2016 ranks third wettest ‘water year’ since 1872


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Each bi-weekly Water Summary Update provides the current status of water resources in Iowa in terms of precipitation, stream flow, shallow groundwater, and drought monitoring. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | October 14, 2016

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released its most current Water Summary Update earlier this week.

DNR prepares the bi-weekly updates in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division. Each report provides an overview of the status of Iowa’s water resources and significant events that affect water supplies using four categories: precipitation, stream flow, shallow groundwater, and drought monitoring.

The most recent update is a snapshot of the state’s water resources from August 31st through October 10th. The report notes that different parts of Iowa experienced a wide range of rainfall totals. Heavy rains pelted the Cedar River watershed during much of September, with the largest storm-total rainfall of 10.56 inches near Nora Springs in Floyd County. In contrast, some parts of southeastern Iowa experienced a particularly dry September. Most notably, rain totals were less than one-third of the average near Fairfield and Ottumwa. Average statewide rainfall was 6.29 inches or 2.91 inches above average, making it the rainiest September since 1986.

Streamflow was also reported to be above average for much of the state. The update notes that U.S. Geological Survey employees have been taking additional streamflow measurements following heavy rain events at the end of September in the Cedar and Wapsipinicon River basins. In several locations along the Shell Rock, Cedar, and Wapsipinicon Rivers, peak stream flow was found to be the second-highest in recorded history. These values are only topped by the historic 2008 flood.

October 1st through September 30th is considered the “water year” by experts in the field. The 2016 Water Year, which ended on September 30th, 2016, is the third wettest year on record in 144 years.

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 – Iowa Department of Natural Resources proposes turtle trapping restrictions


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Under the proposed regulations, trappers would be limited to catching three painted turtles per day. (Chrysemys picta/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 15, 2016

This Monday’s On The Radio segment discusses new turtle trapping restrictions introduced by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources earlier this month.

Transcript: Iowa Department of Natural Resources proposes turtle trapping restrictions

Turtles will get new protections under newly proposed state trapping regulations.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Earlier this year, the Iowa legislature successfully passed a bill that required the Iowa DNR to set daily catch limits and seasons, citing that foreign demand for turtle meat and unlimited harvest has threatened local populations. The proposal follows a failed attempt to completely ban for-profit turtle trapping in the state in 2009.

Biologists note that turtles, unlike other animals, do not reproduce until much later in life, making adult turtles that are removed from the population especially difficult to replace. In 2014, trappers caught 17,504 turtles according to the Iowa DNR. The DNR’s proposed restrictions limit the number of turtles caught per day to 14 snapping turtles, one softshell turtle, and three painted turtles. A trapping season that begins July 1st and ends December 31st included in the document would protect turtles during their nesting season. The proposal also bans trapping within 100 yards of waterways between July 1st and July 15th in order to protect nesting softshell turtles.

The proposal must be approved by the governor before it is reviewed by the legislative rules committee.

For more information about the new turtle trapping regulations in Iowa, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

 

 

Muscatine business receives governor’s Overall Environmental Excellence Award


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Improper disposal of hazardous waste from household appliances can lead to ozone degradation and water contamination. (Steve Snodgrass, flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 10, 2016

Weikert Iron and Metal Recycling of Muscatine was one of seven recipients of the governor’s Overall Environmental Excellence Award last week.

Founded in 1982, Weikert Iron and Metal Recycling has specialized in demanufacturing and recycling appliances and properly disposing of hazardous materials since regulations for appliance handling were passed in 2002. In 2015 alone, the company demanufactured over 5,000 refrigerators as well as thousands of air conditioning units, microwave ovens, dehumidifiers, and other appliances. With each disassembly, the business properly disposes of all hazardous materials including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury switches, refrigerants, and sodium-chromates.

A family run business, owner Mike Weikert admits that compliance with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) regulations can be difficult but worth the trouble, as improper disposal can cause water contamination and ozone degradation. Kurt Levetzow, of Iowa DNR, agrees, “The reason these were written was due to the hazardous components found in many of the appliances, some are carcinogens.”

Iowa DNR nominated Weikert Iron and Metal Recycling for the award. Levetzow commends their efforts,”Removal, storage, handling, record-keeping, there’s a lot of things these guys have to do to comply. And they’re probably one of the best in the region at maintaining compliance.”

