U.S. House Will Vote on PFAS Regulation


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Josie Taylor | July 19, 2021

PFAS chemicals, often referred to as forever chemicals, which have been found in many places in Iowa, are not currently regulated federally. Members of Congress, along with Biden administration officials at a conference on Wednesday explained that they are trying to start regulation for toxic chemicals found in water, like PFAS, starting with a vote in the U.S. House this week. 

Two representatives from Michigan, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, said that House Democratic leaders will introduce the PFAS Action Act of 2021. This has the goal of reducing Americans’ exposure to the toxic chemicals in air, water and consumer products.

Rep. Dingell’s bill would define PFOA and PFOS chemicals as hazardous substances, which would make it so federal cleanup would have to occur. This clean up would likely start on military bases. 

There are currently no EPA regulations that restrict manufacturers and companies from releasing PFAS chemicals into the environment.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency is currently in the process of regulating PFOS and PFOA.

“We recognize PFAS is an urgent health challenge,” Regan said. “We’re committed to working with all stakeholders to protect the health and safety of all of our communities.”

The bill introduced this week would also identify nine industries for which EPA must set standards. These industries are: organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers; pulp, paper, and paperboard; textile mills; electroplating; metal finishing; leather tanning and finishing; paint formulating; electrical and electrical components; and plastics molding and forming.

Des Moines Water Works plans to drill wells in search for clean water


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 7, 2021

The Des Moines Water Works is now considering drilling wells to find clean water. After years of lawsuits and legislative lobbying, the utility has been unable to keep farmers upstream in order to reduce runoff. These efforts have cost Water Works $18 million to treat the polluted river water over the last two decades. Resulting in the utility now planning to spend $30 million in order to drill wells which will mix in pure water when the nitrate levels rise seasonally. 

Major cities are often discouraged from taking such a dramatic measure, as reliance on wells for large populations would quickly deplete the groundwater. Comparatively, small communities may often use wells but surface sources such as rivers and lakes, supply 70% of the freshwater used in the U.S. 

Nitrate levels in central Iowa have become so bad that Des Moines Water Works’ CEO Ted Corrigan said to Iowa Public Radio “for 110 days last year [Water Works] could not use the Des Moines River as a water source…That is shocking.” 

Since many Iowa farmers are unable to privately invest in ways to filter out chemicals and public funding through the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is limited, the utility has few alternative options. 

Water Works has paid the U.S. Geological Service $770,000 to analyze drilling sites north of the city, according to The Gazette. Thereafter, the utility will have to work with state and federal agencies to get the permits to build the wells. 

Lake Darling Faces Continuing Bacteria Problems Despite $12 Million Restoration


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 6, 2021

Once the pinnacle of Iowa perennial lake improvement, Lake Darling now reports one of the highest amounts of swimming advisories in Iowa. 

Despite a $12 million restoration concluded in 2014, Lake Darling has had problems maintaining its renewed water quality. A study by the Iowa Environmental Council found Darling had 30 beach advisories for fecal bacteria and nine for algae toxins between 2014 and 2020. In a rare discovery for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Darling was found to have violated three state swimming standards in a single round of tests last week. Only seven other lakes received “swimming not recommended” warnings.

The restoration of Lake Darling began in the early 2000’s after Iowa DNR tests for bacteria found high levels of animal waste due to the local area’s high concentration of hog confinements. Animal bacteria and algae toxins can result in intestinal and other illnesses in humans, especially those with weakened immune systems. However, many of these concerns seemed to be put to rest due to the restoration. In 2007, the Iowa DNR even published an article titled “Lake Darling: A snapshot of success.

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Alicia Vasto, the associate water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said the increase in algae toxin microcystin has been a major concern. Vasto noted the beginning of July is very early in the season for microcystin advisories, however the precipitation patterns and drought increases the difficulty to draw conclusions. 

Water Conservation is Being Requested Despite Rain


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Josie Taylor | July 5, 2021

Recently the Des Moines area has received rain, causing a lower demand for water. Despite this good news, next week there will likely be more heat and less rain, which could cause more strain on Des Moines Water Works. Des Moines Water Works had a high demand this summer because of the dryness Iowa is experiencing.

