Science & Environment | KCUR

Science & Environment

Missouri agriculture officials are struggling to address a backlog of complaints from farmers who allege that dicamba-based herbicide drift from another farm has damaged their crops. 

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has about 600 pending pesticide investigations. Some of them date back to 2016, the year that Bayer-owned Monsanto began selling its dicamba-tolerant soybeans. 

State legislators are considering a budget request the state agriculture agency made last week to hire more staff to help address complaints.

WICHITA, Kansas — Trees improve air quality. They keep people and homes cool with shade. They block the breezes that rake across the Kansas plains.

New research suggests the trees planted by people who filled up Kansas over the last century-plus also made the region more susceptible to hard-to-fight fires.

An advisory group's recommendations to Gov. Mike Parson that state and federal agencies largely focus on repairing and strengthening levees will not do enough to protect communities from floods, environmentalists say.

Parson created the Flood Recovery Advisory Working Group last summer after record flooding along the state’s major rivers caused widespread damage to many Missouri communities. The group mostly consists of regulators, levee district representatives and members of agriculture associations.

There are no scientists and conservationists to acknowledge that climate change will worsen floods and promote long-term solutions to prevent flood damage, said Maisah Khan, water policy director at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

WICHITA, Kansas — As global carbon dioxide emissions break records, Kansas is headed in the opposite direction — reducing emissions for 10 straight years.

Kansas’ decline is largely due to the rapid adoption of wind energy and a slow move away from coal powered electricity. That is to say: Kansas produces less carbon dioxide, or CO2, the powerful greenhouse gas that’s released into the atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels and is a major driver of climate change.

WICHITA, Kansas — An environmental watchdog group says most states aren’t stepping up to fill the gap left by budget and staff cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which could put Kansans at greater risk of exposure to harmful pollutants.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism stands to lose millions of dollars after record spring rains led to park closures, property damage and washed-out roads.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — What if researchers could go to a single hub for vast deposits of information on a range of issues from water quality to court rulings to the medicinal powers of marijuana?

Armed with all that existing research, they might begin to draw conclusions that apply across the country. They might also avoid repeating the work of other researchers.

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

It’s been one of the wettest years on record in Kansas City. With climate change, the likelihood of heavy rainfall is expected to increase, as are flash floods. And cities are starting to realize their infrastructure is not up to snuff. 

Kansas City faced that reality about 10 years ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency mandated the city replace its 100-year-old sewer system after multiple violations of the Clean Water Act.

Floodwaters carved a path of devastation through the Midwest this year — and carried hundreds of storage tanks downstream to Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is collecting these orphaned containers, which range in size from small buckets to 500,000-gallon tanks. Many contain hazardous materials, including diesel fuel, pesticides and ammonia gas.

Most of the containers have washed up along the banks of the Missouri River in the northwest corner of the state, said DNR environmental scientist Stephen McLane.

HARTFORD, Kansas — Some of Kansas’ major reservoirs are filling up with sediment, and if something isn’t done to address the issue, parts of eastern Kansas could see water shortages and insufficient flood control as soon as 30 years from now.

To help slow down the slow, but consistent, reduction of usable water storage in Kansas’ reservoirs, the Kansas Water Office is trying to help farmers in critical areas upstream of the lakes to reduce the water running off from their fields.

But if that isn’t widely accepted, state officials say taxpayers may have to pay millions more just to keep the water flowing.

WICHITA, Kansas — This city’s buses all run on diesel.

They navigate Wichita streets with the distinctive rumble of their time-tested engines, belching the distinctive smell of diesel and a concoction of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.

That exhaust clouds the air locally and adds to the greenhouse gases steadily transforming the climate globally.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

The changes in climate that people in the Kansas City region are now experiencing haven't been seen in previous lifetimes.

That's according to Doug Kluck, a regional climate services director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He also spent 18 years with the National Weather Service as a researcher and forecaster.

KCUR recently sat down with Kluck in an effort to provide readers with some perspective on what's happening. Below is the edited version of that conversation.

WICHITA — Ashley and Erin Watt have always enjoyed the outdoors.

Over the years, they’ve spent a lot of time floating down the Arkansas River in south-central Kansas. Because of record-setting rains this spring, the two didn’t make their first kayak trip down the river until mid-August.

But what started as a leisurely trip ended with a remarkable discovery.

Many insects that feed on Missouri oak trees could be threatened by climate change, according to a study from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. 

Researchers from UMSL and several other universities looked at more than 250 insect species in Missouri, including leaf-tying caterpillars. Biologists reported in the journal Frontiers that the insects’ populations took major hits after mid-spring frosts and summer droughts, decreasing as much as 95% for some species.