Six other businesses, organizations, and communities also received the award including: Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority; Des Moines
Central Community Schools Global Science Class and the Central Green Team; City of Monona; Pure Fishing, Spirit Lake; Price Creek Watershed Project; Iowa County Soil and Water Conservation District, Williamsburg; Walnut Creek Watershed Coalition, Windsor Heights.

 

Iowa DNR suspects farm crop duster is responsible for Medapolis fishkill


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(Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 3, 2016

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources suspects that crop duster farm chemicals are responsible for killing thousands of fish in a southeast Iowa creek late last week.

A local resident near Mediapolis discovered the dead fish last Friday, July 29th and notified authorities. When investigators arrived they found a five-to-six mile stretch of the Cedar Fork Creek to be littered with slain freshwater species of all kinds including bass, catfish, crayfish, sunfish and chubs. Short sections of Flint Creek were also affected.

DNR quickly ruled out fertilizer or manure spill as potential causes. Ryan Stouder, environmental specialist with the organization says he’s confident that crop duster farm chemicals are the culprit,“The Department of Ag pesticide investigator is pretty confident it is, just off the visual signs of mineral oil in the water.” Investigators are unsure if the contamination was the result of unintentional drift or an emergency aerial dump. Water samples were collected from the scene in order to determine specific chemicals present. If a source can be identified, DNR will take appropriate enforcement measures.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture joined DNR in further investigation on August 2nd.

July marks peak season for blue-green algal blooms in Iowa


A blue green algae outbreak on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
A blue green algae outbreak on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. (Rob McLennan/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 19, 2016

While not expected to be as severe as last summer, Iowa outdoor recreation enthusiasts should be mindful of blue-green algal blooms this time of the year.

Warm July temperatures coupled with excess phosphorus that often runs off of farm fields into lakes and waterways creates the ideal breeding ground for blue-green algae. These conditions lead to the creation of microcystin toxins which can cause skin rashes and asthma-like symptoms for humans and potential fatalities for dogs, livestock, and other animals.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources monitor state beaches and other waterways to determine if the water is safe for recreational activities. The state’s first instances of blue-green algae were reported at the end of June. Last summer, blue-green algae blooms led to a record closure of Iowa beaches. Iowa DNR officials have also recorded bacteria growth – such as E. coli – at some state beaches this summer.

Earlier this month, Florida governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency because of harmful algal blooms on bodies of water in the Sunshine State. NASA satellites captured images of algal blooms on Lake Okeechobee in May.

Check out the Iowa DNR website for reports of blue-green algae and other bacteria at state-owned beaches. Mary Skopec with the Iowa DNR advises swimmers, boaters, others to be cautious of water that is green in color or scummy in texture.

“When in doubt, stay out,” Skopec said.

Manure spill affects nearly two miles of creek in northwest Iowa


A creek that runs through Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A creek that runs through Story County, Iowa. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 7, 2016

Approximately 2,500 fish were killed after a manure spill in northwest Iowa last week.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that the spill occurred on June 30 when Doug Streit, an O’Brien County hog farmer, was transferring manure from one tank to another. A broken hose led to an estimated 5,000 gallons of manure spilling onto the ground but Streit quickly dammed the area above Barry Creek to prevent further spillage.

The spill contaminated nearly two miles of creek and mostly affected smaller fish like minnows, shiners, stonerollers and chubs. The site was cleaned up the following day using a pump and other equipment. Iowa DNR officials said they do not expect the spill to affect Waterman Creek downstream but will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate enforcement action as necessary.

Manure spills can cause a slew of public health and environmental concerns. Not only can manure spills contaminate surface waters – such as creeks, rivers, and lakes – but manure can also seep its way into the ground and penetrate aquifers. Increased nitrate levels in waterways caused by manure spills can lead to blue-baby syndrome in infants. Elevated levels of nitrate and other compounds can also lead to fish kills and other ecological impacts.

According to the Iowa DNR’s Hazardous Material Release Database, nearly 350 spills have been reported since the start of the year. Iowa DNR encourages farmers, landowners, and anyone else from the public to report manure spills or suspected spills. Information on how to report spills and other resources are available on the Iowa DNR website.

