Iowa sees record number of blue-green algae advisories


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Microcystin toxins float on top of water and often look like spilled paint or pea soup. (Oregon State University/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 9, 2016

Iowa State Park beaches saw a record number of advisories this summer due to unsafe levels of microcystin, a toxin produced by some types of blue-green algae.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors the water at state beaches each season from Memorial Day through Labor Day. DNR issued six beach advisories this week for a total of 37 microcystin warnings this year, surpassing last year’s record of 34,  just as DNR officials predicted earlier in the season.

Microcystin is considered toxic to humans when levels are at or above 20 micrograms per liter (ug/L), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Swimming in water that has harmful levels of microcystin in it can cause breathing problems, upset stomach, skin reactions, and liver damage. If the water is inhaled, it has been known to cause cause runny eyes and nose, cough, sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions. Contaminated bodies of water can be especially harmful to pets and children, who are more likely to ingest water.

In total Iowa DNR has issued 185 microcystin beach advisories since 2006, and two-thirds (117) have been in the most recent four years. The blue-green blooms that produce microcystin feed on nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that seep into waterways from pollution sources like agricultural fertilizers, livestock waste, septic systems, and urban runoff. Blue-green algae toxins do not only pose a threat to beachgoers. Last month, Des Moines Water Works detected microcystin in treated municipal drinking water.

While DNR monitors 39 State Park beaches across Iowa for these toxins, many public and private beaches are not monitored. As the total number of beach closures rises each year, Ann Robinson, agricultural specialist at the Iowa Environmental Council said, “This is a wake-up call that more needs to be done to reduce the nutrient pollution coming from the farms, city lawns and urban and industrial wastewater plants that are feeding the algae. If we don’t take action on the scale needed, unprecedented numbers of beach warnings will become our new normal.”

More information about identifying harmful blue-green algae blooms and a chart that outlines dangerous levels of microcystin in Iowa’ lakes dating back to 2006 can be found at the Iowa Environmental Council’s website.

On the Radio: Water quality meetings begin this week


A rock in the Cedar River near Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)
A rock in the Cedar River near Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment introduces a series of meetings being held by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on state water quality. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Water Meetings

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is seeking the public’s input on water quality through a series of meetings beginning in early September.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The meetings happen every three years, as part of a review process mandated by the Federal Clean Water Act. The DNR hopes to gather feedback from Iowans on what issues are important to them in order to set new water quality goals for Iowa’s rivers and streams.

The DNR will then consider the public’s responses and use the information to form an updated action plan for the next three years. This updated plan will also be available for public evaluation.

Meetings will begin on September 3rd, and one will be held in each of the six field office regions.

For more information and to find a meeting near you, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/RegulatoryWater/WaterQualityStandards/TriennialReview.aspx

http://www.iowadnr.gov/insidednr/ctl/detail/mid/2805/itemid/2091

On the Radio: Iowa lakes undergo restoration projects


A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)
A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment highlights the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing lake restoration program. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Iowa Lake Restoration Program

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is cleaning dozens of Iowa lakes this summer as part of its ongoing lake restoration program.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa DNR has selected 35 Iowa lakes and watersheds for restoration with the goals of improved water quality, a balanced aquatic community and improved fishing and swimming. Their 2013 report states that many Iowa lakes suffer from excessive algol growth and sedimentation.

The DNR plans to work with local towns and watershed groups to develop action plans, including marsh rehabilitation, wetland reconstruction and lake dredging. Similar projects at Clear Lake, Storm Lake and Lake MacBride have enhanced recreation opportunities, putting them in the top five most visited lakes in the state.

For more information about the Iowa lake restoration program, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

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.

USGS study finds waterways have high levels of neonicotinoid in Iowa, Midwest


Nick Fetty | July 24, 2014
The Raccoon River near Water Works Park in Des Moines. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
The Raccoon River near Water Works Park in Des Moines.
Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

A new study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) finds that waterways in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest are experiencing particularly high levels of an insecticide known as neonicotinoid.

Farmers and gardeners use neonicotinoids – or neonics – because their effectiveness against a whole range of pests. However, the insecticide has been linked to decreased bee populations as well as a fall in the number of certain prairie bird species.

Neonics – which are chemically similar to nicotine – disolve in water quickly which means they’re susceptible to running off fields and polluting rivers, streams, and other waterways. A 2013 Dutch report found that imidacloprid – one of the chemicals in neonicotinoid – had harmful effects on “a wide range of non-target species.” Similarly, a 2014 Canadian study found neonics to be detrimental on wetland ecosystems.

The use of clothianidin – another chemical found in neonicotinoid – on corn in Iowa nearly doubled from 2011 to 2013. In 2013 the Iowa DNR released a 114-page report examining polluted waterways throughout the state.

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.

 

 

 

Iowa’s Deer Harvest Declined for Eighth Straight Year


Photo by Rich Herrmann; Flickr
Photo by Rich Herrmann; Flickr

For the first time since the mid-1990’s, the DNR reported that Iowa’s deer harvest has dropped below 100,000. In 2013, hunters reported 99,406 deer.

This indicates a positive response from hunters when asked to reduce the size of the herd, but now the DNR is encouraging hunters to work with landowners and base their harvest on local herd conditions.

Deer hunting provides an economic impact of almost $214 million, paying more than $15 million in federal taxes and nearly $15 million in state taxes. It also supports 2,800 jobs and provides more than $67 million in earnings.