DG 16 Transcript – University of Iowa
Darice Baxter: Across campus in most areas we’re seeing sustainable principles starting to become incorporated in the classroom. Obviously you can see that in areas like environmental science, environmental engineering, in geo science, in geography; but in business, in political classes, in international studies, in law, all of these can have a sustainability core to them that teaches the student how to problem solve in their area.
George Patterson: Just to give you an overall picture, we’ve got four large LCD monitors on the front wall. We use those to monitor the overall systems. Our main goal here is to use all of the data that’s available at the university to kind of optimize our systems and find energy savings. So, we have over 100,000 points of data that we monitor in real time using pressures, temperatures and flows and other indicators in our systems. These can be in the plants, the power plant, the water plant, in our distribution systems for energy and also in the buildings themselves. The idea is to take that data and turn it into information that helps us save energy.
Glen Mowrey: We have in the utilities organization an initiative to move to more renewable fuels, biomass in our boilers and for the photovoltaics that we have right behind us here. It’s important to produce more renewable energy, but most important is energy conservation, and that is the cornerstone of our program. If we can reduce the amount of energy we need, that is the first step. It is arguably the most green energy you can have is energy that you don’t actually use.
Liz Christiansen: When people see that becoming more sustainable means becoming more efficient, which very often translates to dollar savings, doesn’t always but very often does, when it means treating people more fairly, paying a fair price, supporting fair wage across the rest of the planet, building true economic growth, all of that makes sense and people begin to change. That doesn’t mean the job is done. It won’t be done for quite a while. We will have continuing challenges, but it’s gratifying to see change is beginning to happen.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Dream Green Series with co-hosts Stuart Tanner and James Moore on solar powered KRUU-FM. Iowans creating a greener tomorrow, today. A journey of discovery across the state, featuring innovators, cutting-edge projects, and communities leading the way to an energy independent and sustainable future. Visit our website at greeniowa.org.
James Moore: And we’re singing that same tune, we’re on the road again yet one more time on the journey of discovery across the state of Iowa that is the Dream Green Series. My name is James Moore, we’re going to be heading to the U of I today with Stuart Tanner to check out what’s going on there with some really exciting developments in terms of their sustainability department. That said we’re going to bring Stuart into the conversation. Stuart, how are you doing today?
Stuart Tanner: Yeah, very good. As we’ve been on our travels we’ve often talked about the landscapes we’ve been going through and I remember back in the early days we were watching corn grow and boy was it growing fast, and now we look over the landscape and the corn looks exceedingly dried out due to the lack of rain. There isn’t extreme weather today, but there is a lack of water because of the drought. That’s certainly having consequences for the crop. Makes you wonder how much of the 60% of the corn crop there will be this year available for creating ethanol. Anyway, we’re on the way to the University of Iowa and they certainly have a vision for sustainability and a sustainable future on many levels, educationally and in terms of sourcing more of their energy from renewables, and also sustainable urban design. So, there’s a number of things in that vision and we’ll be hearing about it today.
JM: I think we have Liz Christensen we’ll be speaking with, looking at creating sustainable living communities for campuses. Pretty interesting I’ll have to say. And we’ll be learning about that today, so keep it tuned right here to the Dream Green Series. And we’ll be back in just a moment.
JM: And we are here, we’ve made it as promised to the University of Iowa and we are on campus now, sitting at a beautiful desk in a beautiful office with Liz Christensen talking about what has been happening in terms of sustainability at the U of I, some interesting developments. We’re going to go right directly to Liz who is the director of the office of the sustainable center here. So good to see you. How you doing today?
Liz Christensen: Very good, thank you.
JM: Well, first of all we’d love to just ask the most basic question. Give us a little bit of your background and we’ll talk about what’s going on here.
LC: Sure, my educational background is in biology, and I was interested as a young person in ecology, and was twelve years old when the first Earth Day happened. So, it hit me at exactly the right age to spur my interest and get me excited about our natural world. As I went through college and graduate school I was very interested in becoming a prairie botanist, but things being what they were in the prairie botanist job market I ended up going into planning and then began working a waste/recycling planner for a number of years. I really learned how to set up recycling programs and do public education. And then I went on to work at the Department of Natural Resources and ultimately became the first woman deputy director at that department. And worked there for a number of years, and then was lucky enough to get a job in my home town and come back and live in Iowa City again and work for the University of Iowa.
JM: Tell us a little bit about what’s going on here because this is some pretty exciting stuff we’ve been reading about and learning about.
LC: What’s really driving our focus here at the Office of Sustainability is the set of goals or the targets that we adopted as a university last year, and that would be our 2020 Vision. That is a set of seven targets, four of which are operational, three of which have to do with student success with research and with building partnerships. The first two are really occupying a lot of my time right now, the first three I should say. The first is becoming a net negative energy user within ten years, by the year 2020. You can imagine what a challenge that is for an institution the size of the University of Iowa that is not just a large Big 10 school, but also houses one of the largest teaching hospitals in the world, it’s also an R-1 institution, a leading research institution as well. We think this is doable. It’s certainly a worthy pursuit. So much of sustainability has to do with getting a handle on energy use and making that energy that you do use green. Our first obligation should be to become as efficient as we possibly can in terms of our use of energy. While we know we will be growing over the course of the next ten years, our building footprints are going to be increasing, we may see our energy demands increase, we need to offset that increase and energy demand with a subsequent reduction of energy use in the other parts of the campus. We’re seeing from the great work of our Energy Hawks Team which is our cross-functional energy conservation team, that we think this is possible, it’s doable and we can get a better handle on how we’re using energy and where we’re using it.
