Traces of ‘Forever Chemicals’ detected in Sioux City drinking water


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Elyse Gabor | January 18, 2022

“Forever chemicals” were found in Sioux City’s drinking water. The Iowa Air National Guard base is a possible source of the contamination.

The Iowa DNR tested a well in Sioux City and found the two PFAS in December. The cancer-causing chemicals perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, also referred to as PFAS, can be found in many household items. These items include non-stick cooking utensils, firefighting foams, and more.

The well is located around a mile and a half west of the base. Utility director for Sioux City Brad Puetz is confident that the firefighting foam used at the airbase is the cause of the chemicals.

A higher concentration of PFAS were found in one treatment plant than in untreated water. The city has two treatment plants, with the Southbridge Regional Water Treatment Plant holding a quarter of the city’s water. This plant blends with the other plant’s treated water. PFAS were not detected in the other plants’ water. To track the contamination rate, the city is testing the drinking water every few months.

Sioux City was one town tested in the DNR’s statewide water sampling. PFAS were found in cities like Ames and West Des Moines.

The State of Iowa is Suing Sioux City Over Missouri River Pollution


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Josie Taylor | January 10, 2022

According to a state lawsuit that was filed against Sioux City Friday, the city has not been properly treating its wastewater. This has ensured that excessive amounts of bacteria and treatment chemicals were expelled into the Missouri River. Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, says that they potentially endangered human lives and wildlife and were fraudulent about it. Miller’s office is litigating the issue on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees treatment plants in the state. 

Problems at Sioux City’s wastewater treatment plant have persisted for about a decade after a new disinfectant process began in 2011, the lawsuit claims. In 2012, an engineering firm found that large amounts of wastewater from industrial sites were interfering with chlorine, the plant used to eliminate biological contaminants such as E. coli bacteria. The firm concluded the treatment plant could not adequately disinfect the wastewater

For the following two years, workers at the plant tinkered tests of the wastewater to conceal the problem from the DNR. This led to the federal prosecution of the plant’s former superintendent and a shift supervisor for Clean Water Act violations.

On typical days, the plant was using liquid chlorine at a rate of about 2.5 gallons per hour to kill bacteria, but on testing days it used between 70 and 120 gallons per hour to pass the test, U.S. Attorney Sean Berry said. Staff then reduced the flow of chlorine before testing the treated wastewater for the chemical, which is also regulated by the state. 

The plant has continued to use excess amounts of chlorine and ammonia that reaches the river, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks fines of up to $5,000 per day for the violations and a court order for the city to comply with DNR regulations.

The US is Experiencing Extreme Flooding and Extreme Drought


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Josie Taylor | January 4, 2022

As the climate continues to change, the United States of America becomes a place with both devastating amounts of precipitation and deadly droughts. The east, recently Kentucky, is drenched in water. The west, however, is dry and sometimes even on fire. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the Eastern half of the country has gotten more rain, on average, over the last 30 years than it did during the 20th century, and at the same time, precipitation has decreased in the West. 

Stronger downpours are a clear symptom of climate change. As the climate warms, increased evaporation pumps more moisture into the air, and warmer air can hold more moisture. That means when it rains now, it tends to rain more.

The US is not the only country experiencing such extremes. Intense precipitation patterns are being observed worldwide. Most of Asia has gotten wetter, and average precipitation has increased in Northern and Central Europe. The Mediterranean has gotten drier, and is experiencing water scarcity. Much of Africa and Eastern Australia has also gotten drier 

Climate scientists are not completely sure if the changes in precipitation are a permanent feature of our warming planet, or if they reflect long-term weather variability. What we are seeing is largely consistent with predictions from climate models, which expect to see more precipitation as the world warms, with big regional differences. Wet places are expected to get wetter and dry places are expected to get drier.

PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Found in Treated Water in West Des Moines


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Josie Taylor | December 30, 2021

Chemicals known as PFAS, commonly called “forever chemicals”, were found in treated drinking water that goes to homes, businesses and schools in parts of West Des Moines. The contamination was discovered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

The DNR is testing water in at least 59 cities at their sources and after treatment for human consumption. West Des Moines, the sixth-largest city in the state, was the only city to have detectable levels of two prominent PFAS in its treated drinking water, according to early results obtained by Iowa Capital Dispatch. 

Based on the recent DNR test results, at least three of West Des Moines Water Works’ groundwater wells have the two most-studied PFAS,  perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). It’s unclear why the wells have the chemicals.

The chemicals have been commonly used in nonstick cookware and stain-resistant clothes and furniture. Groundwater contaminations in Iowa have been previously identified near airports, which have used firefighting foams that have the chemicals. To learn more about PFAS more generally, click here. 

Concerns about the chemicals have grown in recent years because researchers have shown they can cause cancers and are widely distributed in the environment. The vast majority of people in the United States are believed to have detectable amounts of PFAS chemicals in their bodies. 

Iowa is Receiving $110 Million for Water


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Josie Taylor | December 6, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynold’s administration has a plan to spend the $110 million of federal funds allocated for water and wastewater that was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Reynold’s said they plan to use it strategically and want to use it correctly. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it is waiting for further guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on how the funding can be used. The DNR estimates that $46.4 million will be used to remove lead from drinking water.

