor to this dead zone but not the only contributor to this dead zone. Other Midwest states such as Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota have also polluted runoff into the Mississippi.
“If Iowa does nothing to combat runoff pollution, why should Minnesota or Wisconsin?” Michelle Hesterberg of Environment Iowa said. “But if Iowa creates strict standards to clean up its rivers, other states will be quick to adopt the same policies.”
Iowa itself has over 470 polluted rivers and streams in Iowa that aren’t safe for fishing, swimming or boating, according to Environment Iowa. Iowa is known for its agriculture, but that also contributes to the excessive chemicals in field runoff. The corn, the cows, and the chemicals all factors for the high levels of pollutants in Iowa rivers.
Recently, Gov. Terry Branstad passed the The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The bill aims to reduce the toxins in our water. The plan requires only voluntary efforts, still leaving many rivers open to pollutants.
Hesterberg says that Big Ag lobbyists, or big companies who fight for less environmental regulations, influence Branstad to have less water requirements in Iowa.
“The result of their influence is a plan that relies on voluntary practices,” Hesterberg said. “And doesn’t come close to providing our rivers the protection they need.”
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is responsible for keeping the water sources in Iowa in check. The DNR has certain levels of pollutants the water is required to meet and are expected to test the waters for these regularly.
“The Iowa DNR is made up of a lot of people who either have invested monetary interest or are actually part of industrial agriculture,” said Shepherd. “There’s not a lot of movement there because they’ve got it where they want it.”
Most of the chemicals in Iowa’s water aren’t toxic, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. However, they do create a problem because they growth in algae. This is a problem for the aquatic life and makes the lakes and river unsafe for swimming.
“Without a doubt,” said John Olson, Iowa DNR. “Iowa has some serious issues regarding the quality of its streams, rivers, and lakes.”