Iowa DNR fails to obey some state regulations


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A recent audit found Iowa DNR has failed to follow a state law related to the establishment of wetlands near close agricultural drainage wells. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | September 8, 2017

A state audit released on Tuesday revealed that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has failed to follow state law related to identifying and safeguarding wetlands, monitoring public works projects on the local level and establishing a clean air advisory panel.

In its defense, Iowa DNR claims that state law pertaining to these issues are often duplicative or less stringent than federal requirements, according to a report from the Des Moines Register. Federal requirements for wetland protection specifically exceed regulation put forth by the state, Iowa DNR director Chuck Gipp told the Register. He said, “We recognize and understand the value of wetlands.” The Iowa law “is asking us to do something that would be even less stringent than the federal code.”

In response, Iowa Environmental Council’s water program coordinator Susan Heathcote noted that federal oversight related to water quality is questionable at present, considering that President Trump is expected to repeal and revise an Obama era water quality regulation soon.

More specifically, the audit found that the Iowa DNR has not established a program aimed at assisting in the development of wetlands around closed agricultural drainage areas, which would aid in the filtration of nutrient rich water flowing into municipal taps. The news that the state is failing to abide by existing water quality-related regulations comes after another legislative session during which state legislators failed to provide funding for more robust water quality measures Iowa voters approved more than seven years ago.

Asbestos assessment and removal funds still available for small communities


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Exposure to asbestos has been linked to higher incidences of cancer, weaker immune systems and other health effects. (Aaron Suggs/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 29, 2017

The Derelict Building Grant Program still has funds available for qualifying communities looking to inspect and properly remove asbestos from abandoned buildings, according to a recent announcement by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Derelict Building Grant Program funding is awarded annually to communities of 5,000 residents or less on a competitive basis. It provides financial support needed to asses for and remove asbestos, to deconstruct or renovate structures and to limit demolition materials that end up in landfills.

So far in 2017 the program has provided $350,000 in support to 18 communities across the state. The largest grant of $60,000 went to Osceola for the abatement and renovation of a commercial building that the city plans to use to spur economic development in the area.

“If a building collapses and the presence of asbestos is unknown, it can increase the economic burden on the community,” said the DNR’s Scott Flagg in a recent statement. He continued, “In addition, a building’s appearance may not reveal the actual condition of the structure. Building assessments can assist communities determine how best to address an abandoned building.”

In the same statement, the DNR announced that the program has an additional $50,000 to be disbursed this year. Applications will be accepted until funds are no longer available.

Applications for the next round of funding are due April 4, 2018.

Iowa DNR works to establish 10,000 acre bird conservation area


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The wood thrush, a cinnamon-colored song bird, is one of the species that would benefit from a proposed bird conservation area in Jones County. (Kelly Colgan Azar/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 10, 2016

Iowa Department of Natural Resources will host a public meeting next week to discuss a proposed bird conservation area in Jones County.

The proposed area, which will include Indian Bluffs State Preserve and Pictured Rocks Wildlife Management Area, would be Iowa’s 23rd bird conservation area (BCA). According to a 2007 watchlist, about 25 percent of all bird species in the United States are experiencing sharp population declines. Bruce Ehresman is the Wildlife Diversity Program biologist for Iowa DNR. He said, “Creating bird conservation areas is a high priority for the Iowa DNR. The proposed Indian Bluffs-Pictured Rocks BCA is a very unique area containing woodland, grassland and wetland habitats that provide homes to at least 111 nesting bird species, many of which are declining at an alarming rate.”

The conservation area, like others in Iowa, will operate at a large-landscape level in order to accommodate birds of all sizes. Ehresman indentified the area’s potential beneficiaries, he said, “Birds of large forests, like the broad-winged hawk and wood thrush, savanna species such as the red-headed woodpecker and Baltimore oriole, to declining grassland birds like the eastern meadowlark and bobolink will benefit.”

Each BCA is made up of about 10,000 acres, and therefore requires a collaborative effort between conservation organizations, public agencies, and private landowners. This reserve, like the others, would have one or more areas of permanently protected bird habitat bordered by privately owned lands that provide additional habitat. Private land consultants and wildlife biologists say that they are willing to offer guidance to any landowner willing to make their land a more suitable place for birds. The BCA program is completely voluntary for landowners and poses no restrictions or regulations for participants.

Curt Kemmerer is DNR wildlife biologist for the Jones County area. He said, “Establishing a bird conservation area helps draw attention to the needs of birds that are in trouble, while allowing the local community and concerned citizens an opportunity to help these birds.”

The public meeting will be held Wednesday, November 16th at the Jones County Conservation Central Park Nature Center. More information can be found here.

