Nitrates often released back into rivers

Photo via Jason Mrachina; Flickr
Des Moines cityscape. Photo via Jason Mrachina; Flickr

According to the Des Moines Register, Des Moines’ nitrate removal facility was responsible for dumping approximately 13,500 pounds of the contaminant into the Raccoon River last year.

Nitrates can be detrimental to human health if consumed in high enough quantities, which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires drinking water to be monitored for the compound. However, once nitrates are removed from the drinking water, they are often released back into Iowa’s waterways.

The Des Moines location is not alone in this practice. The majority of Iowa’s other 15 nitrate removal facilities follow the same routine, and many do not monitor what quantity of nitrate they are releasing.

Although this practice is completely legal, it has serious environmental ramifications. The Raccoon River is part of the Mississippi River watershed, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Midwest fertilizer runoff from the watershed, high in nitrates, is largely responsible for the Gulf of Mexico’s Dead Zone. Nitrate levels in the Gulf’s water allow algal blooms to thrive, which in turn leads to low oxygen levels that are deadly for many aquatic species.

The future is not completely bleak; progress is being made towards preventing the nitrates from reaching water systems in the first place. Farmers and researchers are collaborating to explore and advance environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.

On the Radio: Des Moines Water Works Safety Measures

Photo by w4nd3rl0st (InspiredinDesMoines); Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers Des Moines’ actions in meeting the high nitrate levels in their river water. Continue reading for the transcript,  or listen to the audio here: Continue reading

High nitrate levels in Des Moines rivers threaten drinking water

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

Farm Runoff Causing Record Level of Nitrates

Des Moines River
Photo by dtruzchi, Flickr

While drinking water is still safe in the Des Moines area, local officials say it is difficult to keep it that way.

Des Moines Water Works has turned on the nitrate-removal system for the first time in six years; one of the largest facilities of its kind.

Agricultural chemical runoff has caused the nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers to rise to health-threatening levels.

Read more about the issue and what is being done here.