Des Moines Water Works pumped 89 million gallons on June 9. Two days later it was closer to 90 million gallons but luckily rain came. The rain brought demand down to 86 million, which is still high. The record is 96 million gallons, which occurred in 2012. 

On June 14 Des Moines citizens were asked to conserve their water when possible. This brought demand down by about 5 million gallons a day. 

Demand for water got down to 50 million gallons a day in late June after multiple rain showers. This did not last long, and by Thursday, July 1 it was up to 73 million gallons a day.

Ted Corrigan, Des Moines Water Works CEO, told Iowa Capital Dispatch that Water Works will continue to ask their customers to try to avoid watering their lawn, and to follow a watering schedule. Their goal is to cut down lawn watering by 25 percent.

Utility workers also installed flashboards on the Raccoon River in hopes to raise the water level because the river has been running low recently. The Raccoon River is a large source of water in the Des Moines area.

Iowa Environmental Council reports lack of success with state’s water cleanup strategies


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 2, 2021

The current plan to clean Iowa’s polluted waterways would take up to 22,000 years to meet its goals according to the Iowa Environmental Council.

The council issued a new report based on its latest review of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy—which the state originally adopted in 2013. The strategy is based on a science and technology framework that assesses the nutrients in Iowa’s waterways and attempts to reduce them. The report said the program, which has been the backbone of the state’s water quality efforts in recent years, is not working in the council’s view.

The strategy is failing to reduce nutrient pollution in Iowa’s water. The council criticized the state’s solution, calling it an immensely slow response to the serious water quality issues plaguing the state. One of the places the strategy is falling short is in funding, according to the report. Iowa lawmakers increased funding for the program by almost $300 million over the next 12 years, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The Iowa Environmental Council also joined a group of 10 riverfront states in calling for a new federal initiative to improve the water quality in the Mississippi River. The group is advocating for a bill that would create a federal Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative that would restore the river that faces runoff, habitat loss, and intense flooding events annually.

UI Professor Explains Forever Chemicals


Josie Taylor | June 28, 2021

University of Iowa professor, Dave Cwiertny gave a presentation via Zoom to a CGRER member. He explained PFAS chemicals in drinking water, which are also referred to as forever chemicals. He gave an explanation for what they are, why people should be concerned, and what can be done now.

Professor Cwiertny near the beginning of the presentation tells us why PFAS exists in the first place. PFAS is a man-made chemical that does have some desirable traits. They have oil and water repellence, temperature resistance and friction reduction. They are used in non-stick cookware and fire fighting foams. Areas near fire fighting locations, like airports, landfills or near food processing locations are at a higher risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. Here you can view the PFAS cycle.

PFAS chemicals are something to be concerned about because they can cause problems, specifically for pregnant women. Exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, preterm birth and other problems.

If you have an unregulated private well, you should check if you are near a location that has history of PFAS contamination. Free testing could be available through Iowa Grants to Counties. If you have public water, contact your provider and ask about their plans testing for PFAS chemicals through the Department of Natural Resources.

If you have extra concerns or questions you can contact Professor Cwiertny through his email (david-cwiertny@uiowa.edu) or by phone (319-335-1401).

UI Professor Talks About Drought on Iowa Press


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Josie Taylor | June 21, 2021

On Friday, University of Iowa professor Larry Webber, along with Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan were interviewed on Iowa Press. They both answered questions about water quality in Iowa, and more specifically how the drought is affecting water.

Corrigan and Webber were both calm during the interview, and did not act scared about Iowa’s future. They were disappointed at times, but held out hope. 

The interview was started by asking Corrigan and Webber about the recent news that the Supreme Court would not move forward with a lawsuit that was brought forward by a couple of groups dealing with agriculture pollution on the Raccoon River. They both expressed disappointment. Professor Webber said “we’ve had a lot of talk and the talk has been going on now for a decade”, and now we need progress. 

