Environmental groups suing for Raccoon River water quality


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The Raccoon River in Des Moines (Michael Leland on flickr).

Julia Poska| April 11, 2019

Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit against Iowa late last month over degraded water in the Raccoon River, a drinking water source for 500,000 people.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch are suing the Iowa Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture and  two state environmental boards, according to the Des Moines Register. They are seeking a ban on building or expanding animal feeding operations in the Raccoon River watershed until nutrient reduction compliance for farmers becomes mandatory.

“There’s too much at stake to bet on voluntary practices,” the plaintiffs wrote in an op-ed for the Register. “We want to force elected officials to think about a food and farm system that works for farmers, workers, eaters and the environment, not just industrial interests.”

Runoff of fertilizer and manure from farms contributes to harmful algae blooms, which  leech toxins into local waters and create a lifeless Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  The environmental groups say the state has failed to uphold the “Public Trust Doctrine,”  which states that the government must protect certain natural resources for public uses, like drinking and recreation. As of now, tried-and-true nutrient reduction strategies like planting cover crops are incentivized but not mandated for farmers.

Others, like the Iowa Soybean Association CEO and the Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, told the Register the “potentially divisive” lawsuit disappointed them. For many, this case recalls the 2015 Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit against drainage districts in three north Iowa counties, which attempted to force compliance with federal clean-water standards for “point-source” polluters but was ultimately dismissed.

 

Increase in nitrate pollution from Iowa


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The Mississippi River transports nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico. (Ken L/flickr)

Eden DeWald | June 27, 2018

A new study from the University of Iowa finds that nitrogen pollution coming from Iowa has increased by close to 50 percent during the year of 2016 when compared to previous annual averages. The pollution from synthetic fertilizer made its way off of farms and into the greater water system. Twenty-three watersheds in Iowa were assessed, all of which drained either into the Mississippi or Missouri River, both of which eventually drain into the Gulf of Mexico.

Excess nitrogen in a water system spurs algae growth. After these algae blooms eventually decompose, bacteria or other small organisms feed on the dead algae and deplete oxygen within the water. This process is known as aquatic hypoxia, or eutrophication, and is responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa is not the only state that has problems with runoff, but with 72 percent of Iowa’s land being used for farming, Iowa is a major contributor to the eutrophication process.

The rise in nitrate pollution has occurred despite Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which just marked its five year anniversary earlier this year. The Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a voluntary program which involves 8,000 farmers and focuses on conservation methods such as cover crops and no-till techniques. Mike Naig, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, wrote in a Des Moines Register article that he sees outreach and education about the effect that nitrates have on the water system as an essential aspect of improving Iowa’s water quality.

Freshwater Mussels


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Craig Just; UI Civil and Environmental Engineering

Craig Just, a University of Iowa faculty member, is studying freshwater mussels with respect to the nitrogen cycle.

His team is trying to find ways to restore river habitats that have been depleted by excessive algal blooms.

By understanding how freshwater mussels process the nitrogen they consume from the algal blooms, researchers will know whether the mussels contribute to or remove nitrogen from the rivers.

 

For more information on Just’s research, click here. 

Signal processing research


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Ananya Sen Gupta,
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Ananya Sen Gupta, a University of Iowa faculty member, is currently working on creating topography maps of hydrocarbon biomarkers in crude petroleum, with emphasis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen Gupta studies contaminants in both groundwater and rain water that contribute to air or water pollution.

She said that although Iowa is not close to the sea, fingerprinting can help scientists see how different contaminants combine and travel together.

To read more about Sen Gupta’s contaminant research, click here.

On the Radio: Iowa water quality monitoring contract


Photo by Joe Wolf; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the state’s contract with Iowa State University to monitor water quality in Iowa lakes. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript. 

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Watershed Projects


Photo by Kevin Dooley; Flickr

Eight watershed demonstration projects covering 606,000 acres have been selected to receive $4.1 million in funding through the Iowa water quality initiative over the next three years. Continue reading

On the Radio: The Dead Zone


Photo by Goddard Photo and Video; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers actions being taken to combat the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

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