Iowa’s Huge Population Problem

Update: Chris Jones updated some details about the population and fecal waste issues. Please follow this link for his post 50 Shades of Brown.

My state of Iowa has a human population of 3.16 million (2018). Demographics are here. Des Moines is the most populous city with over 210,000 residents, then Cedar Rapids (130,405) and Davenport (102,582). The rest of the state is mostly small towns and rural. The many river and stream watersheds are outlined in the following image with the human population noted.

Dan Gilles | Water Resources Engineer | Iowa Flood Center

Why do I say the state has a huge population problem? It is because of the large numbers of animals grown in these watersheds. There are about 20-24 million hogs, 250,000 dairy cattle, 1.8 million beef cattle, 80 million laying chickens, and 4.7 million turkeys. Not included are the sheep, goats, horses, deer or Canada geese. These animals create a heavy burden on the water quality of the rivers and streams in the many watersheds around the state. All of which feed into the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers bounding our west and east coastlines.

The University of Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research in Hydroscience & Engineering (IIHR) helps understand the demands on the water flow throughout the state. It helps engineer solutions to the problems encountered in keeping our waters safe. Water quality engineer Chris Jones recently examined the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and total solid matter (TS) of the animal wastes and compared them to equivalent human N, P, and TS levels. His results were published in his blog and were astounding. Please read his post for the details.

The impact of all those animals raised in Iowa was equivalent to a human population of 134 million people. That ranks our state as the 10th most populous ‘nation’ compared to humans alone, behind Russia and ahead of Mexico. To make his point, he put various equivalent human population centers of the world within the watershed boundaries. It is no wonder our rivers and streams are suffering from critical levels of runoff.

Chris Jones | Water Resources Engineer | IIHR

Chris Jones was not trying to pass judgement upon the livestock industry. It is a mainstay in our economy. He says it is important for leaders in the state to examine environmental outcomes along with the economic and regulatory considerations of the industry. I agree.

Drought 2015 | Several Things To Know

The Sierra Nevada mountains provide California with about 30% of its water supply. On April 1st 2015, the Department of Water Resources did its annual analysis of the snowpack. It was declared ‘virtually gone‘…lowest since 1950. It was only about 6% of normal.


California Data Exchange Center (CDEC) |

  • The recent 2014-2015 winter was not the driest on record, but close.
  • Temperatures this winter for California and the western states have been the warmest on record.

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River Cleanup | Sustainable | Natural

Sometimes a solution to a problem comes along that is simple and elegant and deserves to be promoted. This is one of those situations. The Inner Harbor of Baltimore, MD, is fed by the Jones Falls river watershed to the north. People carelessly leave trash on the ground and in the streets instead of in proper receptacles. When it rains, this trash is washed into the river and then into the Inner Harbor. It is ugly and unhealthy. Clean-up has been an ongoing chore for the city.

Since May 2014, the job of trash removal from the river has been made much easier with the use of a current-driven and solar-powered water wheel. Current flows from right to left. This perspective view shows two floating orange booms which guide the trash into the device. The device brings the trash up a conveyor and dumps it into a dumpster. If you are interested is seeing a screenshot of the 2014 trash totals by category, monthly precipitation, tonnage and volume, follow this link. The wheel continues to operate during the winter months.


Ziger/Snead | Baltimore | River current flow is right-to-left

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Climate | Changes Specific to U.S.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released over the past six months three parts of their working study reports. High on their priorities were efforts to mitigate the long-term impacts of climate change. Here are some details by Weather Underground meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters

Peterson et al. 2013

On May 6, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued their National Climate Assessment for the United States. The report is issued every four years. Work by 300 U.S. scientists examined climate change in the U.S. A 60-member committee oversaw and compiled the report to the nation.

What makes this report significant is the focus on impacts of climate change on certain regions of the country and on specific types of impacts being observed now. These impacts have growing economic importance on most segments of our society.

One example is indicated by this graphic from the report highlighting changes in precipitation from 1991-2012 compared to the base period of 1901-1960. The midwest and the northeast show very significant increases in the dark green shades. The southwest and southeast show decreases.

The full report is available online. The Jeff Masters blog summary is available here. My notes on the key messages from the overview follow.

Key Messages in the Report

  • Observations show the U.S. climate changed over the last 50 years due to human activities.
  • Change is projected to increase depending on the gases trapped and how Earth responds.
  • U.S. avg. temperature increased 1.3 – 1.9°F since 1895 with most of that since 1970.
  • The frost free growing season has increased since the 1980s. Largest increases are in the west.
  • Most areas has seen increased precipitation since 1900 with the most in the midwest and northeast.
  • Heavy downpours are on the increase nationwide with the most in the midwest and northeast.
  • Heat waves and drought have increased in number and intensity. Cold waves are likely to decrease.
  • Hurricane numbers, intensity, and rainfall are expected to increase due to the warming climate.
  • Winter storms increased in number and strength. Tornado and severe storm events need study.
  • Sea level rose 8″ since the 1880s. It is likely to rise another 1-4 feet by 2100 impacting coastal cities.
  • Winter ice on the Great Lakes has decreased over time. Polar ice melting will raise sea levels.
  • Marine ecosystems face damage by more acidic water due to the higher levels of CO2 absorbed.

These messages do not paint a pretty picture. What the report emphasizes is that climate change is not something that might happen in the future. We cannot ignore it and hope it won’t happen. It isn’t something that is an annoyance and maybe someone else will take care of it.

Climate change has been happening. It is happening now in the U.S. and worldwide. It will continue. It is up to each of us to be aware of it. We all have a role to play, however large or small, in reducing the negative impacts we have for the immediate and distant future. This is our home. It will be passed to our children and grandchildren. We should take better care of it.

Atmosphere | Aerosols | Natural & Man Made

Dust and aerosol plumes often blow from Africa into the Atlantic in the spring. They cover thousands of square miles and transport tons of particles. They reach to the forests of Brazil and the Caribbean islands. They have been linked to pollution alerts, soil quality in Brazil, and impact on coral reefs. Images from NASA.

The dust and aerosols plumes also arrive from Asia. Prevailing westerlies in the middle latitudes brings tons of particles from China and other countries. Here is an image of a common situation over China. The land mass is obscured from view due to dust and aerosols, in addition to the clouds. Cloud formation is enhanced by particles in the atmosphere. They provide nucleation centers for water droplet formation, hence clouds.

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