Iowa River sees increased bacteria levels near Eldora

The Iowa River via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 1, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning that there is an increased level of bacteria in the Iowa River near the north-central city of Eldora.

The DNR said the city has released hundreds of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the river as it works to repair a damaged pipe, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak was identified on May 31, when an Eldora resident noticed the ground between the river and the wastewater treatment plant was wetter than normal. As the leak in the pipe is being repaired, the Eldora wastewater was switched to another pipe that bypasses an ultraviolet disinfectant system. The system specifically targets and kills harmful bacteria from March to November because it’s when the river is used recreationally.

In recent years, documentation shows the treatment plant discharges between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons per day. The repair to the damaged pipe could take days and residents of Eldora are asked to avoid the area. The DNR is also advising Iowans to avoid the area downstream of Eldora’s 14th Avenue bridge until the pipe is fully repaired, as that’s where the discharge will enter the river.

IML-CZO Investigator Profiles: Marian Muste (University of Iowa)

Dr. Marian Muste is an adjunct professor in civil and environmental engineering as well as geography at the University of Iowa. He also serves as a research engineer for IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering on campus. Photo: IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering (University of Iowa)
Dr. Marian Muste is an adjunct professor in civil and environmental engineering as well as geography at the University of Iowa. He also serves as a research engineer for IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering and is a memeber of CGRER. (IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering/University of Iowa)

Nick Fetty | April 15, 2016

This is part of a series of articles featuring investigators and researchers with the IML-CZO project which “works to understand how land-use changes affect the long-term resilience of the critical zone.”

During his first two years in the United States, IML-CZO investigator Dr. Marian Muste experienced two events that would become major news stories not just in Iowa but across the country.

Just months after Dr. Muste arrived in Iowa City, a recently graduated doctoral student went on a shooting rampage on the University of Iowa campus after he was denied a prestigious dissertation award. The attack was predominately aimed at faculty in the physics and astronomy department and left six dead including the gunman.

Then during the final semester of his coursework for his master of science in civil and environmental engineering, Dr. Muste observed what was perhaps the worst natural disasters in the state’s history when the Great Flood of 1993 devastated Central Iowa and other parts of the Midwest.

Despite his first two years in Iowa being bookended by tragedy and disaster, Dr. Muste stuck around the Hawkeye State. He completed his M.S. degree in 1993 and then a PhD in civil and environmental engineering in 1995. After graduation he was hired as a postdoctoral Research Scientist for IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering at the UI before being promoted to a Research Engineer in 1998 which is the position that he still holds today.

Dr. Muste’s research focus is on river mechanics, sediment transport, and monitoring methods and instrumentation which are all particularly relevant to Iowa and other states in the IML region. Some of his most recent research focused on the Clear Creek Watershed which is one of three watersheds and river basins that part of the IML project.

“Last spring, we deployed in Clear Creek two pressure sensors to monitor the stage of the river. The probes were installed 600 feet apart, close to the stream bottom. The measurements were unattended, sampled every second for about three months,” said Dr. Muste. “By measuring simultaneously at two locations, we can determine the water free-surface slope and subsequently the actual flow magnitude in the stream. Such measurements are rarely made on a continuous basis despite that they allow us to accurately capture the dynamics of the storm wave propagation and hence to better understand flow and pollutants transport along the streams.”

Most of the instruments that Dr. Muste works with are “non-intrusive” which he says are able to measure different variables without necessarily being in the water. He compared these instruments to remote sensing done by satellites but in the case of the river observations, “the sensing is done at close range.” Radars, lidar, acoustics, and digital images are all technologies that allow to monitor rivers from a short distance.

These measurement techniques were useful for Dr. Muste and his research team when they studied the Iowa River after the historic flooding devastated much of Eastern Iowa in 2008. Using a grant awarded by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Muste and his team measured the velocity at the free surface over the entire river width to determine the discharge without the need to deploy any other equipment in the river. Measurements were made three or four times each day for two weeks using a regular video camera. Processing of the images with statistical algorithms allowed the researchers to determine the velocity across the river width and subsequently the discharge.

“The direct and continuous measurement of the discharge during flood events better captures the real movement of the flow in the river than the indirect methodologies currently used for monitoring flows,” Dr. Muste said. “The flow rising in the river has a different dynamics than on the falling flow. This can be seen when someone observes the Iowa River in Iowa City during an extreme flow, such as 1993 and 2008, when the Coralville dam’s capacity was exceeded and the flow spilled over. The flow hits its peak in a matter of few hours or days but takes over two weeks to recede.”

Dr. Muste is originally from Romania and he said he notices various similarities and differences between the United States and his home country. One example of similarities he pointed to was the intense alteration of the landscape caused by human activities such as farming. He also pointed out that many of the practices that occur on the land have a direct impact on nearby waterways.

“These alterations drastically accelerate water movement through the landscape leading to increased soil and in-stream erosion as well as to floods, which are becoming more frequent and more extreme,” he said.

One major difference between the United States and Romania that Dr. Muste pointed out was that much more funding and many more resources are dedicated to addressing environmental issues in the United States.

However, despite the challenges facing not just the United States but the entire world, Dr. Muste is optimistic the technology will continue to develop to allow researchers to be on the forefront of addressing these issues.

“The advances in instrumentation following the revolution in computer and communication technology open a new era for exploring processes in their natural environment. Many more discoveries will follow soon from the deployment of the new generation of smart instruments. I expect that following the computer revolution of the 1950s and the environmental sciences of the 1970s, this decade will be a revolution in sensing the environment, including the Critical Zone.”

