Drainage and water quality research site celebrates 25th year


A screen shot from an Iowa State University Extension video highlighting the Gilmore City research site. (YouTube)
A screen shot from an Iowa State University Extension video highlighting the Gilmore City research site. (YouTube)
KC McGinnis | January 5, 2016

In 1988, researchers at Iowa State University proposed a site that would measure the impacts of varying crop rotations and fertilizing techniques on water quality. This year the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Research and Demonstration Site near Gilmore City celebrates 25 years of operation, highlighted in a video released by the Iowa State University Extension.

“It’s probably one of the longest running drainage research facilities in the country,” said Iowa State University Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Matt Helmers in the video.

Researchers have used the experimental plot of land to analyze different nutrient techniques and their effects on water quality. Over the years they’ve had the advantage of observing the use of those strategies in a variety of weather conditions, making their findings useful around the country.

“That farm has been critical,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey in the video, “and now it’s been replicated at other farms around Iowa and other states as well.”

Perhaps what makes the Gilmore City research facility most special is its longevity, which allows researchers to see not just short-term effects but long-term as well.

“It takes studies like this that have been in place for 25 years and counting to be able to answer some of the important questions facing agriculture,” said Iowa State Associate Dean in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences John Lawrence in the video.

See the full video here:

On The Radio – Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality


Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | January 25, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at a recent proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad that would use funding dedicated for schools to improve water quality across the state.

Transcript: Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality

A proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad would use funding dedicated for school building and technology projects to improve water quality in the state.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus

Earlier this month, Governor Branstad announced a proposal that would extend Iowa’s 1-percent sales tax 20 years – to 2049 – while diverting a portion of future sales tax growth for water quality improvement projects. The extension is expected to generate an additional 20-point-7 billion dollars for schools and 4-point-6 billion dollars to improve water quality.

This announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa counties. The water utility claims that the counties are not doing enough to prevent nitrate runoff from their fields which eventually enter the Raccoon River, which has forced the Des Moines Water Works to operate additional machinery to remove nitrates from drinking water.

The legislature will likely be looking at this proposal as well as others to address the need for future water quality funding.

For more information about the governor’s proposal visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

On The Radio – UI grad organizes committee to address water needs for small towns


Matt Wildman leads a committee that focuses on wastewater treatment solutions for small Iowa communities. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Matt Wildman leads a committee that focuses on wastewater treatment solutions for small Iowa communities. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | January 18, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segments looks at a University of Iowa graduate who has organized a committee that he hopes will assist small Iowa communities in addressing wastewater treatment and water infrastructure needs. 

Transcript: UI grad starts committee to address water needs for small towns

A University of Iowa graduate has started up a committee that he hopes will make wastewater projects more affordable for small communities.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Matt Wildman – a Project Manager for the Cedar Rapid-based engineering firm HR Green – hosted the inaugural meeting for the Iowa Water Environmental Association’s Small Community Committee last week. Roughly a dozen engineers as well as governmental officials at city and state level were at the meeting to discuss ways that various public and private entities can work together to improve water treatment systems and infrastructure.

Wildman – who holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of  Iowa – said that he hopes the members of his committee will be able to work with state regulators, city officials, engineers, and others to make wastewater projects more practical for small communities that have limited resources. He said that certain regulations can make these projects especially difficult.

“What I’ve seen occur is that new regulations come down, new permits get issued, and a lot of times this seems to be a shock to these small communities. When they get a shock then they have to figure out how to fund things. There are a lot of communities in the state that are low- to middle-income that are disadvantaged communities and doing a one million to five million to ten million dollar wastewater treatment plant is not within their financial capabilities. So to kind of give them an education of what to prepare for and address that and be ready for those financial impacts as well as look at other technologies that can help bring those costs down.”

For more information about this committee and do find out ways you can get involved, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Nick Fetty.

Committee aims to assist Iowa towns in treating wastewater


Matt Wildman leads a committee that focuses on wastewater treatment solutions for small Iowa communities. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Matt Wildman leads the inagural meeting for the IAWEA Small Community Committe on January 15, 2016 in Cedar Rapids. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | January 15, 2016

A Cedar Rapids engineer has organized a committee to help small Iowa communities in treating wastewater.

Matt Wildman is a Project Manager for the engineering firm HR Green and he hosted the first meeting for the Iowa Water Environment Association‘s (IAWEA) Small Community Committee today in Cedar Rapids.  Roughly a dozen were in attendance including representatives the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, city officials from Center Point, Walker, and Winthrop, and engineers from Des Moines-based Veenstra & Kimm, Inc. and Fehr Graham which has Iowa offices in Cedar Rapids and West Union.

Wildman – who holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa – sat down with CGRER before the meeting to discuss the project.

*Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us who you are and what got you interested in this project?

My name’s Matt Wildmann. I’m a professional engineering, a Project Manager for HR Green, a consulting firms that works around the Midwest and across the country doing water and wastewater. I started at a small firm in Minnesota doing constructive wetlands for wastewater treatment and spent about seven or eight years doing that.

Tell us about this project, the focus of today’s meeting, and what you hope to accomplish?

IAWEA is an organization that works towards clean water throughout the state and focuses primarily on municipalities, doing wastewater treatment, and working with regulators. They have committees that are focused on collection systems, on governmental affairs and many other types of issues around the state. So I felt there was a kind of a gap and that being, there’s a huge portion of the state of Iowa that is small communities that don’t really get much of the focus so I proposed to start up this small community committee to address some of those needs that the small communities have. The primary focus of what I want to do is disseminate that information out to these small communities throughout the state.