Pollution Prevention Intern Program saves Iowa businesses over $1.6 million


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The 2015 intern program consisted of 12 summer projects and 6 24-week projects. (Iowa DNR)

Businesses in Iowa have saved over $1.6 million dollars over the last year thanks to waste-reduction projects completed by interns from the DNR’s Pollution Prevention Intern Program.

The intern program matches up Iowa businesses interested in ways to reduce and eliminate waste from their operations that improve environmental performance and save money with engineering students. Since 2001, companies involved have saved more than $81.9 million from projects through the intern program.

Within the program, interns recommend and implement projects that will help Iowa businesses improve the ways in which they use resources. These projects divert waste from landfills, reduce hazardous waste, conserve energy and water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The annual environmental reductions generated in 2016 include:

  • 1.16 billion gallons of water
  • 1,215 tons of solid and special waste
  • 1,215 tons of hazardous waste
  • 1.2 million kilowatt hours
  • 4,220 MTCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent)

“The real value of the intern program has been to obtain a talented engineering student to compile data and provide in-depth technical analysis, with actionable recommendations,” said Todd Fails, Site Services Team Leader at Zoetis Global Supply in Charles City. “The results from our projects have helped us to make informed decisions that improve our efficiency and reduce our operating costs.”

The engineering students from Iowa’s state universities, after a week of training and orientation with program advisors, work at selected businesses to analyze their current systems, research alternative processes and technologies, and recommend cost-effective strategies that will improve the way they produce, consume, reuse, and recycle their resources.

For more information about thePollution Prevention Intern Program, visit www.iowap2interns.com.

Precipitation in Iowa falls below average for first time since June


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Streamflow remains above average for much of northeastern Iowa as the state heads into the driest season of the year. (Iowa DNR)
Jenna Ladd | November 8, 2016

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released its latest Water Summary Update. Each update provides an overview of the status of Iowa’s water resources using four categories: precipitation, streamflow, drought, and shallow groundwater. The latest update provides a water resource snapshot of trends from October 10 through November 3.

As Iowa heads into the driest season of the year, stretching from November through February, October was recorded as the first month since June in which rainfall fell below normal levels. “Abnormally dry,” or drought conditions persisted for south-central Iowa, with the lowest reported October rainfall of 0.54 inches recorded in Story County. Areas of north central and northeastern Iowa, which had experienced heavy rainfall throughout much of September, saw drier conditions at last.

Temperatures throughout the month of October were warmer than they have been since 2007, averaging about 4.5 degrees above normal. This season’s first freeze is yet to occur for the Des Moines metro area, as well as far eastern and southeastern Iowa. The northwest two-thirds portion of the state experienced its first deep freeze on October 13.

Since the previous Water Summary Update, streamflow in the Chartion River Basin in south central Iowa has decreased to normal levels. However, streamflow for most of Iowa remains above average. More specifically, streamflow in the Cedar, Des Moines, and Upper Iowa River basins remain far above average. The forthcoming four months not only mark the driest season of the year, but also the most hydrologically stable. During this period of time Iowa usually receives about 15 percent of the year’s total rainfall, or 5.5 inches of precipitation. In contrast, summer months in the state bring more than 18 inches of precipitation on average.

Water Summary Updates are released every two weeks or as water resource conditions in Iowa significantly change. They are prepared by the Iowa DNR in partnership with Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division. A complete record of Iowa Water Summary Updates can be found here.

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(Iowa DNR)

On The Radio – 2016 ‘water year’ much wetter than average


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Each  Water Summary Update provides the current status of water resources in Iowa measuring precipitation, stream flow, shallow groundwater, and drought monitoring. (Iowa DNR)
Jake Slobe | October 31, 2016
This week’s On The Radio segment discusses Iowa’s 2016 Water Summary Update, released by the Iowa DNR in October.

Transcript: Iowa’s 2016 Water Year, which ended on September thirtieth, is the third wettest year on record in 144 years.

 This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

 The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently released its most recent Water Summary Update. The 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 31 through October 10. The update reveals that average statewide rainfall was 6.29 inches or 2.91 inches above average, making it the rainiest September since 1986.

 “The 2016 water year, which began in October 2015, and continued through September of this year, surprised Iowans with major unseasonal events including flooding on Thanksgiving last year, rainfall in January, and major flooding in September. While perhaps unexpected, these are consistent with early predictions from climate scientists that global warming will be characterized by increased variability of weather patterns. For Iowans, this implies that we have to be vigilant and prepare year round. Always stay tuned to the current weather conditions and forecasts.”

Streamflow was also found to be above average throughout the state. Following heavy rain events at the end of September in the Cedar and Wapsipinicon River basins, peak streamflow in several locations was found to be the second-highest in recorded history. These values were only topped by the historic 2008 flood.

 For more information about weather and climate in Iowa, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

 From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jenna Ladd.

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.