Both interviewees were asked if they believed there would be a Flint, MI type of situation in the near future. Both men shut that thought down quickly. They said that Iowa is not experiencing anything like Flint, meaning Iowa does not have drinking water contaminated with lead, and they reassured that Iowans are taking this seriously. 

Corrigan shared that Des Moines was asked to cut down on their water use, and that the citizens of Des Moines did that. He said that they have seen a 5 million gallon reduction in water from day to day. He holds out hope that Des Moines will not get to the place of needing to ration water completely. 

Webber ended the interview by sharing that he believes federal leadership is needed in times like this. He wants more leadership in USDA in order to help farmers handle a drought effectively. 

Iowa Ideas 2021 conference to focus on water quality


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 4, 2021

The Cedar Rapids Gazette is hosting an in-depth week on water quality later this month as a part of the Gazette’s Iowa Ideas 2021 virtual conference.

The events begin at noon on June 21 with a keynote session with Larry Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa. The week will include various panels on the value of water, eco-tourism, the upgrades some Iowa communities need to remove nitrates and pollutants from drinking water, and various other pressing issues. The week closes with a look at the 388-mile Cedar River and water quality efforts surrounding the waterway on Friday, June 25.

Twelve panelists will participate in the week of activities, looking to inform Iowans on water quality issues around the state and beyond its borders. Iowa Ideas is an initiative that aims to explore and discuss big issues that could shape the state’s future. The water quality week follows a higher education focused week in the spring.  

The Iowa Ideas week this month will feature conversation about controlling water pollution and runoffs, where ideas about how to protect water in the state will be shared. Panels and discussions begin at noon Monday through Friday with different guests daily. Free registration is open for the event on the Iowa Ideas website.

DNR Director decides against overruling Supreme Beef feedlot


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 3, 2021

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon decided last Friday that she will not use the Director’s Discretion Rule to review an 11,600-head cattle feedlot.

More than 40 groups, individuals, and elected officials sent a letter to Lyon asking her to use the rule to veto the approval of the operation in late May. The Iowa DNR and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office notified the organizations, legislators, and individuals that the initial decision approving the Supreme Beef project will stand.

Environmental groups are concerned about the project due to its proximity to Monona and Bloody Run Creek—a protected waterway. The feedlot will be in the creek’s watershed, presenting the possibility of contaminating the water.

The Director’s Discretion Rule was objected to in the Iowa Legislature in 2006. Any challenge to the rule means the DNR must prove that the rule is not arbitrary, beyond its authority, capricious, or unreasonable. The rule can still be used regardless of the Legislature’s previous objection.

In Lyon’s letter, she said the DNR’s Legal Services Bureau advised her and said a subrule “lacks statutory authority”. Lyon cited chapters 459 and 459A of Iowa’s code as to why she could not conduct an alternative evaluation. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups disagree and are asking the DNR to formally outline how they came to their decision to the public.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, environmental groups can file a lawsuit against the Iowa DNR, but no suits have been filed.

Environmental Panel Approves New Water Quality Rules


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Josie Taylor | May 24, 2021

An Iowa environmental panel approved new controversial water quality rules last week. Critics are worried it will threaten Iowa’s waterways.

The Environmental Protection Commission, which is a group appointed by the Governor, approved rules on water quality certifications related to permits. They approved heavy equipment that is currently banned to be used in waterways. It also removes wetland loss restrictions. 

Some groups however, like The Iowa Environmental Council believe the new rules will take away important protections for Iowa’s waterways. This council is made up of 80 environmental groups and 500 individual members. This group is also concerned that water quality standards will be easier to violate. 

The Iowa Environmental Council stressed concerns over the Department of Natural Resources because they claim these new rules will limit what DNR can consider when looking at permits. DNR, however, gave a statement to the Des Moines Register making it clear that they still intend to guarantee safe water for Iowans. 

In their statement, the Department of Natural Resources gave support for the new rules passed by the panel. They say these rules will take action to prevent pollution, along with other positive actions.