‘Forever chemicals’ found in Ames drinking water


Graphic via the Iowa DNR.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 14, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found PFAS in Ames drinking water.

The city is Iowa’s ninth-biggest city had concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in its water, detected at 3.1 and 6.5 parts per trillion. The Iowa DNR wants Ames to test the drinking water quarterly because the concentrations were found in water already cleaned by the city’s water utility service.

The chemicals were also found in wells within city limits. One well that tested positive is the site of firefighter trainings. Firefighter foam is one of the most common materials with PFAS in it.

Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Rock Valley, an Iowa town of 4,000 people, also tested positive for PFAS. Wells in the city also tested positive. All of the PFAS levels in the two towns are below federal standards, but the Iowa DNR is planning on having the cities continue testing the water. West Des Moines water also previously tested positive for the chemicals.

The Iowa DNR has released less than half its water quality tests for the state. Supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner previously said testing is underway for cities in Iowa. He said results will be posted as the department receives them.

New DNR Online Map Shows Where Contaminated Drinking Water is in Iowa


Flying Over the Fox
Via Flikr

Elyse Gabor | January 11, 2022

Last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources created an online map that allows Iowans to see if their drinking water is safe. The online map shows if cancer-causing chemicals have polluted water. 

PFAS, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, are synthetic chemicals contaminating the state’s water. These chemicals are found in everyday household items like stain-resistant furniture and clothes, non-stick pots and pans, and more. 

The DNR had tested around 59 cities for traces of PFAS. West Des Moines had the highest concentration of PFAS. Due to the findings, one of the three wells was shut down.

The map doesn’t show PFAS that were found in drinking water. This was the case for Iowa City. The map marks the city with a green dot, indicating that no PFAS were detected. However, residents did their research and found one of the two PFAS. The chemicals were found in the Iowa City Sand Pit Pond, a source of drinking water for 10% of the city’s water supply. 

The supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner said the DNR map shows the contamination of PFAS in finished drinking water that goes out to customers. To be transparent, test results of water sources can be found online. 

The State of Iowa is Suing Sioux City Over Missouri River Pollution


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | January 10, 2022

According to a state lawsuit that was filed against Sioux City Friday, the city has not been properly treating its wastewater. This has ensured that excessive amounts of bacteria and treatment chemicals were expelled into the Missouri River. Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, says that they potentially endangered human lives and wildlife and were fraudulent about it. Miller’s office is litigating the issue on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees treatment plants in the state. 

Problems at Sioux City’s wastewater treatment plant have persisted for about a decade after a new disinfectant process began in 2011, the lawsuit claims. In 2012, an engineering firm found that large amounts of wastewater from industrial sites were interfering with chlorine, the plant used to eliminate biological contaminants such as E. coli bacteria. The firm concluded the treatment plant could not adequately disinfect the wastewater

For the following two years, workers at the plant tinkered tests of the wastewater to conceal the problem from the DNR. This led to the federal prosecution of the plant’s former superintendent and a shift supervisor for Clean Water Act violations.

On typical days, the plant was using liquid chlorine at a rate of about 2.5 gallons per hour to kill bacteria, but on testing days it used between 70 and 120 gallons per hour to pass the test, U.S. Attorney Sean Berry said. Staff then reduced the flow of chlorine before testing the treated wastewater for the chemical, which is also regulated by the state. 

The plant has continued to use excess amounts of chlorine and ammonia that reaches the river, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks fines of up to $5,000 per day for the violations and a court order for the city to comply with DNR regulations.

Road salt as a deicer continues to harm the environment


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 3, 2022

As snow returns to Iowa, road salt is being used to deice roads and walkways while it is bad for a variety of environments.

After the state’s first major snowstorm of 2022 hit on New Years weekend, the Iowa Department of Transportation continues to primarily use rock salt to deice roads across the state. Based on Iowa DOT estimates, the department uses nearly 200,000 tons of rock salts on highways and other roadways to clear ice and snow annually. The salt, however has various negative affects on the environment.

A 2018 study found that 37 percent of the drainage in the U.S. has seen an increase in salinity in the past half-century. The dominant source of the salinity increase was found to be road salt across the country. Drainage can also see increased levels of chloride because of deicing salt. If these chemicals get into waterways and streams, it can increase levels of salt and chloride that exceed guidelines for aquatic life as well as deplete oxygen from bodies of water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency road salt can also contaminate drinking water, increase soil erosion, and kill wildlife. There are, however, alternatives to road salt as a deicer that cause less damage to the environment. Using more porous pavement on roads removes liquid from the roads faster, limiting its ability to freeze-thaw periods and preventing too much ice from forming on roadways. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride deicers are also less harmful. The two agents also help improve soil structure when the water drains.

Iowa City passes Iowa DNR drinking water analysis


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 29, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found negligible amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl, commonly known as PFAS, in Iowa City’s drinking water.

