New report reveals prevalence of well contamination in Iowa


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Click here to explore new findings on well contamination from the Environmental Working Group and Iowa Environmental Council. 

Julia Poska| April 25, 2019

If you own a private well in Iowa, it’s likely contaminated with dangerous bacteria, nitrates or both, according to a new report from the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Working Group.

“Wherever Iowans test for these contaminants, they have a pretty good chance of finding them,” the report’s primary author, economic analyst Anne Schechinger said in a press release.

The report was released yesterday as an interactive map, using dots in three colors to indicate the relative levels of contamination between counties based on state testing from 2002 to 2017. Because the EPA does not require testing for private wells, the vast majority of Iowa’s private wells are never tested. Only 55,000 of Iowa’s estimated 290,000 wells were tested during the study period.

Over 40 percent of those wells contained fecal coliform bacteria, considered unsafe in any amount. Twelve percent had nitrate levels above the EPA’s 10 parts per million safety standard. Twenty-two percent had nitrate levels above 5 ppm, which recent studies have linked to increased risk of numerous health problems, according to the report. The average nitrate level rose to 5.7 ppm over the years of study.

Over that entire period, eight counties tested fewer than 10 wells, meaning this report tells an incomplete story. Findings indicate that those counties, which appear the cleanest on the map, may actually be among the most at risk.  Only one-third of wells were tested more than once. Those that were tested repeatedly often showed continued contamination, indicating lack of action.

 

Iowa can count water contamination among flood damage


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Flooding in Red Oak Iowa March 14 (via Jo Naylor on flickr). 

Julia Poska| March 28, 2019

Last weekend, President Trump approved Iowa’s $1.6 billion disaster declaration, to help cover flood damage to homes, businesses, farms and levees. Not accounted for is the cost of degraded water, now an issue in Iowa and across the Midwest.

The Gazette reported Monday that eight manure lagoons had overflowed in western Iowa. State Department of Natural Resources officials told the paper that conditions in the east had neared similar levels.  Manure overflow can harm aquatic life and contaminate water for drinking and recreation.

Manure spread onto fields also enters waterways when those fields flood, when snow melts and when it rains. One Buena Vista county feedlot operator may face DNR enforcement after spreading manure during three rainy days in March, the Gazette reported.

Unless a special waiver is granted, farmers cannot legally apply manure on snow covered ground December 21 through March. Farmers are anxious to get manure out of storage, and weather permitting, will be able to apply in coming days.

Manure, pesticides sewage and fuel in flood water could contaminate the 1.1 million private wells in 300 flooded counties in 10 states, as approximated by the National Ground Water Association. The Des Moines Register shared Tuesday an Associated Press report on risk to well water in the rural Midwest.

The risk of water seeping into wells heightens when water sits stagnant for days or weeks, as it has done since the floods. Liesa Lehmann of the Wisconsin DNR, told the AP that well owners should assume their water is contaminated if flood water sits nearby. She said to look out for changes in color, smell or taste.

Once flooding recedes, Lehman said, owners should hire professionals to pump out, disinfect and re-test wells.

 

 

 

 

Toledo drinking water contamination is sign of bigger problems for Lake Erie


Nick Fetty | August 5, 2014
Blue green algae grows near Duncan's Dam in Northern Ireland. (Bobby McKay/Flickr)
Blue green algae floats near Duncan’s Dam in Northern Ireland. (Bobby McKay/Flickr)

The recent water contamination in Toledo, Ohio is yet another instance of the pollution that is a growing problem for Lake Erie.

Local health officials advised residents that both boiling and filtering the water were ineffective in eliminating the toxins which affected the water supply of nearly half a million residents. Toledo’s public water supply was deemed unfit to consume on Saturday and remained so until Monday when Mayor Michael Collins drank a glass of tap water in front of residents and media to signal that it was once again safe for consumption. During the shortage, football players and other athletic staff from Bowling Green State University drove 26 miles up I-75 to provide fresh water for their rivals at the University of Toledo who started practice on Sunday.

Fertilizer runoff, livestock operations, and faulty septic systems have all contributed to increased nitrogen and phosphorus levels in Lake Erie, which has seen seen greater levels of phosphorus compared to the other Great Lakes. However, this algae problem is not unique to the Great Lakes region.

Iowa waterways too have been contaminated with algae. Heavy rainfall in the spring and early summer led to an estimated 15 million pounds of Iowa soil being eroded away which causes runoff and other contamination in Iowa waterways. Blue green algae can produce toxins that are harmful for humans and can be deadly for animals. Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources advise beach-goers to take extra precaution when swimming in Iowa lakes this time of year since algae blooms are at their peak.

On the Radio: UI center finds contaminants in Iowa’s well water


Photo by Travis Forsyth, Flickr.

Check out this week’s radio piece here.  This Iowa Environmental Focus segement discusses contamination in Iowa’s ground water.

What’s in your water? That’s the question that the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination is answering for many Iowans. Continue reading

Contamination turns Des Moines creek red


Contamination from a nearby car wash manufacturer turned a creek near Des Moines red. Although disconcerting, The Associated Press reports that the contamination levels in the creek are low enough not to be toxic:

State environmental officials say a dye from a car wash manufacturer turned a creek red in the Des Moines area.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says a red color was reported Wednesday in Little Beaver Creek downstream of Grimes. Officials say it was traced to a discharge from the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and then to Ryko Manufacturing Company Inc., also in Grimes.

The agency says Ryco, which manufactures car washes, also makes and repackages soaps and waxes. The DNR says the dye washed down a sanitary sewer at the company after repackaging products on Tuesday.

Officials say the product is not believed to be toxic at low levels. Agency specialists who checked the stream found hundreds of “live and apparently healthy” fish and frogs.

Blairstown dairy farm spills manure into Coon Creek


Photo courtesy of thegazette.com

Last Thursday an estimated 100,000 gallons of manure spilled out of a dairy farm near Blairstown into Coon Creek. This accident occurred when a contractor at Cedar Valley Farms punctured a manure transfer pipe. Although Coon Creek flows into the Iowa River, KCRG reports that it’s unlikely that the river will experience significant contamination:

Paul Sleeper, a DNR fishery biologist, said he will have to wait for the water to clear up more before he can tally up the number of fish killed. But he did visit the area where that creek tributary flows into the Iowa River near Marengo.

“We did go down there this (Friday) morning where it dumps into the Iowa River. At this time, we don’t see any impact. The Iowa River has a pretty good flow right now so we don’t anticipate any problems with that,” Sleeper said. Continue reading