Friday, February 22, 2013

Midwest Nature Quote of the Week

Each species that has come to the Loess Hills has left its mark on the ever-changing landscape, nudging it toward certain responses that have altered the land’s form, its processes, and its communities’ composition.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Engineers for a Sustainable World: Interview with Jeremy Bril, Part 1

You and fellow students from Jerry Schnoor's Sustainable Systems course built the UI Press rain garden, the first rain garden on campus. And you also built a berm that has kept water out of our basement. Tell us how you did this.

As part of the UI Press rain garden design, we had to remove some existing soil to make sure the rain garden was able to correctly collect and infiltrate water. We thought it would be a good idea to try to use the excess soil to prevent water from entering the basement. Amy Bouska, an urban conservationist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, recommended that we construct a berm that would divert rainwater runoff into the grass instead of letting it run along the side of the building where it eventually found its way into the basement. This turned out to be a simple and efficient solution that allowed us to use our existing resources to solve a water management issue.

You’re studying environmental engineering and science. The old-fashioned image of engineers—men in hard-hats standing around large construction sites with clipboards in hand, imposing order upon the natural world—seems to have vanished. How are today’s engineers integrating the natural and the built environments?

The field of engineering has certainly evolved over the years. As an environmental engineer, my job is to utilize science and engineering principles to develop solutions to environmental problems. A great example of integrating the natural and built environments is low impact development or LID. The purpose of LID is to work with nature to manage stormwater runoff by employing techniques such as preserving and recreating natural landscape features and decreasing impervious areas to create appealing and functional site drainage that treats stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product. Rain gardens, bioretention facilities, green roofs, rain barrels, and permeable pavements all help reduce the impact of built areas and promote the natural movement of water within an ecosystem.

You’ve been involved with Engineers for a Sustainable World. Tell us about this organization’s projects.

The University of Iowa chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World is a student group that focuses on using technical projects, education, and collaborative action to affect local sustainability challenges. The projects we work on reflect the interests and passions brought forth by the students. Some of our recent projects include Campus and Community Rain Gardens, a Habitat for Humanity Net-Zero Energy Home, a Solar-Powered Funnel Cake/Smoothie Cart, the Quaker Oats Wind Energy Assessment, and Sustainability Road Show Demonstrations.

Jeremy Bril, University of Iowa Environmental Engineering Graduate Student

Monday, February 18, 2013

Strickschule and Other Wintertime Pursuits

When cutting ice or accomplishing some other outdoor task, colony fathers were happy to have the woolen mittens and socks knitted by their children. Young boys and girls were taught to knit in Strickschule classes led by one or two of the older women of the village. Strickschule followed the regular school time and must have been a trial to youngsters who had spent all day indoors and were ready to get out and play. Their parents, however, forbade skipping Strickschule and cheerfully wore the results, appreciating just how much diligence was required of an earnest six-year-old to produce a pair of nubby mittens.

Following knitting class and chores, youngsters rode sleds, played in the woodshed, or skated on nearby ponds. The Mill Race was a dangerous but popular place to skate, and more than one colony youth was drowned, or very nearly drowned, while attempting to cross too-thin ice on the canal. Susanna Hahn said that as a teenager she once skated nearly three miles from Middle Amana to West Amana in order to buy a crochet hook at the West Amana Store and that Middle Amana youngsters often skated to Amana to visit friends. South Amana and West Amana youths held evening skating parties on a slough located in the forest between the villages; there they skated by lantern light, skimming on luminous pools from a dozen kerosene lanterns, casting shadows into the forest, where hoarfrost hung shimmering on the tree branches.

Seasons of Plenty, by Emilie Hoppe