Swim warning lifted at Spirit Lake beach


Spirit Lake, Iowa
Via: Flickr

Last week, Crandall’s Beach in Spirit Lake, Iowa, reported excessive amounts of bacteria, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Officials noted the area as “swimming not recommended.” The warning was caused by a large amount of blue-green algae toxins that contained traces of E. Coli bacteria.  

Due to the recent rains and new test results, officials have lifted the warning. The rain likely caused the bacteria to flush out into the lake, making the beaches safe for swimming. The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) tests the lakes once every seven days during the summer months as levels of bacteria easily shift in a matter of days.  

Currently, Emerson Bay Beach has issued a warning against beachgoers swimming in the water. The beach is located in West Okoboji, Iowa, just a few miles from Spirit Lake. This beach is among six other beaches in the state that also contain elevated levels of bacteria.  

Excessive Bacteria and Toxins at Spirit Lake Beach


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | August 23, 2022

The water at a Spirit Lake beach recently had the highest concentrations of bacteria detected so far this year at any state beach in Iowa, along with an unhealthy amount of blue-green algae toxins, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

That means the DNR’s weekly test revealed more than 24,000 viable bacteria in less than a half cup of the lake water. The tests are unable to quantify the number of bacteria above that level.

In Iowa lakes that are prone to unhealthy concentrations of bacteria, a single test that detects 235 viable bacteria can prompt the DNR’s “swimming not recommended” warning. 

Bacteria concentrations in Iowa’s lakes can shift dramatically over the course of days, which is why the DNR samples state beaches once each week during warmer months when people are most likely to come in contact with the water. 

Spirit Lake has a fairly significant blue-green algae bloom right now near the beach that stretches into the lake for perhaps 50 yards. That’s the source of the toxin warning at the beach.

Biden signs critical bill tackling climate change


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | August 18, 2022

President Biden signed the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, a tax, health, and energy bill on Tuesday. This landmark bill addresses the climate crisis and invests $369 billion in spending and tax credits on lowering emissions to combat climate change.

“This bill is the biggest step forward on climate ever,” Biden said at the signing. “It’s going to allow us to boldly take additional steps toward meeting all of my climate goals.”

The U.S. accounts for over 22 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but, with the Inflation Reduction Act and federal action, Biden’s goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 may be achievable. 

Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 27 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The new bill will help lead transportation away from utilizing greenhouse gases by giving $1 billion toward clean school and transit buses, as well as large vehicles like garbage trucks. Along with that, $3 billion may be given to the U.S. postal service to electrify over 200,000 vehicles. 

The $369 billion will also go into an area that affects farmers, and the agricultural industry in general. In 2020, the agricultural economic sector accounted for 11 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. With the Inflation Reduction act, more than $20 billion may be given to farmers to shift to sustainable crop practices. Those practices include crop covers and crop rotation, which reduces soil erosion, benefits wildlife, and refines water quality

Iowa’s first outbreak of koi herpes kills thousands of Storm Lake carp


Via Flickr

Grace Smith | August 11, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed on Aug. 9 that koi herpes killed thousands of carp at Storm Lake in Iowa in recent weeks. Although this virus has been detected in nearby states including Minnesota and Wisconsin, this outbreak is the first appearance of the virus in Iowa. 

Koi herpes is a very contagious and deadly viral disease that attacks fish gills and creates wounds in the bodies of the fish. The DNR said that although the virus is contagious, it is unlikely to completely eliminate the Storm Lake carp population. In addition, there are no instances of koi herpes affecting people or other fish species. 

DNR fisheries biologist Ben Wallace said Storm Lake created great conditions for the disease to spread, as many carp make direct contact with each other throughout the lake. “The virus could have been here a long time within the adult population with many having some level of immunity to the virus and were asymptomatic,” Wallace said in a DNR release.

The carp washing to shore, which began a couple of weeks ago, created a problem for the community regarding where to dispose of the fish’s bodies. On Aug. 6, Storm Lake’s public service workers took a few hours to collect the bodies and get rid of them in the local landfill. 

The DNR did tests on Storm Lake water at the end of July which did not display any algae toxins dangerous to people.

Des Moines Water Utilities Join “Forever Chemicals” Lawsuit


Josie Taylor | July 27, 2022

Trustees of two Des Moines metro area drinking water producers have voted to join hundreds of civil claims against manufacturers of firefighting foams that contain PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” which have contaminated Iowa water.

