Excessive Bacteria and Toxins at Spirit Lake Beach


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | August 23, 2022

The water at a Spirit Lake beach recently had the highest concentrations of bacteria detected so far this year at any state beach in Iowa, along with an unhealthy amount of blue-green algae toxins, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

That means the DNR’s weekly test revealed more than 24,000 viable bacteria in less than a half cup of the lake water. The tests are unable to quantify the number of bacteria above that level.

In Iowa lakes that are prone to unhealthy concentrations of bacteria, a single test that detects 235 viable bacteria can prompt the DNR’s “swimming not recommended” warning. 

Bacteria concentrations in Iowa’s lakes can shift dramatically over the course of days, which is why the DNR samples state beaches once each week during warmer months when people are most likely to come in contact with the water. 

Spirit Lake has a fairly significant blue-green algae bloom right now near the beach that stretches into the lake for perhaps 50 yards. That’s the source of the toxin warning at the beach.

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


Via Flickr

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.

Iowa Lost Over 7 Million Trees in the Derecho, DNR Says


Derecho Damage in Ames, IA

Josie Taylor | September 15, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reported that last summer’s derecho cost Iowa 7.2 million trees as wind gusts got up to 140 miles per hour in some counties. The cities that lost the most were Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport. 

Iowa cities lost 4.5 million trees, and rural Iowa lost 2.7 million trees. 13 percent of all urban trees were lost to the derecho. Cedar Rapids, however, lost 70 percent of their urban trees as they lost 953,224 trees alone. Iowa City and Johnson County lost 234,567 trees. 

The lack of trees in Iowa will ultimately contribute to climate change since trees capture carbon, reduce air pollution, provide natural shade and provide windbreaks. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called the derecho “the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The state sustained $11 billion in damages and Iowan families have filed for $3 billion, according to the Iowa Insurance Division. 

Iowa DNR Issues Beach Warnings for E. coli


Screenshot from DNR

Maxwell Bernstein | August 5, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued eight beach warnings across the state of Iowa because of E. coli. The beaches that are not recommended for swimming include: 

  • Backbone Beach (Dundee, Delaware County)
  • Denison Beach (Black Hawk Lake, Lake View, Sac County)
  • Emerson Bay Beach (West Okoboji Lake, Milford, Dickinson County)
  • George Wyth Beach (Waterloo, Black Hawk County)
  • Lake Darling Beach (Brighton, Washington County)
  • Lake Keomah Beach (Oskaloosa, Mahaska County)
  • McIntosh Woods Beach (Clear Lake, Ventura, Cerro Gordo County)
  • Nine Eagles Beach (Davis City, Decatur County)

This warning is in effect between Jul. 31 and Aug. 6, according to The Perry News

Proposed Changes to Iowa’s Bottle Bill Could Make it Harder for Rural Iowans to Recycle


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | May 28, 2020

Iowa’s grocery industry recently proposed changes to a 40-year-old bill that requires grocery and convenience stores to take back cans and bottles for recycling.

One of these proposals would allow stores to stop accepting cans and bottles if there is a redemption center within a 15-mile radius of their store. Currently, the law states that they do not have to accept these recyclables if there is a redemption center within a 10-minute drive of their store, according to an article published in The Gazette.

Grocers urged the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make this change just a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds extended the suspension of the bottle bill requirement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This change could lead to an increase in litter and the number of cans and bottles going into landfills since recycling would become more difficult for rural Iowans. It could also put a strain on smaller redemption centers that are not prepared to take in larger quantities of recyclables.

Some Iowan’s also raised concerns over a part of the proposal that would waive a requirement that retailers establish a written agreement with a redemption center before they are allowed to stop accepting cans and bottles. If that requirement is waived, retailers could simply tell the DNR that there is a redemption center within the 15-mile radius without the need for documentation. A lack of paper trail would make it difficult to require stores to begin accepting recyclables again if a redemption center were to go out of business, according to Troy Willard, owner of the Can Shed that services markets in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

The DNR has not yet set a deadline for making a decision on the proposed changes.

DNR confirms further spread of deer disease through Iowa


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Deer testing positive or chronic wasting disease in Iowa since 2013, via the Iowa DNR. 

Julia Poska | February 14, 2020

Forty-three deer killed by hunters and vehicles in Iowa during the 2019-2020 hunting season tested positive for chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease.”