JM: Just give a sense of how big the university is, how many students, how many buildings, if you have that.
LC: Sure, well we have close to 200 buildings on campus, not all of them are conditioned, but our conditioned space is roughly 16 million square feet. I don’t know if we have the final total yet for fall enrollment, but I would guess it’s going to be over 31,000. 31,000 students plus about 15-16,000, depending on the time of the year, 15-16,000 employees on campus. So, we’re dealing with when we have everyone here on campus, one of the larger communities in the state of Iowa outside simply the community of Iowa City. So, it’s a significant undertaking to look at managing energy for the entire facility.
ST: It’s a very comprehensive vision for sustainability that the university has, and it’s working on many levels and of course we’ll talk more about those various levels. I’m interested to hear how this all came about, what the inspiration was because presumably a few years back or beyond there wasn’t a sustainability office, there wasn’t this vision, so what really brought that all together? What’s been the inspiration behind it?
LC: Well, it really began I think with President Mason’s call and her speech on Earth Day 2008, which I think was particularly poignant because it was given a month or two before the big flood happened here on campus. This was one of President Mason’s first efforts I think really came from her heart. While she’s very interested and certainly very talented as an administrator, I think she’s a biologist, she’s a scientist and so she understands the need to pay attention to what’s happening on our planet, and sustainability is at the core of that. So, on Earth Day 2008 she gave a landmark speech in which she dedicated a commitment to people here that sustainability will be central to the way we do business from now on. Whether its operations, academics, research, partnerships and that really gave focus and gave rise to our office and the whole effort which ultimately lead to the 2020 sustainability targets.
ST: Could you tell us a little about the beginnings of the Office of Sustainability?
LC: Sure, shortly after President Mason gave this talk of course the university was consumed with this flood and recovering from the flood, regardless work moved ahead with planning and developing for this office. Then I was hired in the fall of 2008 and opened the office in December 2008. And since then, let me just say when we opened the office and opened the doors to the office I was behind because there was such a tremendous backlog and demand for work in this area. Students of course were just so excited that the office got underway. Half of my time was spent responding to inquiries from students, the other half responding to inquiries from faculty and staff. It wasn’t really until nine months after that I was able to start developing the core concepts for the 2020 plan, begin to work with my colleagues in facility management and research and academics to come up with those.
ST: Clearly this is an area you’ve worked in for quite some time, from your perspective have you noticed that sustainability has moved from a fringe to actually becoming more of a core of things these days?
LC: I think that’s absolutely true. When people see that becoming more sustainable means becoming more efficient, which very often translates to dollar savings, it doesn’t always, but very often does. When it means treating people more fairly, paying a fair price, supporting fair wage across the rest of the planet, building true economic growth, all of that makes sense and people begin to change. That doesn’t mean that the job is done, it won’t be done for quite a while. And we will have continuing challenges but it’s gratifying to see that change is beginning to happen.
ST: It’s an interesting point you make about fair wage. I mean a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily connect sustainability to economic growth and fair wage, so how do you make those connections?
LC: I think we look at what we’re purchasing. Obviously the university’s a large purchaser. Make sure we’re following our own guidelines and reaching out where we can to support fair trade products, coffee, chocolate, those traditional things but also look at new opportunities. And look at where we can be a partner for true economic growth that’s based on the three legged stool, the principles of the three legged stool of sustainability people, planet and imparity. And there are plenty of opportunities whether you are working overseas in Ghana, or South America, or if you’re working here locally to make economic growth and partnerships happen.
ST: It does indeed broaden and deepen the vision. Being a university, part of the objective would be to train students for students to have a career and to have skills that they can apply out in the job environment and so on and contribute to their society and the economy and so on. How is that aspect of things incorporated?
LC: That’s a very good question. I always tell students, I end up talking to students a lot obviously, but I say I’m sorry but the burden of dealing with these issues the work that has to be done to become climate neutral to meet these basic economic and fairness issues across the planet the bulk of that work is going to fall on your shoulders and of the young people who will be coming into college the next ten to fifteen years. So it’s an absolute imperative that we bring these people opportunities that they can apply sustainability where they work and learn and we build a problem solving skills to them so they can go out and make these changes happen. Across campus in most areas we’re seeing sustainable principles starting to be incorporated into the classroom. Obviously you can see that in areas like environmental science and environmental engineering, in geo science, geography, but in business, in political science, in international studies, in law, all of these can have a sustainability core to them that teaches the student how to problem solve in their area.
ST: One of the things I wanted to ask you about is what about the outreach from the university into the community, into businesses, into other educational institutions? I mean how much is this flowering here, and how much is this a phenomenon that’s reaching across the state do you think, and elsewhere?