Fort Leonard Wood is home to more than 6,000 soldiers and at least three endangered species.

Those animals and two more that are threatened are protected and cared for despite living among shelling and other military training.

And scientists flock to the installation, saying it’s a boon to their research and gives them an opportunity to help these animals.

A flight of doves breaks above the tree line. Fourteen-year-old Robert Goodall fires his shotgun. The birds continue on their path unharmed.

“Never shoot at the bird,” Robert's grandfather, Richard Funk, said. “Always in front of it.”

Robert enjoys going hunting when his grandfather asks him to go along. But the morning’s been slow. He’d prefer something a little more exciting, like football.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Updated at 9 p.m.

Dozens of college and high school students gathered on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus on Friday morning to demand action against climate change. On Friday evening, hundreds more reinforced that message at Mill Creek Park near the Country Club Plaza.

The student protest, organized by the local branch of the Sunrise Movement, was one of hundreds of similar events around the world. Many participants were inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden who has become a global celebrity in a movement against climate change.

Over the last two years, Rob Van Vleet has been slowly scrapping the last vestiges of Kimball, Nebraska’s first wind farm. The wind turbines are made to be sturdy, he said, but they don’t last forever — about 20 years.

WICHITA, Kansas — Large industrial operations — think electrical power plants, oil refineries, ethanol facilities —cough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the ton. That, in turn, warms the planet.

But now some researchers think Kansas could be a good place to pump the gas underground rather than up in the air.

Wichita  Kansas is a national leader in wind energy, but a new report shows the state lags in the adoption of other so-called green technologies.

Find out how Kansas compares to the rest of the country.

The number of black bears in Missouri has more than doubled in seven years, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

There are now as many as 840 black bears in the state, primarily in the Ozarks south of Highway 60. In recent years, there have been more sightings of black bears in other parts of Missouri, conservation officials say. 

The presence of black bears has particularly increased near Lake of the Ozarks and in southwest St. Louis County, said Laura Conlee, a furbearer biologist at the Department of Conservation.

WICHITA — Toxic blue-green algal blooms have been causing major problems on Kansas’ lakes since about 2010.

Because the pond scum can make people sick, the lakes became out of bounds for swimmers and the like.

Yet now the phenomenon is costing Kansans money. It’s infiltrating city water systems, triggering slightly more expensive treatments to keep drinking water safe.

On a hot morning in Cape Girardeau, two men pulled up nets from a lake in hopes of catching alligator gar, one of the largest and most feared fish species in North America.

They’re scientists with the Missouri Department of Conservation, which has spent 12 years trying to restore the alligator gar’s dwindling population in the state. Its numbers in Missouri have fallen partly because the state doesn’t have strong regulations to prevent overfishing of the species.

Man-made structures like levees and dams have also separated the Mississippi River from the floodplain. They block the alligator gar from reaching critical habitat, said Solomon David, an aquatic ecologist at Nicholls State University in Louisiana.

Standing near the corner of his property in southeastern Reno County, Nick Egli looked east and pointed to the proposed locations for several 500-feet-tall wind turbines.

Egli is standing on a grass airstrip he’s spent the last 10 years building. He pictures a few more homes, some hangars and, eventually, a residential community for pilots of small planes.

“If there’s turbines there, you’ve completely killed everything I’ve been working on the last 10 years,” he said.

Drive on any major highway in Kansas and you’ll likely see some roadkill.

For decades, biologists at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism have found a treasure trove in their counts of flattened animals. It’s a way to create a population index of raccoons and beavers.

In 1986, the scientists also started counting armadillos.

The city of Hutchinson is set to become a test site for new technology that’s designed to improve public safety and city operations.

AT&T selected Hutchinson to try out its new Smart City program beginning this summer. The company will provide and install sensors, cameras and communication technology at no cost to the city.

Hutchinson Police Chief Jeff Hooper presented the proposal to city leaders at a council meeting last Tuesday.

Even though Missouri conservation officials have shipped in hundreds of prairie chickens over the last 40 years, the native species has steadily declined in the state.

As the Missouri Department of Conservation prepares to count prairie chickens this spring, the agency reported this week that the population in Missouri has dropped to fewer than 100. In the 1800s, there were hundreds of thousands of prairie chickens that roamed throughout the state. The birds that remain can only be found in small patches of prairie in western Missouri.

The Missouri Public Service Commission gave the green light Wednesday to allow a 780-mile wind-energy transmission line to be built across Missouri.

The Grain Belt Express transmission line will deliver nearly 4,000 megawatts of power from wind farms in western Kansas to parts of Missouri, Illinois and some eastern states. The line would course through eight Missouri counties, including Caldwell, Randolph and Monroe.

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