Blue-green algae toxins harm children and pets


Lakeside Park Boat Launch
Photo from Winnebago Waterways, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | August 28, 2019

A child was poisoned earlier this summer in southern Iowa by a blue-green algae toxin that has been blamed for the deaths of six dogs across the country this summer. The algae, also called cyanobacteria, can cause rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases liver failure. It is especially dangerous for children and pets.

Overgrowth of this algae occurs in waters that are rich in nutrients. In Iowa, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in water primarily comes from fertilizer runoff. Besides the harmful effects of their toxins, overgrowth of these algae can also impact other forms of life beneath the water’s surface by blocking sunlight and stealing oxygen and nutrients from other organisms. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tests state park beaches for microcystins, the toxic byproduct of blue-green algae, and issues swimming advisories if the water contains more than 20 micrograms per liter. However, this is less restrictive than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended standards of 8 micrograms per liter. 

Cyanobacteria blooms often look like foam or floating paint near the water’s surface, though they can also hide beneath the water’s surface and may not be visible. When cyanobacteria die, they produce a bad smell, similar to rotting plants. The Center for Disease Control recommends that people avoid swimming and boating in water where algae appears or where water is discolored, and to rinse off as soon as possible if you are exposed to water that may contain cyanobacteria.

Train derailment near Dubuque spills ethanol into Mississippi River


...(Jeff Dzadon/Flickr)
A train bridge that crosses the Mississippi River near Dubuque, Iowa. (Jeff Dzadon/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 6, 2015

A train derailed Wednesday causing ethanol to be spilled on half an acre of land and one acre of ice on the Mississippi River, according to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.

The 81-car train was traveling eastbound about 10 miles north of Dubuque when the derailment occurred around 11:30 a.m. Fourteen of the 15 cars that derailed contained ethanol and three of the cars started on fire. An additional three cars fell into the river which was covered with ice. No injuries were reported. The steep terrain made it difficult for clean up crews to reach crash site in rural Dubuque County.

When ethanol mixes with water in high concentration it can deplete oxygen levels and lead to fish kills. Rescue crews are attempting to thaw the ice where the ethanol spilled in order to remove any environmental threats. The Department of Natural Resources plans on testing the water near to spill to ensure the safety of the aquatic wildlife in the area.

A spokesman with Canadian Pacific said DOT-111’s were the model of cars involved in the crash though he could not comment on exactly how many of the cars were the DOT-111 model. Critics have said the DOT-111 models are prone to puncturing and have been involved in other crashes and spills around the country. DOT-111’s are known to make up approximately 70 percent of the fleet in train cars in the United States.  The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a two-year phase out of the DOT-111’s last July.

Are large mammals coming back to Iowa?


Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr
Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr

Sightings of large mammals such as bears, moose, mountain lions, and wolves have become increasingly common as of late. Many Iowans are beginning to wonder what would change if the mammals established breeding populations within the state.

In July, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed a set of bear tracks and scat outside of Wadena, Iowa after a sighting was reported. A beekeeper saw an adult female bear with two cubs destroy a set of beehives before vacating the area. If there are cubs, they are the first to be documented in Iowa in over a century. Other beekeepers have complained of damage to their bee yards as well. Black bears are not protected in Iowa and can legally be shot, although such extreme measures are rarely necessary.

A lone moose was spotted wandering through Iowa at the end of last year, and a wolf was shot by a coyote hunter in February. Both moose and wolves are protected by state law.

Several mountain lion sightings have been reported to the DNR in the past few weeks, but none have been confirmed.

DNR looking for Iowans’ input on water quality


Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced a series of public meetings to review the state’s water quality standards. The open discussions, which occur triennially in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, will be held throughout Iowa in early September.

Iowans with ideas and opinions about state water quality goals are encouraged to attend one of the events. After the meetings, the department will review the public’s suggestions and adjust their work plan accordingly.

Rochelle Weiss, DNR water quality standards coordinator, describes the meetings as “the public’s opportunity to tell us what is important to them.”

Visit the DNR’s website to find a meeting near you, and find out more about the review process here.

DNR uses goats to control vegetation


Photo by bagsgroove; Flickr
Photo by bagsgroove; Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is utilizing a herd of 64 goats to reduce unwanted vegetation on the banks of an Iowa stream.

Ensign Hollow Wildlife Management Area and trout stream in Clayton County – See more at: http://thegazette.com/subject/news/goats-on-the-job-for-the-iowa-dnr-20140710#sthash.HUPc1Uvq.dpuf

Ensign Hollow Wildlife Management Area in Clayton County, Iowa is a popular site for trout fishing, bird watching, and fly anglers. However, dense vegetation along the banks of Hewett Creek is discouraging recreational use.

The goats, which are being contracted out from Twin Pine Farms in Delhi, are well equipped to eat invasive and thorny plants. Additionally, their small hooves will do little to no damage to stream banks. Goats are also much more efficient and environmentally friendly than mowing and pesticides.

Two miniature donkeys will join the herd for protection against predators.

The goats will remain in place until September, at which time the DNR will reevaluate their use.

Iowa communities hopeful as water levels recede


Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr
Des Moines during the 2008 floods. Photo by Jeff Gitchel; Flickr

Despite heavy rainfall in Iowa over the past weeks that has taken its toll on the state, some Iowa communities are remaining cautiously optimistic that the storm may have passed.

Coralville Lake is currently expected to crest at 711.3 feet, just below the spillway, and the Cedar River is already beginning to recede. Additionally, temporary fortifications along with those installed since the flood of 2008 have lessened damage in Coralville and Iowa City.

However, it is hard to predict whether or not communities are out of harm’s way, since meteorologists predict that next week’s forecasted rain will be localized.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials are encouraging residents to be safe over the holiday weekend, particularly if planning water recreation activities.

To monitor weather and water levels in your area, use the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

 

Northern Iowa sees cases of ‘swimmer’s itch’


Storm Lake. Photo by Denise Krebs; Flickr
Storm Lake. Photo by Denise Krebs; Flickr

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), swimmers who frequent Iowa’s natural lakes should be wary of ‘swimmer’s itch’.

The condition is caused by parasitic flatworms that penetrate human skin before immediately dying; this causes itchy, red welts to appear that may persist for up to a week.

So far, cases have been reported from Black Hawk Lake and Crystal Lake.

Swimmer’s itch can be prevented by avoiding areas rife with aquatic plants, reducing time spent in the water, and drying off quickly after swimming. The condition does not generally require medical attention, and can be treated with calamine lotion and an antihistamine.

For more information, read the DNR report here.