LC: That is, I think, one of the most exciting things we’re doing. Obviously the university is part of the community and has quite an impact so I think it’s imperative that we build a bridge to the community. A bridge of communication and a bridge of cooperation, and sustainability can be that bridge. We have a lot of examples where that has happened in terms of housing development, partnerships with local businesses and students, and things like that. And that is very exciting. What also is exciting are the contacts I receive from businesses across the state of Iowa seeking assistance building their own sustainability core. Many businesses, home grown businesses, are finding that sustainability is not only a good business case but also a good public relations case, a corporate-social responsibility case, and is ultimately essential for their survival and being competitive. And so when I receive those contacts from those businesses I try immediately and make a contact with an academic or a research component here on campus that can provide feedback and guidance, and very often that’s led to a partnership where we can have students work with that business and gain practical experience within the business and also help that business become more competitive. That is really thrilling to see that connection and hopefully that leads to building a greener economy here in Iowa, making our Iowa businesses globally competitive and responsible socially and environmentally responsible at the same time.
JM: What is your experience with the drive by students to really have this opportunity, own it and take it to the next level, how much has that played a part in all this as well?
LC: Oh, that has been phenomenal. That is perhaps the most hopeful thing that someone can experience is to see the interest and the desire on the part of young people and students who come to all schools, who come now with a built in knowledge of the importance of environmental performance, fairness, real economic growth, not sacrificing the dignity of people or the planet. That has been wonderful. I see young people here in this office and around campus become interested in sustainability for exactly the right reasons. They want to help people and they want to help the planet.
ST: Tell us a little bit about the Certificate of Sustainability, because I believe that’s new on offer here.
LC: Right. That was developed over a course of a year or two. Really good work was done with that to be able to offer that certificate to undergraduates, over 120 courses across campus are eligible to be considered toward the certificate. The thinking behind the development of that certificate is regardless of what your interest is, history, art, science, whatever, you can come to sustainability. Since that began to be offered in I believe 2009 academic year that has grown from twenty students to I think close to one hundred students now are enrolled in that program, and we’re seeing the first students graduate with that certificate and we know that brings value to them out on the job market.
ST: One are the interesting areas in terms of sustainability is, how can I put it, is that it still could be seen as having a political shade to it in the sense that, a lot of businesses are against regulation. The area of sustainability can be seen as liberal left, can be seen as interventionist, so do you think it still has that political shade for a number of people and businesses, or is that sort of moving away?
LC: I think that’s changing, and I think that’s changing by necessity. Occasionally I come up against that argument that you’re representing your drive, a political agenda, and then that’s not the case, we’re driving change for the betterment of people and for the environment upon which we depend. When I talk to groups or to students I often list and go through the basic principles of sustainability, I always take a step back and talk about efficiency, because efficiency is as much about driving waste out of a system as it is about making things move faster, and whether you’re talking about waste of energy, waste of resources in terms of garbage or trash going to the landfill, waste of human resources all of that makes sense to a business person and the bottom line. They get it. They understand it. When you adopt sustainability principles at a business, at a business level or business system it makes sense, and that usually wins the argument of driving a political agenda. The other thing is the idea of being protective. Being mindful that we do does not harm natural systems, because it will be the limit of those natural systems that limits life on this planet. We need to make sure we protect those. Not only does it cost more in the long run to clean up after ourselves rather than be protective upfront, it’s important that we keep healthy, natural systems because when they are healthy, when air quality is good, when water quality is good, when our ecosystems are healthy they tend to be naturally and self-healing. That’s good for all of us. When we push those natural systems to the point where they’re no longer healthy, they’re no longer self-healing and that’s bad for us.
JM: I’m smiling just because, let’s see, who votes for efficiency? Whoa, it’s almost 100% in the room. I wonder if there’s anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to add.
LC: I encourage people to get on our website which is sustainability.uiowa.edu and learn about what we’re doing here. We’ll be here for quite a while trying to build a greener campus, a more sustainable campus and its good work.
ST: It’s a great website, very informative and it gives a real clear explanation of the breadth and depth of the vision of the university, so I highly recommend a visit to the website and we’ll be featuring some of the other things going on here in the program.
JM: That’s right, this is Stuart Tanner and James Moore for the Dream Green Series broadcasting on solar-powered KRUU-FM. We’ve been speaking with Liz Christensen. We’re going to be spending more time here in Iowa City seeing a whole bunch of neat stuff. That’s technical term, but stay with us we’ll be back in just a moment. Keep it tuned right here.
JM: Hey, nice to meet you. James Moore. We are entering now a very special command center here. It looks somewhere between NASA and something in outer space. We’re in the University of Iowa energy control center. We can see a number of monitors on the wall. Speaking with…
George Patterson: George Patterson.
JM: George Patterson, tell us a little about your role here and then we’d like to ask a few questions about this very impressive looking room.
GP: I work here in the energy control center. I helped put it together. We started on it about two years ago. Put it into production a little over a year ago. And I’m continuing to develop new tools for it.
JM: Well, tell us exactly for our radio listeners, they don’t have the advantage of pictures, give us a little bit of a setting here and what you’re monitoring what we’re looking at.