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa’s wild deer population to 89 since 2013, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources press release. That’s a 93% increase in one year.

Chronic wasting disease is a 100% fatal neurological disease found primarily in deer and elk that causes loss of bodily functions. An abnormal protein causes the infection, spread via bodily fluids from deer to deer. Some symptoms include excessive salivation, weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head.

The disease is in the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as Mad Cow Disease. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there is no conclusive evidence of the disease transferring to humans, but the center recommends avoiding contacts with infected venison.

The Iowa DNR collected samples from about 7,000 deer hunted or killed by cars across the state during the 2019-2020 hunting season. Samples from Woodbury, Winneshiek, Fayette and Decatur counties tested positive for the first time.

Officials have identified chronic wasting disease in wild deer populations in eight counties overall. Deer in several captive populations have tested positive as well (see this interactive map for more information).

For more information on how hunters can help limit the spread of chronic wasting disease, check out this flyer.

AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming


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Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.

 

DNR 2019 precipitation summary recalls Iowa’s rainy year


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From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Julia Poska | January 10, 2020

2019 was Iowa’s 12th wettest year on record, with an average of 41.49 inches of rainfall across the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Rainfall in May, September and October was especially high, while the summer months experienced below average rainfall.

The two-year 2018/2019 period was the wettest on record, with 19 more inches of precipitation than average. Stream flows were above normal all 2019 following heavy snow in the winter months. The rainy spring and fall seasons are indicative of projected climate change models for the region.

2019 temperatures in Iowa were cooler than average, however, by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit. During the January “Polar Vortex,”one station in Emmet County recorded a -59 degree windchill. Summer was slightly cooler than average, though July and September were warm, andChristmas week broke record temperature highs.

 

It’s Invasive Species Awareness Month!


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Familiarize yourself with invasive Garlic Mustard, pictured here,  so you can pull it when you see it (flickr). 

Julia Poska| May 10, 2019

Invasive species often travel across continents via human transportation vessels and the cargo they carry. These species often have no natural predators in their new homes, so their populations explode. The native species that the invaders in turn prey upon are not adapted to defend themselves against these new predators, giving the invasive species an advantage over the native predators that now must share their prey.  The result is a devastating chain reaction that can ripple through entire ecosystems.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds declared May Invasive Species Awareness Month to encourage the public and private sectors to join forces and amp up the fight against ecosystem invaders. Invasive species in Iowa harm agriculture and seriously degrade state parks, which are a source of tourism revenue.

One of Iowa’s most problematic invasive pests is the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle from east Asia that has killed millions of ash trees across the country in the last 17 years. Another common offender is Garlic Mustard, a tasty herb which is spreading rapidly through Iowan woodlands and crowding out native plant species. A full guide to problematic invasive plant species found in Iowa’s woodlands can be found here.

Gardeners will be familiar with many invasive bugs and weeds, like the Japanese Beetle, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and bull thistles. These pests and others can pose real threats to Iowa farmers, and many are tracked by the Iowa State Ag Extension Office.

How can you help?

  • Do not buy or sell firewood from outside your county. Firewood can contain and spread invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer.
  • Scrub shoes and clean clothes before and after trips outdoors to avoid spreading seeds, especially when visiting public lands.
  • Remove invasive plants where you recognize them. Some groups and parks host volunteer days to pull invasive species.

DNR reports 3% increase in Iowa greenhouse gas emissions


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This pie chart shows 2017 greenhouse emissions in Iowa by sector (from the 2017 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report). 

Julia Poska | December 28th, 2018

Greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa rose 3 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report from the state Department of Natural Resources.  The report accounted for 131 million metric tons of emissions released throughout the state in various sectors including energy, agriculture and solid waste.

The largest sources of increase were waste and industrial processes. Emissions from waste rose 28.62 percent due to increased decomposition of older waste in landfills. Emissions from industrial processes rose 31.73 percent percent, largely due to increased production of ammonia, up over 180 percent from 2016. The only sector to see decrease was natural gas production and distribution, which decreased about 10 percent and accounts for only 1 percent of total emissions.

Agriculture contributes about 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,  mainly methane and nitrous oxide, which are respectively about 25 and 298 times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. These emissions largely come from animal waste and soil management.

Despite this increase, total emissions are down 6 percent from 2008.  The DNR projects that emissions will continue rising through at least 2020, and drop a bit more by 2030.