News

Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

The streets of Edgewater, Colorado, aren’t paved in green, but the city’s mayor says they might as well be.

After an influx of tax revenue from five retail marijuana shops, the small community of 5,300 people just west of Denver repaved every street in town. But that’s just the start. Mayor Kris Teegardin estimates the city’s coffers will pull in $1.2 million this year, a combination of its own sales taxes on the drug’s sales, and redistributed money from state taxes. That amount makes up roughly a sixth of the city’s total annual budget.

It’s an extreme example of marijuana tax dollars at work, best seen in the city’s plans for a multi-million dollar civic center with a new police station, library and fitness center. Teegardin says marijuana tax revenue will pay for half.

Jackie Fortier / KUNC

The Johnstown Lunch Box is clean and bright. A chalkboard sign advertises a Chicago-style hot dog for $5.99. The restaurant is packed with oil and gas workers, high school students and parents with kids.

Chris and Michelle Edwards started the business seven years ago.

“I was in lending and banking before and we just wanted to do something different when the whole financial crisis hit,” Edwards said.  “We live in town, so we were just thinking what was missing in here where we want to eat at.”  

Colorado Debates Minimum Wage Measure

Sep 27, 2016
Bente Birkeland

Colorado is among a handful of states where voters are being asked if the minimum wage should be increased. Proponents say the bump for the lowest-paid workers would help struggling families. Many businesses say it could prompt layoffs.

Jürgen Olczyk / Open Road Films

With films like Nixon, JFK and Natural Born Killers floating around my brain, I went into Oliver Stone’s Snowden expecting at least a lot of flash and dazzle. What passed on screen, though, was thoroughly conventional filmmaking, and maybe for the first time, an Oliver Stone film is simply dull and unimaginative.

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

Farming in the fertile Midwest is tied to an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But scientists are studying new ways to lessen the Midwest’s environmental impact and improve water quality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the so-called “dead zone,” an area of sea without enough oxygen to support most marine life, to grow larger than the size of Connecticut, or roughly 6,000 square miles.  

Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

Standing on a platform above the eastern bank of the Missouri River at the Kansas City, Missouri, Water Services’ intake plant is like being on the deck of a large ship.

Electric turbines create a vibration along the blue railing, where David Greene, laboratory manager for Kansas City Water Services, looks out across the river. Water the color of chocolate milk is sucked up and forced through screens below, picking up all the debris the river carries downstream.  

Ann Marie Awad / KUNC

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was a live wire for college students during primary season – especially in Colorado. Sanders won the state’s Democratic caucus in March. But the party’s candidate is Hillary Clinton. That’s what brought Jack Califano to the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

“Here is one of the tiles,” he says, pointing to a pipe about six or eight inches in diameter. Water trickles from it into a culvert that runs under the road after flowing through a network of underground drainage lines below his farm field. “That’s where it outlets.”

Water like this is called runoff and it can contain harmful chemicals, such as nitrates from fertilizer that plants don’t absorb or excess pesticides. For years, contaminants like these have reached public waterways.

Brian Seifferlein / Harvest Public Media

Living in the Platte River Valley in central Nebraska means understanding that the water in your well may contain high levels of nitrates and may not be safe to drink.

“When our first son was born in 1980, we actually put a distiller in for our drinking water here in the house,” says Ken Seim, who lives in the Platte Valley near the town of Chapman, Nebraska. “And at that time our water level was a 12 parts per million.”

Nitrates are formed when nitrogen, from the air or fertilizer, is converted by bacteria in the soil to a form that is more plant-friendly. Nitrates help plants grow, but can be dangerous in large amounts. The legal limit in public water systems is 10ppm. Some nearby wells, Seim says, contain nitrates at dangerous levels, two or three times the legal threshold.

How Are Nitrates Ending Up In Drinking Water Supplies?

Sep 19, 2016
Luke Runyon / KUNC/Harvest Public Media

Contaminated drinking water isn’t just a problem for Flint, Michigan. Many towns and cities across the Midwest and Great Plains face pollution seeping into their water supplies. A big part of the problem: farming and ranching.

Farmers spread nitrogen- and phosphorous-based fertilizers on their fields to help their crops grow. Excess nutrients, though, can leach into groundwater or seep into rivers, creeks, canals or ditches that eventually feed into the Mississippi River. In high concentrations, these chemical compounds damage aquatic life and burden small towns that have to remove them from their water supply.

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