Feedlot in Iowa fined $2,000 for stream contamination

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | December 29, 2022

An employee of the third largest open feedlot in Iowa pumped onto a field that was too watered with rainwater to absorb the liquid, which resulted in a $2,000 fine, which feedlot owner Brian Wendl paid. 

In June, an Iowa resident reported the manure water was being pumped from the feedlot to a stream connected to Middle Raccoon River near Carroll County. Wendl said he was in Tennesee when he heard of the improper manure pumping, but came back soon after to deal with the contamination. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said there were increased levels of bacteria and ammonia in the stream, but no dead fish were recorded. 

After agreeing to pay the $2,000 fine, The DNR said Wendl increased vegetation growing in the field to help contain manure water contamination. The owner also said he would create better operating procedures to monitor manure water being pumped into the field.

A portion of northwest Iowa river has been pumped dry

Via Iowa DNR

Grace Smith | December 20, 2022

A two-mile portion of the Ocheyeden River dried up in September 2022 during extreme drought conditions and an increase in pumping by Osceola County and the Osceola County Rural Water System. This segment which dried up led to many aquatic lives to die. 

“It’s surreal,” said Ed Jones, who owns 90 acres of pasture land that borders the river told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “There’s no water. There’s no mud. There’s no nothing. It’s just gravel.” Jones, also a supervisor, said that the dry is becoming blatant and worse because a large amount of water from the river is getting pumped by the rural water utility and sold for use in Minnesota. 

An extensive portion of the river has become dry several times in the past seven years because the rural water utility has pumped more water from the ground and sold a quarter of it out of state.

In November, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources asked the Osceola County Rural Water System and Osceola County to develop new plants to prevent the rest of the river from drying up even more. The rural utility draws water from shallow wells near the river and the DNR said those wells directly impact the water levels in the river. The rural water utility declined to comment on the Iowa Capital Dispatch article, so it is unclear what the utility’s plans are.

Major source of Iowa air pollution has operated without permit updates for decades

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Grace Smith | November 29, 2022

For decades, a large gas-powered dryer in Muscatine, Iowa, that processes sand that it sells has not obtained updated permits to be able to operate the dryer, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Northern Filter Media, the company operating the gas-powered dryer, has been operating for over 100 years. In 1985, the company put in a new burner for the dryer, which was renovated in 2002, 2017, and 2020. 

Per the DNR, Northern Filter Media has operated the sand dryer unpermitted since its installation and the renovations. The DNR ordered the company a fine of $10,000. 

“This place has been there since 1914, and this is the first time this has come up,” said Vince Brown, a manager at the facility. “We don’t know what to do. We don’t know what the process is.”

In 2021, in an inspection of documents the DNR gathered of the Northern Filter Media, the department confirmed the facility is likely a “major source” of air pollutants following state rules and could deal with permit requirements based on Title V of the federal Clean Air Act.

Fall is the ideal time to plant shade trees

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Grace Smith | November 3, 2022

With moderate temperatures and sufficient ground moisture, fall is a great time to plant shade trees, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said in a press release on Oct. 18. Planting in the fall gives trees extra growing time before hot summer days, and fall’s cooler temperatures allow trees to form their roots. 

“Properly planted trees will have a better opportunity for a long healthy life,” Iowa DNR district forester Mark Vitosh said. “Improperly planted trees can become stressed more easily or may look otherwise healthy, but then suddenly die in the first 10 to 20 years after planting.”

The Iowa DNR offers tips to keep shade trees healthy with a long life. 

  • Put additional soil far from the top of the root ball — the main mass of roots at the base of a plant — to identify the first primary lateral root before digging the hole.
  • The depth of the planting hole can be measured by the distance above the first lateral root to the bottom of the root ball. Health issues can arise if a hole is dug too deep. 
  • Remove roots growing around the root ball, as well as any roots on the bottom of the root ball. 
  • Dig the planting hole at least twice the width of the root ball. 
  • Use the soil from the initial hole to refill around the roots of the tree. 
  • Water the planting hole to settle the soil. Keep watering the expanding root system as the tree grows.

25 Iowa beaches had swim advisories this summer

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Grace Smith | October 4, 2022

25 beaches in Iowa were under a swim advisory this summer because of elevated toxins or bacteria. According to the Iowa Environmental Council, swimming was not advised for at least a week for the two-thirds of Iowa beaches that had a swim advisory. 

This summer, there were 107 advisors for E. coli, which was a 22 percent increase from last year. The concentrations of E. coli at Crandall Beach at Spirit Lake were so high in August that the DNR’s technology could not measure it, which can detect up to 24,000 viable bacteria per 100 milliliters of water.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tests every Iowa beach weekly from May to September, examining levels of E. coli, and toxins. Alicia Vasto, the IEC’s water program director, said that although the IEC has been monitoring this testing for 20 years, it is still unsure of the trend in E. coli or toxin levels. 

“It’s really concerning because we have so few public places in our state — we have so few public lands,” Vasto told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “And so the public beaches and parks that we have, we really need to protect them and do more to address this issue.”

The DNR said the main solution to decrease watershed pollution is prevention, which means keeping extra sediment, nutrients, bacteria, and other pollutants. Conserving practices in agricultural areas, including wetlands and buffers, can also decrease pollutants in water. 

