DNR Sets Stricter Water Quality Thresholds for Iowa Beaches


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | June 15, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to follow stricter standards this summer for the amount of toxins found in the water at public beaches.

Microcystin is a toxin produced by cyanobacteria in algae blooms in Iowa’s lakes. It poses health threats to humans and animals that swim at beaches with high levels of the toxin and can cause abdominal pain, blistering, pneumonia and vomiting if ingested. Dogs have also died from being exposed to it, according to an Iowa Environmental Council news release.

In 2006, Iowa DNR began using a threshold of 20 micrograms per liter to issue beach advisories. However, they decided to lower it to 8 micrograms per litre this year after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended it.

The DNR currently monitors only a small percentage of Iowa’s recreational beaches, but they were able to issue a number of advisories and temporarily close beaches on Lake Macbride, Spirit Lake and Lake Rathbun last year when microcystin levels exceeded the threshold. The number of advisories issued this year is likely to be much higher than past years under the new guidelines.

Mining company makes second proposal to export water from Iowa


Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Tony Webster

Tyler Chalfant | March 16th, 2020

In a letter last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources asked a mining company for “specific information” about where it plans to send 34 million gallons of water from the Jordan aquifer. Pattison Sand Company, located near Clayton, Iowa, is working with the Oregon-based company Water Train to export the water from two wells on its property to drought-stricken Western States. 

This proposal is the company’s second attempt to export water, after the state said it intended to deny its first proposal back in February, saying that sending such a large amount of water out of the state would have “a negative impact on the long-term availability of Iowa’s water resources.”

The company’s current permit allows it to draw 1.6 billion gallons annually from the aquifer, which is a source of water for 500,000 Iowans and considered stressed in some parts of the state. According to the state, Pattison would have to apply for a new permit for this use of the water, as well as providing more specific details about the intended use. 

Iowa DNR releases annual report of greenhouse gas emissions


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Image from pxfuel

Tyler Chalfant | February 4th, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is required to issue a report of estimated greenhouse gas emissions each year, and to forecast trends in emissions going forward. At the end of 2019, they released their 2018 report, measuring emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluorides. Combined, the total gross greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa reached 137.49 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMtCO₂e), the highest emissions have been since 2010. 

This number has risen 3.38%, or 4.49 MMtCO₂e, from 2017, and 10.09% from 2016, when emissions were at a recent low. The greatest increases came from power plants generating more electricity from fossil fuels, increased fossil fuel emissions from the residential/commercial/industrial sector, an increase in agricultural emissions, and a rise in the production of ammonia in the industrial processes sector. 

With 30% of the state’s total, agriculture remains the largest source of gross emissions in Iowa. Power plant emissions have fallen over the past ten years, and have not been the leading source of emissions since 2011. However, like the rest of the state’s emissions, use of coal and natural gas in electric generation has risen since 2016, while generation from wind, nuclear, and hydropower have fallen slightly.

The DNR projects that agricultural and overall emissions will continue to rise over the next ten years. Overall emissions for 2018 exceeded the projection by nearly 7 MMtCO₂e, largely due to the rise in power plant emissions.

Iowa officials investigate fish kill following manure spill in Wolf Creek


Tyler Chalfant | November 5th, 2019

A fish kill was found in Wolf Creek in Tama County last week, after a manure applicator for Mayo Farm Inc. reported that about 2,600 gallons of manure leaked had from a drag hose. The applicator attempted to stop the flow, but estimates that up to 500 gallons reached the creek. Environmental officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are investigating the spill.

Fresh manure contains ammonia, which kills fish at high quantities. Manure is used as a fertilizer because of the high levels of nutrients ‒ notably nitrogen and phosphorus ‒ that it contains. However, when too much of these nutrients enter an ecosystem, it can throw the system out of balance. Algae tends to bloom in nitrogen-rich environments, and certain types known as cyanobacteria can be toxic for aquatic life. 

Even when it isn’t toxic, overgrowth of algae can also kill fish through oxygen depletion, known as hypoxia. Nitrogen runoff from Iowa agriculture contributes not only to local hypoxia, but also to the largest ever “dead zone,” at the basin of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico. The voluntary practices recommended in the state’s 2014 Nutrient Reduction Strategy include reducing the use of fertilizers in order to reduce hypoxia. 

Iowa DNR warns against swimming at nine beaches


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The Iowa DNR’s map of affected beaches (/IowaDNR)

Eden DeWald | July 18th, 2018

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has advised beach goers against swimming at nine Iowa beaches across the state due to high levels of E.coli in the water. Signs have been posted to warn Iowans about the high levels of E.coli, but there is still no shortage of swimmers on the affected beaches.

E.coli, or Escherichia coli, is a bacterium that lives in the digestive tracts of humans. However, pathogenic strains of E.coli can cause infections in humans with symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting, and in some serious cases, kidney failure. Exposure to pathogenic bacteria can occur via contaminated food, water or contact with another infected person. Young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible to an E.coli infection.

The DNR recognized that it is hard to pinpoint what causes these high levels of E.coli in water. However, E.coli outbreaks in lakes and beaches have been linked to human and animal waste. A paper from the Iowa Public Policy project published earlier this year also links E.coli to waste from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, of which there are an estimated 10,000 in Iowa.

2017 Iowa Water Year summary released


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The Iowa DNR recently released the 2017 Water Year summary. (Dirklaudio/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | October 10, 2017

The 2017 Water Year came to an end recently according to a report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The “water year” runs from September 30th through October 1st. Overall, the 2017 water year has been drier and a bit warmer than usual. The statewide precipitation average was about 32 inches, which is roughly 3.28 inches less than usual. Precipitation was around average during the winter months, but fell below normal during the summertime.

Temperatures in the state averaged 50.7 degrees Fahrenheit, which made 2017 the fourth warmest year on the Iowa DNR’s 144 year record. While temperatures were mostly typical during the growing season, they were higher than usual for most of the winter months. This year brought the second warmest November and the third warmest February on record.

The complete 2017 Water Year summary can be viewed here.

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.