National studies have found that nearly two percent of U.S. children and 3.6 percent of Iowa children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure to lead in children can cause: behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. 

The DNR anticipates more than half the federal dollars going into the state revolving loans funds that provide low-interest loans to cities, counties and utilities for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

The DNR estimates $29.4 million will be used for improvements to drinking water infrastructure and $24.9 million for clean water. 

Polk County is Meeting to Discuss Future Outdoor Public Spaces


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Josie Taylor | October 21, 2021

Today there will be a town hall style meeting for Polk County’s upcoming $65 million bond referendum to fund water, parks and trails projects.

The Polk County Water & Land Legacy Bond needs support from at least 60% of voters in the Nov. 2 referendum to pass. A similar measure in 2012 got 72% approval among voters, and a survey this spring of likely voters suggested similar support this year, said Rich Leopold, the county’s conservation director.

The average Polk County property owner will pay an estimated $11 per year if the referendum succeeds.

This referendum is focused completely on public outdoor spaces. 

It’s anticipated that up to $15 million of the new referendum money would help pay for projects prioritized by the Iowa Confluence Water Trails group, which is led by local elected officials, business leaders and others. The group wants to improve several creeks and rivers to better accommodate canoeing, kayaking and tubing to encourage recreational tourism.

Some of the money will also fund a new campground and other improvements to Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, which the county bought this year.

Climate Change is Negatively Affecting the Colorado River


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Josie Taylor | October 18, 2021

States in the Colorado River basin, along with tribal leaders told a congressional panel Friday that states in the Colorado River Basin are adjusting to the reality that their rights outstrip the available water by nearly one-third. Climate change will likely make this situation worse as time goes on.

Representatives from the seven Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Utah and Wyoming — that depend on the river for drinking water and irrigation said at a U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that they are preparing for a future where the river and their needs and legal entitelments do not match. 

State officials and lawmakers emphasized how serious the situation was, but did offer many solutions beyond general appeals to conservation and collaboration.

States and tribes in the basin are legally entitled to 15 million acre-feet of water per year, with another 1.5 million going to Mexico, but only about 12.4 million has flowed in an average year over the last two decades.

The deficit is the result of a years-long drought that was tied to climate change, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and others said.

Climate Change is Hurting Even the Ocean’s Smallest Creatures


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Josie Taylor | October 14, 2021

Nearly everything in the world will be affected by climate change. New research proves that more every day. People, animals, land and water are all hurting and on the track to hurt more if climate change continues at its current pace.

A study by an international group of researchers shows that interaction between communities of plankton – microorganisms in the ocean– will be affected by climate change in different ways depending on location. Although the effects will be different, they will all be harmful. 

Computer simulations suggested that plankton communities at the poles will be badly damaged by the rise in temperature, while in temperate zones they will suffer from a reduced flow of nutrients and in the tropics from increased salinity. Both effects will lead to harm in the plankton community. Since plankton is a microscopic organism in the ocean, it can be hard to see how this is important. However, plankton supply most of the planet’s oxygen. Their harm is everyone’s harm, especially the ocean’s. 

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, resulted from mathematical modeling based on the largest-ever inventory of marine plankton making it extremely trustworthy and important. Although this study started in 2009, results have been published more recently.

UI Flood Center Created an Interactive Flood Map


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Josie Taylor | September 6, 2021

Northeastern Iowa experienced flooding last weekend. On Sunday, August 29, the Cedar River quickly rose following heavy rainfall. Minor flooding was then seen in Cedar Falls at Tourist Park. 

Park Manager Lori Eberhard with the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources said, “Trails are still underwater and there’s going to be a number of them that are going to be underwater for a few days”, in regards to Tourist Park. 

Luckily for Iowa, the University of Iowa Flood Center has an interactive map to help Iowans understand flood forecasts in their area. This tool updates every few minutes making it easy to predict flooding. 

Gabriele Villarini, an associate professor with the The University of Iowa’s hydraulics laboratory, uses the tool to study the rise of floods.
Villarini said, “There is no login, very easy to access, and you can think of it as your one-stop-shop for all of your hydrometeorological needs”. Any Iowan, now matter their understanding of flooding, or their income can utilize this user-friendly tool.

Iowa Group Turns the Water Pollution Issue into a Clickable Map


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Josie Taylor | September 2, 2021

The Environmental Working Group has developed a clickable map that describes some of Iowa’s most pressing pollution problems in fine detail. 

This map, called “water atlas” shows that Iowa is being polluted by manure and commercial fertilizers. This is something that affects every Iowan. These pollute Iowa’s waters, which makes tap water more expensive for residents. 

The Environmental Working Group map details fertilization statewide and the nitrate and phosphorus pollution associated with the practices in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As many already know, these states are agriculture hot spots. 

Soren Rundquist, the organization’s director of spatial analysis, said the idea for this interactive map was to make data points easily accessible for Iowans, so they could understand what is going on. 

Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan has declared the Des Moines River “essentially unusable” for tap water at times due to algae toxins from farm runoff. 

Water Works drew national attention when it sued upstream drainage districts to force them to address pollution, but a federal judge threw the case out. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of Iowans supported the lawsuit. 

Iowans clearly want safe drinking, and the Iowa Environmental Working Group has made it easier to understand what is going on.