GP: Well, okay. To give you an overall picture, it’s a room that’s about 20x20 feet. We’ve got four large LCD monitors on the front wall. We use those to monitor the overall systems. Our main goal here is to use all of the data that’s available at the university to kind of optimize our systems and to find energy savings. So, we have over 100,000 points of data that we monitor in real time, these are pressures, temperatures, and flows and other indicators in our systems. These can be in the plants, the power plants, the water plants, in our distribution centers for energy, and also in the buildings themselves. So, the idea is to take that data and turn it into information that helps us save energy.
ST: How many college campuses have a system like this?
GP: I know of maybe two others at this point in time. I think we really were probably the first to do it on this scale. We’ve had a lot of interest from other campuses, they have come and visit and try and get ideas. And I know a couple of them actually have taken it back and kind of replicated a lot of what we’re doing on their campuses.
ST: What’s the vision going into the future? What sort of targets do you have? What do you set yourselves targets in terms of, well you’re a growing university, you want to see energy consumption not go up, do you have baseline targets like that?
GP: We do have very aggressive targets. One of them is that by 2020, regardless of our campus square footage growth or any other changes in the campus that we will use no more energy than we did in 2010. And that’s a pretty aggressive challenge because the campus is growing pretty rapidly.
ST: So, how are you doing so far?
GP: We’re learning a lot. I think we’ve developed some nice tools that are helping us get our arms around the scope of the problem. I mean the first thing we need to do, and I think we’re doing very well at, is identifying where is the energy getting used? How is it spread out in the university? How are the different buildings using the energy? Where are the problems? Where are the most intense energy users? And we’ve done a good job of identifying that. We have real time steam, electric and chill water metering on all of our buildings on the system, we know exactly where the energy is going at all times. We’ve done another thing which is to baseline energy use at every building on campus. So, based on our weather forecast we can predict within a few percent of where our energy use will be at every building on campus at any time. And that helps us to do a couple of things. One of those things is if it changes and diverges from those baselines by very much then we know there may have been a change or a problem in the building that needs looking into. Another thing is that if we want to make a change, such as a scheduling change or equipment change in the building, it gives us instant data to tell whether that is effective and how effective it is.
JM: When to do it and all that. Wow, well keep up the good work. All I can say is it’s been fun entering the NASA of the energy control center here. We call our little radio station Mission Control, but let me just say for our listeners, this is a little bit more mission and probably a lot more control. Thank you so much. Keep up the great work.
GP: Okay, thanks for having me.
JM: And we’ll be back in just a moment. We are broadcasting from the University of Iowa Energy Control Center.
JM: And this is James Moore. We are outside now, you might hear the wind a little bit against the microphone or some great background noises, perhaps a train. I’m looking around the parking lot area, we’ll learn more about this in just a minute. This is the Sustainable Energy Discovery District, and I see a wind turbine there, a little guy, not moving too much at the moment. But we’re standing by let’s just say some serious panels here, solar panels. I know we’re the first and only solar-powered radio station in the Midwest, let’s just say this array is a pretty serious array here. We’re talking with Glen Mowrey. Glen Mowrey is... what is your role then?
Glen Mowrey: I am the Director of Utilities and Management for the University of Iowa.
JM: I guess we’re talking to the right guy here. We’re outside, Stuart’s here as well. Let me just start by asking a little bit about your role here. And we’re learning a lot about pretty exciting stuff about sustainability and energy efficiency practices here on a pretty, pretty serious scale at the university. Tell me a little about your background and your role here, Glen.
GM: Well, when I first started here at the university about eight years ago I was hired as the Director of Utilities Operation. We did not have an energy management program at the time, and over the years we have developed an energy management arm to our organization. That’s very important because we have in the utilities organization an initiative to move to more renewable fuels, biomass in our boilers and the photo-voltaics that we have right behind us here. It’s important to produce more renewable energy, but most important is energy conservation. And that is the cornerstone of our program. If we can reduce the amount of energy we need, that’s the first step, is arguably the most green energy you can have is the energy you don’t actually use.
JM: Well, that’s the principle of ‘do less and accomplish more’ in practice here. Well, let’s talk about first of all since we’re standing almost directly underneath a really massive, and very impressive people call it a row of panels. Tell us a little about this system, photo-voltaic solar array.
GM: We call this is our EV charging station. A number of years ago we realized that our service fleet and facilities management which was comprised of trucks and vehicles with internal combustion engines wasn’t the best suited for a campus environment. There was too much time idling, of wasting fuel and not moving the vehicle, just a lot of stop and go traffic. By going with an electric vehicle, when you’re not moving that vehicle is not using energy at all. So, we decided to move more toward an electric fleet. There’s still a concern with electric vehicles that you have to charge those off the utility grid. Some of that electricity’s produced by a dirty coal plant, and to avoid that we had a concept to build a carport if you will that’s roof was comprised of solar panels. So, this unit here is about fifty kilowatts of photo-voltaic panels on it and we can charge around 25 vehicles off of this grid.
JM: Well, that’s some serious charging power, that’s for sure. It’s interesting, we had, where our radio station is, we had the same idea. The first thing was to have a carport where you’re also able to park underneath it and save some energy at least that way. But this is quite a fleet here then that you have for the management facility and pretty impressive too. That’s expanded how much since when?