The department released their findings on Wednesday. The tests were conducted following the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory regarding two PFAS: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. If the two chemicals combined to have a concentration of 70 parts per trillion, it would exceed the EPA’s health advisory. According to a City of Iowa City release, the Iowa DNR did not detect either chemical in Iowa City’s samples.

While looking for other PFAS, Perfluorobutanoic acid was detected in Iowa City’s drinking water at 3 parts per trillion. In the release, Water Superintendent for Iowa City Jonathan Durst said the results were low and expected.

“The City will continue to work with the Iowa DNR to monitor PFAS and conduct additional on-site testing,” he said. “We are committed to providing the highest quality drinking water to our community.”

This water analysis came a month after Iowa City was found to have high levels of zinc in its water. The city reduced its daily zinc intake in early November.

Des Moines Water Works votes to further discuss collectively governing water in the metro


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 22, 2021

The Des Moines Water Works board of trustees voted to further negotiate collectively governing drinking water production within the metro on Tuesday.

In a unanimous vote, the board plans to negotiate an agreement with other water utilities surrounding Des Moines, establishing a Central Iowa Water Works. While the vote doesn’t officially confirm Des Moines’s participation in the potential new, joint utility, but it does push the discussion forward according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Des Moines isn’t the only utility to contemplating further discussing a joint utility. West Des Moines Water Works and the Urbandale Water Utility are both set to vote on the topic in January. Regardless of how the two vote, the water utilities are not likely to decide on an agreement quickly. It’s likely the soonest Iowan’s could see a signed agreement and a Central Iowa Water Works is 2023. The idea of a regional utility for water has been in the works for four years.

The Des Moines board told residents there will be more public meetings for them to voice their concerns before any final decisions are made regarding the agreement.

Iowa cattle farmer to pay fine for contaminating creek for second time


Via Flickr.

By Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 10, 2021

An Iowa cattle farmer was fined this week for letting manure-laden water pollute a creek repeatedly.

Lou Pick from Remsen, Iowa, will pay $9,000 after the most recent pollution killed thousands of fish in the creek near his farm. Pick allowed the water to escape a detention basin on his land near cattle feedlots multiple times in 2021.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tested Whiskey Creek and found heightened levels of bacteria and ammonia contaminants, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The water at the creek was bronze and smelled, according to a passerby’s report earlier this year. Whiskey Creek, however, does not flow into a major waterway.

According to DNR records, the water from Pick’s farm pumps into a basin, but the pump failed allowing the water to continue to contaminate the creek. This is the second fine for the farmer. In 2018 he paid $7,000 for contaminated water going to the same basin and flowing into water near Whiskey Creek.  

Iowa is Receiving $110 Million for Water


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | December 6, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynold’s administration has a plan to spend the $110 million of federal funds allocated for water and wastewater that was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Reynold’s said they plan to use it strategically and want to use it correctly. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it is waiting for further guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on how the funding can be used. The DNR estimates that $46.4 million will be used to remove lead from drinking water.

National studies have found that nearly two percent of U.S. children and 3.6 percent of Iowa children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure to lead in children can cause: behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. 

The DNR anticipates more than half the federal dollars going into the state revolving loans funds that provide low-interest loans to cities, counties and utilities for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

The DNR estimates $29.4 million will be used for improvements to drinking water infrastructure and $24.9 million for clean water. 

Review says Iowa drinking water has several contaminants, still meets federal regulations


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 12, 2021

The Environmental Working Group reviewed Iowa’s tap water this month and found dozens of contaminants across the state. However, most of Iowa’s water systems are compliant with federal regulations.

The organization, which is based in Washington, D.C., released its review last week. The review looked at several utilities that produce water in Iowa and found that most have unsafe levels of multiple contaminants. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, the group is also calling for stricter standards for water quality across the country.

Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa David Cwiernty told the Dispatch it is impossible to treat water so it will have no contaminants and the current regulatory framework runs on the basis of “an acceptable level of risk.”

Some of the contaminants in the review were found above the legal limit in a few systems, including radium and arsenic. The group also has an online database where people can check their water by zip code for potential contaminants. According to its website, the Iowa City Water Department has 19 total contaminants. Some of the contaminants included nitrates, trichloroacetic acid, and strontium. It was not one of the systems where excessive amounts of radium or arsenic were found.

Most of Iowa’s Drought has Been Lifted in the Past Month


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | November 8, 2021

For the first time in over a year, many parts of Iowa are no longer in a drought. This is thanks to widespread rainfall last month that made it one of the wettest Octobers on record.

An average of about 5 inches of rain fell across the state, according to a water summary update from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The latest analysis by the U.S. Drought Monitor this week shows less than half of the state is abnormally dry or in moderate drought. Just 4 months ago, it was more than half. 

This week was the first since July 2020 that no part of the state was suffering from severe drought. Many areas of the state had more than double their normal amounts of rainfall. This is a massive improvement. 

The persistent rains did slow harvesting, however farmers are still ahead of the five-year average for completion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 88 percent of the soybean crop was harvested as of Sunday, and 70 percent of corn had been harvested.