Endangered mussel may be making a comeback in the Iowa River

The Higgins' eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year's Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)
The Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was found in the Iowa River during this year’s Mussel Blitz. (USFWSmidwest/Flickr)

After a week of scouring along the Iowa River, researchers and volunteers from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources made promising findings regarding Iowa River’s mussel population, a critical indicator of the waterway’s aquatic health.

The experts found 20 different species during the 2014 Mussel Blitz, an annual research project to assess the health and diversity of Iowa’s mussels. Among them was the Higgins’ eye pearlymussel, an endangered species which was reintroduced to the river in 2003 by stocking fish with young specimens, at the time just the size of a grain of salt. Researchers found six adult Higgins’ eyes in the Iowa River during the Mussel Blitz, indicating that the species was able to mature in the waterway.

While mussels thrived in Iowa waterways for centuries, most have faced heavy setbacks due to damming, fluctuations in water levels and chemicals in the water. 43% of North America’s 300 mussel species are in danger of extinction, including 78 endangered or threatened species in the Midwest.

Since their primary threats are sedimentation and pollutants, mussels are important to Iowa’s waterways as indicators of aquatic health. Reproducing populations of mussels indicate good water quality and wildlife diversity, and mussels help purify the aquatic system by acting as natural filters. They’re also an important food source for otters, herons and some fish.

Ottumwa meat plant is Iowa’s top waterway polluter

Nick Fetty | June 24, 2014

The Des Moines River in Des Moines. Photo by Jason Mrachina; Flickr
The Des Moines River in Des Moines.
Photo by Jason Mrachina; Flickr

An Ottumwa pork processing plant is the state’s number one waterway polluter, according to a report released by the Environment Iowa Research and Policy Center.

The report finds that Cargill Meat Solutions dumped nearly three million pounds of chemicals into the Lower Des Moines River in 2012 which is the 10th most-polluted watershed in the country. Other polluted watersheds in Iowa include the Blackbird and Soldier Rivers (ranked 5th) along the Iowa-Nebraska border, the Lower Big Sioux River (ranked 34th) in northwest Iowa, and the Lower Iowa River (ranked 35th) on the east side of the state.

Corporate agribusiness facilies – such as Cargill – “were responsible for approximately one-third of all direct discharges of nitrates to our waterways, which can cause health problems in infants and contribute to ‘dead zones’ in our waters.”  The Tyson meat plant in Columbus Junction dumped more than 1.7 million pounds of toxins into the Lower Iowa River.

The report also states that nationally 206 million pounds of toxic waste was dumped into waterways in 2012. Iowa was responsible for nearly 7 million pounds of chemicals which ranked 12th nationally. Indiana was the top-polluting state with more than 17 million pounds of toxic discharge while Rhode Island was the least-polluting with 618 pounds of toxic releases.

For more information, check out the Iowa Public Radio segment about pollution in Iowa watersheds.

For now, flood forecast good news

The Iowa River in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Iowa River in Iowa City, Iowa.

The National Weather Service issued its first flood potential outlook of the year last week.

Below are locations along the Iowa River and the probability that flooding will occur between now and May 26:

  • Iowa City: Minor flooding, less than 5 percent; moderate flooding, less than 5 percent; major flooding, less than 5 percent
  • Lone Tree: Minor flooding, 18 percent; moderate flooding, 12 percent; major flooding, less than 5 percent
  • Marengo: Minor flooding, 58 percent; moderate flooding, 35 percent; major flooding, less than 5 percent

However, experts are closely watching the frost depth of the ground as spring rains near.

For the full story, click here.

On the Radio: Steroids in Water

Photo by UnitedSoybeanBoard; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the behaviors of certain steroids in bodies of water. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Coralville Old Town Redevelopment Begins

Photo by AirBeagle; Flickr
Photo by AirBeagle; Flickr

Five years after the 2008 flood, Coralville is finishing the last of its flood mitigation efforts.

Coralville city officials and Watts Group developers broke ground Monday on the Old Town Coralville redevelopment project. The $24 million project will include 154 housing units, 10,000 square feet of commercial space and green space at Fifth Street and Second Avenue.

Head over to the Press-Citizen for the full story.

Iowa River Cleanup A Success

Photo by Alan Light; Flickr

Volunteers pulled more than six tons of garbage from the river between Iowa City and Hills in the annual Iowa River Clean-up, held Sept. 14.

Low water levels, good weather, and hard-working volunteers all contributed to a successful clean-up of a 9.5-mile stretch of the Iowa River from Iowa City to Hills last Saturday. Volunteers worked to pull 6.38 tons of trash and debris from the river and its banks to protect and improve the river’s water quality and make the waterway safer for people to use for recreational purposes. Continue reading

On the Radio: Master River Steward Program

Cedar River – Photo by tiswango; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers a portion of the Master River Steward Program’s ongoing work with rivers and communities. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Environment Iowa Delivers Petition to Protect Iowa Rivers

Photo by cwwycoff1; Flickr


Environment Iowa delivered a petition with over 5,000 signatures to Senator Dick Dearden, chair of the Natural Resources committee. The petition calls on Iowa leaders to reduce runoff pollution from corporate agribusiness.

Environment Iowa is a non-profit, statewide, environmental advocacy program. To learn more about the petition and Environment Iowa, follow this link.