GM: Well, when we started out there wasn’t much of a market available for electric vehicles, so some of these vehicles are rather basic units. It’s not an industrial vehicle like you’d see with our utility trucks and as the market evolves I think we’ll have more and more opportunity to buy a little more industrial type vehicle. We have eight vehicles right now, most of those are two-seaters, some of them are four-seaters. They look like small pickups, some have covered cabs. You can hear one backing up there right now as it beeps as it backs up to the solar array and they’re off to look at a project on campus. These are very useful vehicles for us, and again we’re always looking for an opportunity to move into a more robust vehicle to use and then we can make it more widespread across our service fleet.
ST: What’s the vision going forward in terms of the expansion of the fleet? I noticed you’ve got the cambus as well. They’re still combustible engine are they, or?
GM: They are diesel engines, yes. One of the things we want to achieve with this array that we have now is we have this partnership with the College of Engineering at the university and they’re doing quite a bit of research on this. One of the charging stations we have at the other end of this facility is equipped with smart-grid technology and we’re beginning to realize the value in that smart-grid concept so that some day when we have a large fleet of electric vehicles that will serve as a storage bank for electric and it could be a buffer to the peaks and valleys of our electric demand. The bus barn that we’ve talked about beside us actually has a thin film array on it and that’s also being looked at by the College of Engineering and we’re evaluating the efficiencies of the two different technologies and it will help us understand how we would expand this in the future. As far as the service vehicles go, we would like to get a point where we’re 100% electric, and we’d like to have the arrays sized appropriately so that we have enough power generated from the sun to provide the energy for these vehicles. We’d like to be able to say these are truly 100% renewable energy driven vehicles.
JM: Well, let me just ask, have you run into a patch where it’s been cloudy so long that it’s been an issue?
GM: Well, we have a lot of extra capacity in this array given the number of vehicles that are plugged in, so we really haven’t had that problem. It’s important to note that this is also tied to our utility electric grid so that any excess power goes for use by the rest of the campus.
JM: Fantastic. I had a feeling that that much power would not be going to waste in this environment. Stuart?
ST: Does that mean it makes it feasible for if you had the space and you could put up a number of the arrays and feed them directly into the grid, does that become feasible as well?
GM: It does. Right now it’s somewhat cost prohibitive when we look at other technologies. The cost per kilowatt of photo-voltaic power is quite a bit more expensive than what we can get it from more traditional means of power generation. There are programs underway right now to really drive down the cost of photo-voltaic production, and I know the Department of Energy has a program called Sunshot, and the intention there is to get the cost of the PV generated electricity comparatively with fossil fuel generated electricity by the year 2020. So that’s something to really look forward to and as we approach those costs of installation then we will expand our system and take advantage of that.
ST: Do you have a view of how the industry should be managed and supported? Because obviously we’ve just seen solarized closed and there have been a number of closures in the U.S. of solar panel industries, finding it hard to compete with China, Germany is doing much better even though they’re not as well equipped really as a climate for solar power. Do you have a view on that area?
GM: Well I do. I believe that advancements need to be market driven and we should be providing incentives for more wide spread use and installation of photo-voltaics. It’s surprising to me that a country like Germany is leading the way in the total electricity produced by photo-voltaics and here in Iowa our climate’s not all that much different than Germany and one would argue that we’re in better position to utilize the sun for generated electricity. So, I believe with some appropriate incentive programs we can get more people interested in photo-voltaics and that market itself will then drive additional investments and development in production facilities.
JM: I want to ask a general question here. Glen, I’m wondering what’s your general sense of working here. This must be a pretty nice setting with a lot of emphasis on sustainability, and what does it feel like personally just working in this environment here at the U of I?
GM: Well, this is a great place to work for a number of reasons. Our administration really supports our investigation into alternate energies, into alternate fuels, and our partnership with the College of Engineering is just excellent. We’ve worked with a number of professors and student groups that are very interested in analyzing the data that we have from these systems and help us make decisions on what’s the best renewable fuel to use in our boiler and what type of photovoltaic system should we install, you know, what’s the best mounting angle for it. And the input is invaluable, and I’d say the College of Engineering at any time works on four to six different projects for us. Through design groups, senior design groups and other programs offered by the College of Engineering.
JM: Glen, thank you so much for your comments. Keep up the great work. We really appreciate this mini walking tour. I know we could talk more. We do appreciate your time. I love the side of the vehicle there, ‘sustainable vehicle 100% electric’. We see the vehicle’s plugged in right now, plugged into the sun just like KRUU-FM. We are broadcasting on sunlight these cars are driving on sunlight. I wouldn’t say it’s the future, I’d say it’s a green today and that’s great work. Thank you so much.
GM: Thank you very much.
JM: And we’ll be back in just a moment. We’re in Iowa City today and enjoying a beautiful day. A little bit warm but it is Iowa.
JM: And this is James Moore and Stuart Tanner with the Dream Green Series right here on solar-powered KRUU-FM. We are visiting the U of I, the University of Iowa today. We have with us Darice Baxter. Darice is an alumna from UI’s Environmental Science and Geoscience program where she was a double major in environmental science and geoscience. So, I think we can safely say Darice is a scientist. She’s an environmental specialist for the UI’s environmental services as their storm water inspector specifically the primary responsibility to oversee the storm water quality compliance at construction sites. Reviewing, improving and proposing modifications to the storm water pollution preventions plans. We’re going to talk to her and about what her job entails, where she’s seeing progress and what’s it’s all about. Darice thanks so much for joining us. How are you doing today?
