State could face possible lawsuit for water quality issues


Des Moines Water Works utilizes the Des Moines River (pictured) and the Raccoon Rivers as its two main water sources. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)
The Des Moines Water Works utilizes the Des Moines River (pictured) and the Raccoon River as its two main water sources. (Phil Roeder/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 6, 2015

The Des Moines Water Works – Iowa’s largest water utility – is considering bringing a lawsuit against the state challenging the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Last month an unusually high surge of nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers forced officials with the Des Moines Water Works to activate its nitrate removal facility which costs roughly $7,000 per day to operate. These costs have been passed on to the Des Moines Water Works’ more than a quarter of a million customers. High nitrate levels that go untreated can lead to multiple health complications such as blue baby syndrome as well as various cancers and miscarriages.

Bill Stowe – CEO and General Manager of the Des Moines Water Works – has been critical of state’s voluntary nutrient-reduction strategy. In an editorial he wrote for the Des Moines Register in October 2014, Stowe stated: “Until industrial agriculture is no longer exempt from regulations needed to protect water quality, we will continue to see water quality degrade and our consumers will continue to pay.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy “is voluntary for farmers [and] calls for a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution leaving the state.” Critics of the strategy say that the voluntary approach has been ineffective in improving Iowa’s water quality.

The Des Moines Water Works board of directors is scheduled to meet Thursday and a decision on whether to bring legal action against the state may be discussed at that meeting.

Ottumwa meat plant is Iowa’s top waterway polluter


Nick Fetty | June 24, 2014
The Des Moines River in Des Moines. Photo by Jason Mrachina; Flickr
The Des Moines River in Des Moines.
Photo by Jason Mrachina; Flickr

An Ottumwa pork processing plant is the state’s number one waterway polluter, according to a report released by the Environment Iowa Research and Policy Center.

The report finds that Cargill Meat Solutions dumped nearly three million pounds of chemicals into the Lower Des Moines River in 2012 which is the 10th most-polluted watershed in the country. Other polluted watersheds in Iowa include the Blackbird and Soldier Rivers (ranked 5th) along the Iowa-Nebraska border, the Lower Big Sioux River (ranked 34th) in northwest Iowa, and the Lower Iowa River (ranked 35th) on the east side of the state.

Corporate agribusiness facilies – such as Cargill – “were responsible for approximately one-third of all direct discharges of nitrates to our waterways, which can cause health problems in infants and contribute to ‘dead zones’ in our waters.”  The Tyson meat plant in Columbus Junction dumped more than 1.7 million pounds of toxins into the Lower Iowa River.

The report also states that nationally 206 million pounds of toxic waste was dumped into waterways in 2012. Iowa was responsible for nearly 7 million pounds of chemicals which ranked 12th nationally. Indiana was the top-polluting state with more than 17 million pounds of toxic discharge while Rhode Island was the least-polluting with 618 pounds of toxic releases.

For more information, check out the Iowa Public Radio segment about pollution in Iowa watersheds.

ISU professor testing sustainable agricultural practices


Nick Fetty | June 14, 2014
Corn field in Black Hawk County, Iowa. Photo via PARSHOTAM LAL TANDON; Flickr
Corn field in Black Hawk County, Iowa.
Photo via PARSHOTAM LAL TANDON; Flickr

Iowa State University agronomy professor Matthew Liebman has been experimenting with crop rotation as a means of reducing waterway-polluting fertilizer usage, according to a recent article in National Geographic.

Liebman used a three- and four-crop rotation – consisting mostly of corn, soy, oats, and alfalfa – across 22 acres. The study concluded that crop rotation not only reduced nitrogen levels – a byproduct of fertilizers that pollute waterways – but also produced higher corn yields. These pollutants contribute to contamination in the Mississippi River which has lead to a virtual organic “dead zone” where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Iowa’s Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers has seen record high nitrate levels in recent years. Iowa corn farmers produced 2.2 billion bushels across 13.1 million acres in 2013 which is expected to rise to 2.4 billion bushels across 13.6 million acres.

“Hog Wild: Factory Farms are Poisoning Iowa’s Drinking Water”


Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary; Flickr

Ted Genoways goes into an in-depth analysis concerning the issues of farm runoff polluting Iowa’s drinking water.

“Millions of pigs are crammed into overcrowded barns all across the state, being fattened for slaughter while breeding superbugs—all to feed China’s growing appetite for Spam”

Follow this link to read the full story via On Earth. 

High nitrate levels in Des Moines rivers threaten drinking water


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The Des Moines River. Photo by pdx3525; Flickr

Due to an increase of nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, the Des Moines Water Works has decided to stop drawing water from either river. Instead, the utility has been drawing water from Maffitt Reservoir, crystal Lake and aquifer storage wells. Continue reading

Project AWARE to visit Des Moines River


Project AWARE participants looking for garbage. Photo by rustymartin2000, Flickr.
Project AWARE participants looking for garbage. Photo by rustymartin2000, Flickr.

For the past ten years, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has hosted an annual volunteer river cleanup called Project AWARE.

For their eleventh year, Project AWARE will focus on removing garbage from a 90 mile stretch of the Des Moines River  between Algona and Fort Dodge. The event will take place from July 6 to 13.

In addition to cleaning up the river, Project AWARE also helps participants learn about watersheds, water quality and recycling.

Find out more here.

USDA announces $6 million wetlands project in Iowa


The Des Moines River. Photo by jimmywayne, Flickr.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday plans to spend $6 million on improvements to the Raccoon and Des Moines river watersheds.

The project, called the North Raccoon River Wetland Initiative, aims to improve wildlife habitat and water quality in the area while also taking measures to prevent flooding.

In total, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will spend $32 million to restore wetlands in seven states across the Mississippi River Basin.

For more information, read the full article at the Des Moines Register.