Properly disposing of materials would lessen CO2 equivalent emissions in Iowa significantly

Via Pexels

Grace Smith | September 30, 2022

Iowans send over 190,000 tons of untouched food to landfills a year—enough to fill dump trucks spanning from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a statement breaking down landfills in Iowa and found that 20 percent of all landfilled materials are from food waste. As of 2021, food waste produces 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases per year. 

“Food waste continues to be the single largest landfilled item by weight,” says Tom Anderson with the DNR’s solid waste section. “It continues to grow. It is sad in some ways. Food gets thrown away every day.”

Most of the 20 percent of wasted food is processed, stored, and prepared leftovers. The DNR release said almost seven percent of the wasted food is still in its original packaging – in cans, boxes, and bags. Anderson said most food is wasted because of misinterpreted labels and expiration/ “best by” dates. 

The second and third largest items that end up in landfills include plastics at 8.6 percent and compostable paper at 7.6 percent. The release said that the energy and emissions impact from 854,000 tons of improperly disposed of paper, containers, and compostable materials is tremendous. If these materials were correctly recycled or composted, about 1.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions could be decreased. 

The DNR offers a list of ways to combat the growing presence of food waste in landfills:

  • Buy only what you need.
  • Learn how to preserve food. 
  • Compost leftover food. 
  • Recycle.

Iowa DNR to eliminate invasive plant in Iowa Great Lakes

Via Flickr

Grace Smith | September 20, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to start treating East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lake Minnewashta, and Lower Gar this week with Sonar A.S., an aquatic herbicide, to eliminate Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive plant. Eurasian watermilfoil was found in these lakes in early August. The DNR will test the water every two weeks through next Spring, per a release published on Sept. 13. 

The DNR wants to remove the Eurasian watermilfoil because it is an aggressive and invasive plant known to take over the space where native plants would normally be. By eliminating the Eurasian watermilfoil, the DNR will use Sonar A.S., which prevents the plant from producing a pigment needed for photosynthesis. This process would eventually starve the plant over a few weeks. The DNR said the herbicide has no restrictions for swimming, fishing, irrigation, or drinking water at the planned dose. 

An East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation representative told Radio Iowa the plant has been found in fairly abundant amounts in certain spots. To keep the species from spreading, the representative said washing boats and trailers after leaving a lake can help. 

A group of people from Iowa Great Lakes organizations is helping the DNR formulate a plan, and local groups are partnering to donate $335,000 toward the elimination of the invasive plant. 

“Keeping the plant out of the lakes over the past 30 years has allowed time for better tools to be developed for managing this plant,” said Mike Hawkins, district fisheries biologist with the Iowa DNR. “I’m confident we can work together locally to manage it long-term. In the meantime, we plan to take our best shot at eliminating it.”

Pheasants are seeing a population boom

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Elyse Gabor | September 5, 2022

Recent population surveys show that Iowa’s pheasant population has grown exponentially. This was caused by a lack of snowfall and mild winter conditions.  

According to Todd Bogenschutz, wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “If hunters enjoyed last year, they should enjoy this year.” 

Over the years, the population of the birds has drastically decreased. It became so low that hunters were able to shoot hens. This is now illegal as hens are vital for increasing the population numbers.  

The decrease in population was likely caused by loss of habitat, especially in hay acres. Numbers have shrunk to half of what they were 30 years ago. The decline is also caused by the weather and harsh winters with many inches of snowfall. However, due to the moderate winter this past year, the birds are experiencing a population boom.  

Pheasant hunting season opens in late October.  

Swim warning lifted at Spirit Lake beach

Spirit Lake, Iowa
Via: Flickr

Last week, Crandall’s Beach in Spirit Lake, Iowa, reported excessive amounts of bacteria, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Officials noted the area as “swimming not recommended.” The warning was caused by a large amount of blue-green algae toxins that contained traces of E. Coli bacteria.  

Due to the recent rains and new test results, officials have lifted the warning. The rain likely caused the bacteria to flush out into the lake, making the beaches safe for swimming. The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) tests the lakes once every seven days during the summer months as levels of bacteria easily shift in a matter of days.  

Currently, Emerson Bay Beach has issued a warning against beachgoers swimming in the water. The beach is located in West Okoboji, Iowa, just a few miles from Spirit Lake. This beach is among six other beaches in the state that also contain elevated levels of bacteria.  

Iowa’s first outbreak of koi herpes kills thousands of Storm Lake carp

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Grace Smith | August 11, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed on Aug. 9 that koi herpes killed thousands of carp at Storm Lake in Iowa in recent weeks. Although this virus has been detected in nearby states including Minnesota and Wisconsin, this outbreak is the first appearance of the virus in Iowa. 

Koi herpes is a very contagious and deadly viral disease that attacks fish gills and creates wounds in the bodies of the fish. The DNR said that although the virus is contagious, it is unlikely to completely eliminate the Storm Lake carp population. In addition, there are no instances of koi herpes affecting people or other fish species. 

DNR fisheries biologist Ben Wallace said Storm Lake created great conditions for the disease to spread, as many carp make direct contact with each other throughout the lake. “The virus could have been here a long time within the adult population with many having some level of immunity to the virus and were asymptomatic,” Wallace said in a DNR release.

The carp washing to shore, which began a couple of weeks ago, created a problem for the community regarding where to dispose of the fish’s bodies. On Aug. 6, Storm Lake’s public service workers took a few hours to collect the bodies and get rid of them in the local landfill. 

The DNR did tests on Storm Lake water at the end of July which did not display any algae toxins dangerous to people.