Darice Baxter: I’m doing well.
JM: Obviously you’re an alumna of the U of I, you’ve had an interest in the environment and the science part of it, tell me a little bit about what drew you to the field and then about your specific duties here at the U of I.
DB: I am actually a native here of Iowa and grew up in the Iowa City area and I currently live in North Liberty. I went to high school here, grade school, all of that stuff so I’m very familiar with the area. My family and I grew up going out to the Coralville Reservoir, we’ve been and enjoying environment around town and as I slowly went off onto college and I got interested in the environmental science program that was there as well as geology and I’ve always been interested in both of those. As a child I loved playing in dirt and that’s one of the areas I focused on in school was soil science. And this job just happened to land in my lap and it just blossomed from there. Initially, when I first started I just had a few construction sites that I did, around four. Currently I have nineteen construction sites I work on. We’ve been pretty busy here, my job has expanded quite a bit from where it used to be six years ago.
JM: Talk to us a little bit about the storm water aspect of it.
DB: One of the first things that even I became aware of when I first started this job, which I’m also surprised most people don’t realize, but storm water is not treated when it’s in the road. Most people believe it goes to a municipality and gets treated, and that’s not the case. And honestly, I had never thought about it until I started this position. Everybody lives downstream you know, if you think about it that way. So, every single part just becomes integral into keeping the environment clean and safe. I feel that I’m trying to do my part for that. So, it’s a very fulfilling job and I enjoy it.
ST: So, does the storm water go into the rivers mostly?
DB: Yeah, but we try to minimize the impact, any sediment getting in there, any illicit discharges, illicit materials, whatnot. We use a lot of innovative techniques, a lot of different devices, a lot of people call them compost socks, honestly I prefer to use things that are just a little bit more high-tech, and those work really well. They’re also reusable products. Some of the same contractors will take them from site to site to site so they don’t have to keep buying them over and over and over again. And we try and recycle in that way.
ST: Sounds to me a relatively new area, clearly in planning for construction and pavement and so on. There was always the thought of where you would direct the runoff, and I’m sure for a long time it was just well, it will run off and it will go into the rivers and the soils and it will just get passed on. But as we know, as there’s been more development and as the pattern of the weather seems to be changing, perhaps there’s more to deal with these days. Is this an area that’s sort of grown in terms of focus and complexity?
DB: Oh yeah, I agree with you. You look at it from an engineering standpoint their idea is to get the water out of the area as quickly and as efficiently as possible. My job is to think of ways and innovate and try to implement ways to try and keep that water on site and treat it on site rather than opposed to the impervious area versus pervious area, try and keep it on site, retain and detain that idea. It’s been a slow process, but now that the university is trying to make sure our buildings are LEED certified storm water is definitely coming to the front and I’m definitely more involved now.
JM: You say retain, detain and sustain maybe, eh? The site you’re working on, some new construction sites, how does it break down in terms of using LEED principles and practices for these new sites?
DB: Well, with LEED you get so many points which equals so many stars which equals gold, silver, bronze and platinum in a building. For example, the data center that is almost finished out at the Oakdale Campus, one of the issues out there and behind it is there was a very, very steep hill, after grading was done. Well, what we decided to do was put a very, very, very large bio-retention cell out there. It is the largest one on campus. I’m extremely excited about it. I go out there every few days and take a looky-loo. They’re starting to landscape so I’m really excited, and I brought photos for you guys to see. That is a 45,000 square foot building, and the entire roof system drains into this bioswale. Therefore, you can imagine honestly how big it is. There is I believe 1,100 plants that they’re putting in there that are native species to Iowa. We’re really trying to make an effort to beautify, retain, detain, sustain. It holds about, I wasn’t able to calculate the gallons right away, but it’s about 3,100 cubic square feet of water, and it’s meant to have holding capacity of a two-year storm over a 24 hour period. So, that’s a lot of rain that’s coming off that roof. A few weeks ago in North Liberty we got a freak storm, we got I think ¾ inches of rain in 25 minutes. The construction manager happened to be out there at the site and he ran back out to the bioswale and saw the water gushing off. In that 25 minute, ¾ inch storm, which is just insane, no water left the bioswale, it didn’t go over the burn, nothing. It all soaked in within less than, I think he said, fourteen hours.
ST: Wow. Yeah, that’s really impressive.
JM: What would you say is your biggest challenge here, in Iowa City?
DB: The biggest challenge I would say is simply making people aware of their environment. Trying to get them to understand it is important for them to care. Like I said, we all live downstream. And that is the way I’d like for some people to look at storm water quality.
JM: Wonderfully spoken. That’s Darice Baxter here at the U of I. She’s shown us the bio-retention cell, and a lot of great stuff. We’re going to be marching on to some other sites and sounds around the campus. Thank you so much for your time. This is the Dream Green Series. We’ll be back in just a moment. Keep it tuned right here.