Iowa Sierra Club aims to restore turtle populations


Painted turtles bask in the sun on this log near Pasadena, Maryland. ()
Painted turtles bask in the sun on a log near Pasadena, Maryland. (Matthew Beziat/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 5, 2016

Officials with Iowa’s Sierra Club  want the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to consider new limits on harvesting turtles as a way to restore populations in the Hawkeye State.

Current regulations allow Iowa anglers with a valid fishing license “to take and possess a maximum of 100 pounds of live turtles or 50 pounds of dressed turtles.” A special license is required to sell live or dressed turtles.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club is calling for the Iowa DNR to close turtle season from January 1st to July 15th to allow the animals more time to nest and repopulate. The environmental advocacy group is also calling for catch limits on certain species including the common snapping turtle, spiny softshell turtle, smooth softshell turtle, and painted turtle.

In March, the Iowa Legislature approved a bill that reestablishes turtle harvesting season in Iowa and calls for a study of turtle populations in the state by 2021. House File 2357 was signed by Governor Terry Branstad on March 23.

Documentation of commercial turtle harvesting in Iowa dates back to 1987. A 2013 report by the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club points out that just under 30,000 pounds of turtles were harvested in 1987 compared to more than 200,000 pounds annually in recent years. The increase in annual turtle harvesting has been attributed to greater demand for turtle meat in Asian countries where turtle populations have dwindled, particularly China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Iowa DNR report shows improvements in Iowa’s air quality since 1978


Iowa Department of Natural Resources)

Nick Fetty | May 13, 2016

Air quality in Iowa has improved dramatically over the past five decades according to a recent report by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The report – Ambient Air Quality Improvements in Iowa – finds that harmful air pollutants such as sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides have declined, 60 percent and 43 percent respectively, since 1978. Both compounds can lead to respiratory issues and sulfur dioxide can contribute to acid rain. These health effects can be especially harmful to children, the elderly, those with lungs diseases, and those who exercise outdoors.

In 1978, 13 Iowa counties recorded air pollution levels that exceeded National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) compared to just two counties in 2015: Muscatine and Pottawattamie. Council Bluffs, the county seat in Pottawattamie County, exceeded NAAQS standards for lead particles in the air in 2010 and 2012 but those levels were below the NAAQS standards from 2013 to January of 2016. Muscatine, the county seat in Muscatine County, experienced unsafe levels of fine particulate matter in the air in 2009 and 2010 but those levels have since declined. Additionally, data in Muscatine showed excessive levels of sulfur dioxide in 2008 and 2010 but levels have also declined since 2010.

The reductions in harmful air pollutants across the state has in part been attributed to newer, more efficient equipment and technology. Despite the overall improvements in Iowa’s air quality, the state’s productivity, population, and travel miles have increased since 1978, all of which can be potential sources contributing to air pollution.

On The Radio – UNI study examines Iowans’ views on water quality


(Iowa Department of Natural Resources)
(Iowa Department of Natural Resources)
Nick Fetty | May 9, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at a recent survey conducted by researchers at the University of Northern Iowa which examined Iowans’ behaviors and views related to water quality.

Transcript: UNI study examines Iowans’ views on water quality

A majority of Iowans are willing to change their behavior to help improve water quality, according to a University of Northern Iowa survey.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Public Perceptions of Water Quality in Iowa: A Statewide Survey, produced by the UNI Center for Social & Behavioral Research, recorded answers to a range of questions posed to Iowans on their views on water quality. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they would be willing to change a single behavior to improve water quality.

Andrew Stephenson (Project Coordinator, Center for Social and Behavioral Research): “One of the many aims of this project was to gather baseline information on Iowans’ reported engagement in positive behaviors related to water quality, such as picking up pet waste, washing vehicles at commercial car washes, and properly disposing of hazardous waste. Using this information, the Department of Natural Resources will work to develop an outreach campaign that educates the public and encourages positive behavior change among Iowans to improve and protect the quality of Iowa’s lakes, rivers, and creeks. Additionally, these data can serve as a benchmark to which the DNR can compare future measures to evaluate the effectiveness of their outreach efforts.”

Water-saving behavior changes could include refraining from pouring fat or oils down the drain, avoiding the garbage disposal and composting instead, going meatless for one day per week, and even placing a brick or half-gallon jug in a toilet tank to save water when flushing.

For more information from the survey, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.