Des Moines Water Works and West Des Moines Water Works are pursuing the litigation to help offset anticipated future costs to remove the chemicals from their treated water. Tests of both systems’ drinking water in recent months have revealed concentrations of PFAS chemicals that exceed federal health advisories.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to set enforceable limits on the chemicals that could force water utilities to remove them as part of their treatment processes. Recent tests of the treated water that might again reveal PFAS contamination are pending.

Firefighting foam is a potential source of contamination in West Des Moines, and it’s the subject of the multi-state lawsuit that the two metro utilities recently voted to join. These utilities were approached by law firms that are helping litigate it.

The foam is believed to have contaminated groundwater near military bases, airports and other sites.

Swimming is not Recommended at 11 State Beaches


Terry Trueblood Lake in Iowa City

Josie Taylor | July 19, 2022

Swimming is not recommended at 11 state park beaches in Iowa because of high bacterial levels, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One beach closed completely this year as a precaution after a swimmer was infected by a ”brain eating amoeba”.

Officials at Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources collect weekly samples of the state-owned swimming beaches each summer to determine if the public is at risk of contracting waterborne diseases if they go into the water. DNR works with many health and management agencies to alert the public about unsafe water.

This is not the first year this has happened. In 2021, 24 of the 38 DNR-monitored beaches recorded swim advisories over the summer. There were a total of 88 E. coli advisories and 23 microcystin advisories across the affected beaches. 

All Detectable PFAS Chemicals in Iowa Exceed Heath Advisory


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 21, 2022

The treated drinking water of a northeast Iowa city had nearly 3,000 times the safe amount of PFAS chemicals when it was tested in February, according to new federal advisories announced last Wednesday. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been sampling water in dozens of cities in the past year to help determine the pervasiveness of PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

They have been used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof products, firefighting foams and other items. Recent studies have shown that they can accumulate in people’s bodies over time and can cause numerous ailments, including cancers, liver damage, diminished immune systems and infant and childhood development delays, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, the EPA set a safety threshold of 70 parts per trillion for the two most-prominent PFAS. On Wednesday, it lowered the health advisory of one of them to .004 parts per trillion and the other to .02 parts per trillion. Current testing technology is unable to detect concentrations that small.

The DNR’s testing can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion. That means that one of the PFAS would have to be 475 times the safety threshold before it is even detected.

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.

Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Drinking Water Sources


Elyse Gabor | May 20, 2022

Neonicotinoid Insecticides have been found in Iowa’s drinking water. This pesticide is the most used in the world as it is sprayed on many specialty and orchard crops. The chemical is often associated with harming bumblebees or honeybees.  

Neonicotinoid or Neonics for short sticks to insects, like aphids, and kills them. The insecticide is water-soluble, meaning it moves with the water rather than sticking to the soil. According to a study from the USGS, Neonics can be highly detected in Iowa streams.  

The USGS also conducted a study where they tested Iowa City’s and the University of Iowa’s drinking water to see if Neonics would be removed by conventional drinking water treatments. The results showed that conventional drinking water treatments do not remove the insecticide. However, Iowa City’s water treatment plant does a much better job of removing the chemicals as the plant uses GAC or granular activated carbon. GAC is found in common water filters, such as a Birta.  

Greg LaFevre, an assistant professor in environmental engineering and in the department of civil and environmental engineering at IHR at the University of Iowa, said, “One of the things that we want to do as the next step is understand if there’s ways that we could engineer different types of activated carbon that could help remove these even better.” 

To learn more about Neonicotinoids insecticides in drinking water sources, click here.

West Des Moines Successfully Treats Water for Forever Chemicals


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | May 5, 2022

The treated drinking water of West Des Moines no longer has detectable amounts of PFAS, commonly called “forever chemicals.” West Des Moines Water Works shut down a contaminated well in 2021 after finding troubling levels of PFAS. 

Initial tests of West Des Moines water in November showed it contained the two prominent PFAS in a combined concentration of 5.3 parts per trillion. A subsequent test in March did not detect either. Those tests can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion.

“We were pleased to see that,” said Christina Murphy, general manager of West Des Moines Water Works. “We do everything we can to mitigate the presence of those compounds.”

Two other West Des Moines wells showed contamination in lesser concentrations than the one that was shut down, and the water utility is minimizing its use of them, Murphy said. 

Ames stopped using its most-contaminated well after DNR sampling found a combined concentration of 38 parts per trillion, but its treated drinking water appeared unaffected by the change. Initial tests of the treated water showed it had the two PFAS in a combined concentration of 9.6 parts per trillion in December. In March, it was 10 parts per trillion.

The state is requiring water supplies to test their finished drinking water quarterly if they have detectable amounts of PFAS.