JM: And we’ve arrived at another destination. This is James Moore with Stuart Tanner. I don’t know if you can hear the birds in the background. A little place that says The Student Garden. We’re going to talk with some of the wildlife here. It’s Friday before a big game tomorrow here at the U of I. Hawkeyes getting ready to kick off their football season as we speak. We see sunflowers in the background. We’re going to speak to a few of the folks here that are creating this space. Looks pretty good, very nice area. What do you think, Stuart?
ST: Apparently students come here and garden rather than go drinking, so yeah, must be good.
JM: Ha ha, I thought they combined both. We’ll see. We’ll get the real scoop here in just a moment. We’re walking around now, we have a hoop house garden here that we’re looking at, part of the Dream Green Series here, part of the continuing coverage of what’s going on at the U of I. And we’re walking towards the beautiful entrance, some big ol’ sunflowers. Hello, what’s your name?
Justine Scaterelli: I’m Justine.
JM: You’re Justine. Justine what?
JM: Easy for you to say. Is that Italian?
JS: Yes, it is, very much.
JM: I just intuited that. So tell me a little bit about the student garden here.
JS: Well, this is the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Student Garden it’s been here for about three years. It’s a third of an acre of land that the university lets us use for free, which is really nice. We grow all kinds of things out here, all kinds of vegetables, squash, corn, lots of tomatoes right now, beans and peas. Anything, anything really that we can.
JM: What do you study?
JS: I’m studying English and International Studies.
ST: We’re going to walk down the avenue of sunflowers. Actually I can imagine do you have weddings here? You know, sort of weddings in the garden. ‘Cause it’s like these huge sunflowers either side, it’s a bit of a fairytale.
JM: It is it’s gorgeous. Well, thanks I was just going to ask you Justine go ahead and tell us what we’re looking at.
JS: These are our sunflowers, just sort of trying to make a beautiful entrance for the garden.
JM: Well, you’ve succeeded there.
JS: First thing we have here is our raised beds, we’re growing greens in them, arugula, and some radishes and spinach. They haven’t come up, but this is our fall crop so.
JM: How many students are involved with this garden?
JS: At our last meeting it was pretty exciting we had 22 people at the meeting, we have 140 members on our Google group so fluctuatingly I would say we have pretty strong 30 very dedicated people.
JM: Tell me about your passion for gardening. Where does it come from?
JS: I am a relatively new gardener actually. I would say I first learned of my passion for gardening the first time I came out here. So, this place was what got me interested in gardening, which is really cool. I don’t know, there’s something that feels so natural to me. The first day I came out here we got up early and we harvested pounds and pounds of squash. And just to get your hands on your food, touch it and see it in the ground. I don’t know, I just really like that connection I guess.
JM: You know, I remember the first time I had a garden and I picked a cherry tomato off the vine, warm from the sun to the mouth before it even has a chance to realize it’s no longer there. It is just, food becomes a different thing.
ST: Presumably you get to sample the produce. I mean you put all this work into it.
JS: The interesting thing about our garden is we get to eat as much as we want really, but we also sell produce to IMU. So, we’re learning a lot and it’s one of the hardest things learning about that relationship between producer and seller, and money.
JM: We were up at ISU and they have a food to farm program that they’re starting. Pretty interesting. That has not been a huge focus for them but we went to the hort farm and that’s a whole area of study that they’re doing now. Uh oh, we’re looking at cherry tomatoes right here, speaking of bliss. Oh my goodness, there it is in my hand, it’s warm, it’s in my mouth, oh my God. That’s better than Reese’s Pieces. Wow, that is really tasty. Thank you so much. Is there a website specifically for this project, or is it connected with something else?
JS: Yeah, there is one. It’s a little bit confusing. I would suggest Googling the UIEC student garden.
JM: Ok, say that again.
JS: UIEC student garden. That stands for University of Iowa Environmental Coalition student garden.
JM: Thank you for your time, and keep up the great work. This is going to go for how long, through November you think, November or into October?
JS: Oh yeah, into November for sure. Way into November.
ST: Right, right.
JM: Thank you so much. Stuart, any final thoughts?
ST: Thanks Justine. That was great, great fun. It’s a great place, great to be able to come out and sort of have fun in the garden and grow things, come along and eat someone’s tomatoes, basically.
JM: And eat. Well, you know what they say, they say the proof is in the pudding. And I’ll tell you what, they’re pudding it nicely here at the student garden. I’m gonna sign off before I hurt myself here. I feel those tomato juices running around my brain and it’s all good. So, we’ll be back dreaming green in just a moment. Keep it tuned right here, Stuart Tanner and James Moore on solar-powered KRUU-FM.
ST: From Dream Green Series, can we ask you a couple of questions?
Krista Payne: Sure.
ST: Can you tell us your name and how you got involved in the garden project here?
KP: My name is Krista Payne and I’m an environmental science student here at the University of Iowa and we’re doing a project on helping the environment in some way and this was on the list of things and I love gardening and being out in nature, so I chose this.
ST: So, how often do you come out, and what do you tend to do out here?
KP: Actually, it’s just a one day project and we have to write an abstract about it and we have to pull weeds and water and help them do anything they need us to do. After being here I think I’ll probably come back and volunteer more because I …
JM: Uh oh.
