July 4, 2015

Algae blooms a concern at lakes with hot weather

BackboneBeachSunny days with less rainfall have helped clear up some of the bacteria problems in the water at state park beaches. Mary Skopec oversees the water testing program for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. She says you should be careful about swimming if there is rain in the area of your beach.

“My advice is if we have a big rain — and again it depends on the timing — so, if we had a big rain for example on Friday, I would maybe give it a day or two to let the bacteria levels subside,” Skopec says.

She says some activity in the water after a rain may be okay. “The big risk is if you are ingesting or drinking that water,” she explains, “so, you can wade in the water. I maybe wouldn’t put my head all the way in and try not to ingest too much water. That tends to be our advice anyway, because we only test once or twice a week and we cannot guarantee that levels are safe all the time.”

You should pay close attention to your kids if they are near the water.”Make sure you wash their hands frequently, so they are not putting their hands in their mouth and getting the water in that way,” Skopec says.

While the sunny weather has cleared up some of the bacteria, the clear conditions can lead to problems with algae. “There are blue-green algae out in the state and certain types of these blue-green algae will produce a toxin. And the conditions that they like are the exact opposite of what washes bacteria into the beach area,” Skopec says. “That tends to happen when we have still, stagnant air and not very much rainfall.”

Skopec says if you see green scum on the water, avoid the algae. She says pets are also vulnerable to the blue-green algae and should be kept out of the algae scums.

Beaches with high levels of bacteria this week are: Backbone Lake, Denison Beach on Black Hawk Lake, Lake Geode and Lake Macbride. For more information and the results of the beach monitoring, go to: www.iowadnr.gov.

Religious leaders want presidential candidates to back Pope on climate change

Religious leaders are asking Iowans to ask presidential candidates their views on climate change.

Catholic and other religious leaders want Iowans to ask presidential candidates their views on climate change.

Catholic leaders were joined by those from other faiths today to urge Iowans to embrace Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and ask presidential candidates to take a stand on climate change.

Father David Flemming read from a statement by Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Diocese who is recovering from throat surgery.

“I invite all Catholics in Iowa to talk with their local, state and national leaders, urging them to exercise leadership in protecting the earth. We will have presidential candidates visiting our state regularly in the coming months. We have a unique opportunity to keep climate change on the front burner,” Flemming says.

The statement urges Catholics and those of other faiths to make climate change an issue for the presidential candidates.

Bishop Richard Pates

Bishop Richard Pates

“Ask not if, but how they plan to work toward solutions to climate change,” he says. “I also urge Iowans to conserve energy. Use energy efficient appliances, and invest in renewable energy systems.”

The group was asked about the Pope’s call for “profound political courage” on the climate change issue. Father Bud Grant, a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University, answered. “These are going to be difficult decisions that have to be made and they are not necessarily going to be popular. They are not necessarily going to help a person to get elected,” Grant says. “But they’re fundamental, they’re essential, they’re vital. So that’s how I would interpret that, politicians have to have the courage to do the right thing, and not necessarily the politically expedient.”

The associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington, Lonnie Ellis, was on hand and asked about where climate change ranks as an issue right now with the presidential candidates. “We’re still not hearing much about what Pope Francis says is one the principle challenges facing humanity and we are still not hearing much about it from any of the candidate. So, I think that’s pretty low right now in terms of them getting out and speaking about this issue,” Ellis says.

He says that is the task ahead for all faiths in Iowa. “We’ve got to get this much more on their radar. This is a moral issue for all of us to consider. And it affects all of us right now and all of our children,” according to Ellis.

DMACC president Rob Denson listens to Father Bud Grant.

DMACC president Rob Denson listens to Father Bud Grant.

There are more Republican candidates in the presidential race than Democrats at this point, and it is often thought that party takes a more conservative view on climate change. Father Grant says the Pope’s call for action goes beyond any party.

“One of the things that theologians like to do is count words. “The Pope uses the words Democrat and Republican exactly zero times in the encyclical,” Grant says. “And when he talks about politics — you should understand — that word means government. It doesn’t really mean politics in that sort of partisan sense.”

Grant says the one word the Pope stresses is partnership. “I think a 170 times, it’s the most used word in the encyclical other than the words that have to do with God, religion and the earth. He wants us to build relationships with the earth and with one another. Fundamentally this is about all human beings, he addresses this encyclical to ‘every person on earth.’ So it’s not about political debate. He thinks we need to do what Lonnie just said, buckle down and get to work,” Grant says.

The religious leaders held their news conference in front of a windmill on the Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, and also talked about the importance of renewable energy to the state.




Iowa Supreme Court won’t hear legal fees appeal in Des Moines case

The Iowa Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a Des Moines case involving millions in lawyer fees. Lawyers who won the case that said the city of Des Moines charged illegal franchise fees asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling by the Court of Appeals that limited their take in fees to 18 percent of the $40 million awarded in the case.


The appeals court ruled 2-1 in upholding a district court ruling that said the award in this case should be looked at differently because the city gets its funding from residents, the very people who are supposed to benefit from the settlement. Attorney Brad Schroeder told Radio Iowa when the appeal was filed, they went in with the agreement they would get 45 percent of the award, and says getting that 15 million would be justified because of the numerous appeals and time put in on the case.



Electronic court filing now available in all 99 counties

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa court system reached a milestone Wednesday as all 99 counties now have electronic filing. Court communications officer Steve Davis says it’s a monumental achievement for the courts. “The biggest part of this is access to justice,” Davis says, “now people can access the courts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which they weren’t able to do before.” Davis says a variety of people need access to court records.