Who are some of the principle stakeholders on this committee?

So far I’m looking at some small communities, some consultants, some regulators, fund agencies including the State Revolving Fund, researchers. I’ve also contacted the League of Cities.

Why the emphasis on these smaller communities?

There seems to be a gap, from an organizational standpoint from IAWEA, to reach out to these communities but a lot of what I’ve seen occur is that new regulations come down, new permits get issued, and a lot of times this seems to be a shock to these small communities. When they get a shock then they have to figure out how to fund things. There are a lot of communities in the state that are low- to middle-income that are disadvantaged communities and doing a one million to five million to ten million dollar wastewater treatment plant is not within their financial capabilities. So we want to educate them on what to prepare for and address that and be ready for those financial impacts as well as look at other technologies that can help bring those costs down.

Right now the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has some limited resources as far as review and approval because they have a lot of projects and a lot of other things going on. So another goal of this committee would be to kind of assist the DNR in reviewing new technologies, looking for different research opportunities with the University of Iowa and Iowa State University and anybody else that can provide research opportunities to look at different technologies, and find ways to make them more affordable for these small communities and still get the same results with water treatment and improvement of water quality.

 

(KC McGinnis/CGRER)

Des Moines Water Works set nitrate removal record in 2015


(Jason Mrachina/Creative Commons)
(Jason Mrachina/Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | December 7, 2016

Des Moines Water Works, the utility service that keeps Des Moines water clean in part by removing pollutants like nitrate from agricultural runoff, set a record last year for number of days it was forced to use its nitrate removal equipment.

According to the Des Moines Register, the Water Works used its nitrate removal equipment for 177 days last year, far surpassing the previous record of 106 days. The news comes amid the Water Works’ current lawsuit against three Iowa counties northwest of Des Moines which is says are responsible for the added nitrate by failing to adequately regulate runoff from local farms. The nitrate equipment costs an estimated $7,000 per day to run, an expense that’s handed down to customers resulting in higher water bills. The utility spent $1.5 million running its nitrate equipment last year.

Nitrate levels in the Raccoon River have far exceeded previous years. Data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System, a comprehensive tool developed by the University of Iowa IIHR – Hydroscience and Engineering, shows that nitrate levels in the North Raccoon River by Sac City more than doubled between 2014 and 2015, growing especially high in the winter months – from around 9 million pounds of nitrate loss per day in December 2014 to more than 20 millions pounds per day in 2015.

Data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System shows a steep rise in nitrate levels at the Raccoon River near Sac City.
Data from the Iowa Water Quality Information System shows a steep rise in nitrate levels at the Raccoon River near Sac City.

Proposal would use school funding to improve water quality


Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Iowa governor Terry Branstad during a state budget hearing in Des Moines on December 15, 2015 (John Pemble/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | January 6, 2016

A recent proposal by Iowa governor Terry Branstad would use funding from Iowa’s 1-percent school building sales tax to improve water quality in the state.

The proposal would extend the sales tax – set to expire in 2029 – to 2049. The extension is expected to provide $20.7 billion for schools and $4.6 billion to improve water quality. The proposal by the Republican governor has been backed by former Iowa governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a Democrat.

“It’s so important to every, single Iowan,” Vilsack said during a press conference. “If this doesn’t get resolved, these farmers wont know what to do, they’re bankers wont know what to lend, they wont be interested in buying equipment…the local schools obviously wont benefit. I mean, there’s a tremendous need for immediate action here.”

The 1-percent sales tax – which was approved in 2008 – brings in about $400 million each year to be used for school infrastructure projects. The governor’s proposal comes by on the heels of a lawsuit between Iowa’s largest water utility and three counties north of Des Moines. Representatives with the Des Moines Water Works claim that authorities in the northern Iowa counties of Buena Vista, Calhoun, and Sac are not doing enough to prevent nitrate runoff from farm fields which is forcing the water utility to operate costly equipment to remove additional nitrates from drinking water.

Opponents of the governor’s proposal feel that it will not do enough to reduce farm chemical runoff. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has also expressed concerns about the measure.

The funding proposal must be approved by the Iowa legislative before going into effect. Iowa’s 2016 legislate session begins January 11.

Des Moines water bills expected to increase 10 percent in 2016


The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
The Des Moines River near downtown Des Moines. (Michael Leland/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | December 30, 2015

As 2015 wraps up, Des Moines residents can prepare for a 10 percent increase on their water bills in 2016.

The rate increase comes in the midst of a lawsuit between the Des Moines Water Works and three northern Iowa drainage districts. The water utility claims the drainage districts are not doing enough to prevent nitrate pollution in public waterways which has forced the utility to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility. The additional equipment costs up to $7,000 per day to operate which is eventually passed on to the more than a quarter of a million customers in the Des Moines area.

Rates are expected to go up in April of 2016. Bill Stowe – CEO of the Des Moines Water Works – recently told Iowa Public Radio that it will cost $80 million to update its nitrate removal system and that he’s been disappointed by the state’s political leadership regarding the situation.

“I’m particularly disappointed in the last year that we haven’t had political leadership from either party in Iowa to step forward and move this towards some kind of negotiated settlement…We believe we’re going to prevail in a court of law.”

Stowe added, “If we don’t [previal] we believe there will be big public policy consequences from that.”

A lawyer representing the water districts is arguing that the districts little authority outside of draining land and therefore cannot be held accountable “for damages that result from actions over which the districts have no control,” as reported by the Sioux City Journal. Earlier this year a motion was filed asking U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett to drop eight of the 10 charges against the drainage districts.

Bennett expects to have a ruling on the issue by mid-January.