KP: Exactly. It’s a great place to be.
JM: Even though it 95 degrees.
KP: Yeah, I sweat a lot but that’s ok, I don’t mind sweating. Hard work is good.
JM: I think sweat goes very well with gardens. I think it helps everything grow better.
ST: I see you watering the courgettes here. Presumably at some point you might get to sample one as well.
KP: I would love to sample one. I would love to have some to bring home to my family to sample even because it’s so great to be out here and have fresh vegetables to eat.
ST: Are you aware of the university’s push for sustainable practices and sustainable future?
KP: We were just talking about that actually in class.
ST: What do you know of it and what do you think of it?
KP: I don’t know a whole lot about exactly of what the university is doing, but you see a lot of signs around about how they’re trying to do that project for sustainability. Just having a garden and selling fresh vegetables is even a good start I think. Recycling, and turning off lights and everything, that’s what we’ve been talking about.
JM: Thank you so much, and keep up the good work. And we’ll try not to step on anything while we’re here. Great to speak with you, thank you so much.
KP: Thank you, have a good day.
ST: Becca, can you tell us what you’re studying and what you’re up to here today?
Becca Brown: I’m actually an art major. I want to be in ceramics but I’m also getting a museum certificate. And I actually came out here last year for the first time for a service learning project for the environmental science class and I was like, aw man I have to get this hour done. Let me just get it out of the way. And I’ve been here every single weekend since, so.
JM: Man, there’s sustainability.
ST: It’s incredible how you can come out into the garden and get hooked in that way. I’ll tell you that I miss the English gardens and all their flowers and stuff. In Iowa there tend to be less gardens. And it is such a nice thing to just come out. It just goes to show the garden attracts everybody from all sorts of different subjects and so on. I don’t suppose it inspires you work in any way, does it?
BB: Actually it does. A lot of my pieces are based around nature, that and also I just love to go camping and hiking and whatnot, so.
JM: Becca, your last name?
JM: Becca Brown. Did you make that up?
BB: No. [laughs]
JM: It sounds like an art name. You said you’ve been out every weekend, are you planting and enjoying the fruits? What’s your participation level?
BB: I come here as much as I can. I love this place so much that I try and give my 100%. And right now we’re tilling in turnips.
ST: Well, I’m glad we turned up today. I got that in before James did, which is pretty remarkable.
JM: I was stuck on tilling, but until we meet again we want to wish you all the best. Really, keep up the great work. I have to ask, what’s your other organization, your new organization you’re working on?
BB: It’s called Simply Food. We’re trying to do a food awareness organization. Basically, a lot of people are very disconnected from where their food comes from and I’ve been really blessed by coming to the garden and really knowing the growing process and I just want to have every other healthy Hawkeye out there to really know where their food comes from and the process of it.
JM: Well, you’re singing the Dream Green theme almost here.
ST: You really are.
JM: And I think we’ll just put some music to it and call it a day. Wow, that’s really great. You know, we are what we eat and it all comes from the soil. And this past week we spoke with a soil microbiologist, chief scientist for the Rodell Institute and it’s amazing when you think of the nutrients in the soil going into the food, going into the body and what that means for health. And every other thing when you’re not shipping it so many miles and it’s just a whole good way to do business. Which, or if you don’t want to call it business, The Art of Eating as well. Let me just ask you this as we head out, what’s your favorite vegetable?
BB: Oh, I love them all.
ST: Doesn’t want to upset any of the vegetables. We are standing right next to them.
JM: It’s true, it’s like my girlfriend, I have to talk to the plants when I water them otherwise they feel neglected and it actually seems to work but that’s a whole other subject. Anyway, Becca, thank you so much and keep up the good work and the good enjoyment. It’s really been delightful speaking with you.
BB: Thank you, have a great day.
JM: Alrighty, we are out of the garden here. This is Stuart Tanner and James Moore from The Student Garden at the U of I. We’ll be back in just a moment. You’re listening to the Dream Green Series on solar-powered KRUU-FM.
JM: That is the Unifonics at Iowa City. It’s a live version I got off of Youtube and I hope you enjoyed that. Pumping up the IC there. Thank you so much for that, thank you for listening to another Dream Green Series special here, twenty part series going all over the state. Thanks Liz Christiansen, and Glen Mowrey and everyone, Darice Baxter. We didn’t get our segment in with Ben Fish, we’ll try to put that on our website, greeniowa.org. We go to a power plant that’s powered by oat hulls from Quaker Oats. So much great stuff going on there. Next week we’ll be talking to folks in Fairfield, focus on all the great sustainable efforts right here in our home town of Fairfield, Iowa. The mayor, the sustainability director Scott Timm, Troy VanBeek, Amy Greenfield and a lot more so keep it tuned right here to KRUU-FM. Solar-powered. See you next week same time, same station.
Voiceover: Produced by Stuart Tanner and James Moore at solar-powered KRUU 100.1 FM, Fairfield, Iowa, online at kruufm.com. This series is funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, and nearly seventy individuals, companies and organizations. For a list of sponsors, visit our website at greeniowa.org. Archives available for download under creative commons license. Music from Zilla.