“Attorneys are large users with their cases, but there’s also a lot of Iowans who represent themselves in court. Small claims cases and cases like those where they might be able to work in the evening and file documents in the evening where previously they would have had to take time off of work and go to the courthouse,” Davis says.

The electronic filing system makes it easier for everyone working on a case. “It makes all the files available the parties at the same time — that’s one big convenience. Because, previously if someone else had the case file and someone else wanted to see a document in it, they’d have to wait. Now multiple people can view the same file at the same time,” according to Davis.

The electronic system also cuts down on courtroom clutter. “It removes a lot of the stacks of files and papers on that are on clerks’ desks that needed to be filed manually. Now they are filed electronically so they are not taking up as much space in the courtroom,” he says.

The first electronic documents were filed in Plymouth County five years ago, and the system was then expanded to cover every county. “It was tweaked and refined and the bugs were worked out,” Davis explains. “It’s a totally unique system to Iowa, it’s not an off-the-shelf program that we just took and implemented. The I-T department developed it and worked slowly so it works well for everyone.”

The Electronic Document Management System includes more than six million documents filed by nearly 88,000 users.


Former ISU researcher who faked AIDS experiments sentenced to prison

A former Iowa State University researcher who admitted he faked data to make it appear an experimental AIDS vaccine was working will serve nearly 5 years in prison.

Fifty-seven-year-old Dong Pyou Han had been charged with four counts of making a false statement and ended up pleading guilty to two counts. Prosecutors say Han spiked the blood of rabbits with components of human blood to make it appear the AIDS vaccine he was testing was working.

Han admitted in his plea that the false data was reported to the National Institutes of Health, which had provided 19 million dollars for the research. He was sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay back just over 7 million dollars.


New law makes growlers more available across the state

BEER-GROWLERA new law beginning today expands the availability of containers of beer known as growlers. Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division spokesperson Robert Bailey says the growlers are jug-like containers that range in size from 32 to 72 ounces — and are already sold at craft breweries and brew pubs.

“The new part is that now convenience stores and any licensee that has a carry-out beer license can also now pour fresh growlers,” Bailey explains. He says the growlers are a way for people to have a chance to try craft brews. “They’re to take the product home in smaller samples. From a craft brewer, that beer does not stay fresh for very long. So, you do need to consume it within 48 hours,” Bailey says, “that is what a lot of people do, they just take that craft brew experience home and share it with their friends.”

There are some rules for selling and buying the growlers. He says it has to be filled when it is ordered, the growler has to be sealed. “So that when I take it back to my car I don’t get caught with an open container violation. And the person that sells it to me had to be 18 years of age,” Bailey says.

You may be able to bring in your own growler to have it filled, or buy one at the site. “It depends on the retailer. Some I think will take your growler that you bring in, clean it or just fill another one and give it to you. So, there’s going to be a lot of variations on that business model,” Bailey says.

He says IABD has some guidelines for those who are considering selling growlers. Bailey says they are in the process of creating administrative rules for selling growlers. But they do have information on their website as he says there are not only alcohol rules, but there are also food inspection rules. “It is considered a food-serving situation, so anyone interested in serving growlers also needs to check with the Department of Inspections and Appeals to make sure they meet those sanitation requirements,” Bailey says.

There is one retailer in Ankeny selling growlers under the new rules, and Bailey believes that will change. “We expect a lot of interest, a couple of large retailers are already ramping up and preparing to put in systems in their operations,” Bailey says. “The people that we really want to make they reach out to use are the smaller businesses that think this might be an interesting part of their business model.”

Bailey says it is a big investment to begin selling the growlers, so it is important that businesses understand that before moving ahead. For more information on growlers and other alcohol policies, regulations and licensing requirements, go to: www.iowaabd.com.


New director takes over at Iowa Department of Education

Ryan Wise

Ryan Wise

The deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education began the day by taking the deputy label off his name tag. Governor Terry Branstad appointed Ryan Wise as the new leader of the department beginning today.

“I sought out the position of director because I thought it was an opportunity to continue my work here at the department that I started three years ago when I came to Iowa to help build the teacher leadership and compensation system. And to continue to grow and help serve the schools and students of Iowa,” Wise says.

Wise is replacing Brad Buck, who is leaving to become the superintendent of the Cedar Rapids school district. The position has been in the spotlight the last several years with a variety of issues, including education reform. Wise says the attention didn’t deter him from seeking the job. “No, I think I enjoy this opportunity to be one of many leaders in Iowa working toward a brighter future for all of our students,” Wise says. “While this job certainly does draw attention — I think it is a statewide team collaborative effort.”

Wise says the Department of Education gets good support from the administration. “The governor and lieutenant governor have provided tremendous leadership here. And that is also one of the reasons that I am excited about this work. Because I think they’ve laid out a vision and path for excellent schools for all of Iowa,” Wise says.

He says completing the implementation of the teacher leadership program is one of the top tasks ahead. “This coming year we’ll have 76 new school districts joining the existing 39. Those districts serve over two-thirds of the students in Iowa,” Wise says. “Implementation during the first year went incredibly well and we are looking forward to this second group of districts coming in, and then all districts in Iowa coming in in year three.”

He says there are also other parts of education reform to work on. “Our early literacy initiative is going full-steam ahead — working on ensuring that all students are proficient readers by the end of third grade. We’ve developed a statewide early warning system to ensure that we’re helping districts spot reading challenges before they really become a problem,” according to Wise.

Wise is 39-years-old and a native of South Dakota. His appointment must be approved by the Iowa Senate in the next legislative session.