Water Quality

Kate Payne / IPR

Federal agencies and local leaders are committing to work together to expand water quality monitoring on the Mississippi River. Representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Transportation signed the agreement Wednesday with a coalition of mayors from up and down the Mississippi.

neverything via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/neverything/

State investigators say heavy rains were in a factor in a manure spill at a dairy farm in eastern Iowa. Some researchers say a changing climate could increase the risk for similar incidents. 

Kate Payne / IPR

Early results from a survey of the Iowa River show mussel populations are lower than researchers hoped. Scientists are monitoring the animals to better understand water quality in the river. 

Carl Wycoff via flickr creative commons

Some experts say Iowa farmers are largely exempt from a re-instated federal rule on water pollution. But the rule is still facing resistance from some ag groups.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwppra/ / Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection And Restoration Act

This year’s so-called "dead zone" off the coast of Louisiana is much smaller than expected. After monitoring farm runoff from the Midwest, that has some researchers surprised. 

NRCS via https://www.nrcs.usda.gov

Iowa regulators are not meeting some state requirements for water-quality related conservation practices, according to an analysis of the Department of Natural Resources by state Auditor Mary Mosiman. The DNR is not implementing a program to buy property rights to restore wetlands near agricultural drainage wells, as set out in state law.

Jared Krauss

The Mississippi River provides drinking water for millions of people living in cities along the water’s edge. It also carries runoff from Midwestern farms into the Gulf of Mexico.

Nutrient runoff from Iowa agriculture is one of the leading causes of the growing “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, an oxygen-deprived section of the Gulf, which last year was recorded to be the size of the state of New Jersey.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Blue-green algae blooms like the one that spurred a drinking water ban in one Iowa town are not widespread in the state, according to a state water analyst. 

Kate Payne / IPR

Iowa is a leading contributor to the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The low-oxygen area the size of Connecticut can kill fish and sea life. And it’s largely fueled by the runoff from Midwestern farm fields. Five years after the state created a plan to slow this process, researchers say Iowa isn't moving fast enough to cut its nutrient runoff.

Ivy Main / Wikimedia Commons

Nine counties in southwest Iowa have been experiencing a drinking water crisis over the past 10 days after a filtration membrane malfunctioned at Creston Water Works. A boil warning was issued June 1st for the city and all the surrounding towns the water works supplied water for. 

During this River to River conversation, host Ben Kieffer talks with Scott Vicker, managing editor for the Creston News Advertiser and Chris Gordy, store director for the Creston Hy-Vee. 

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio

A new study from University of Iowa researchers shows the nitrate flowing from Iowa farm fields is a large part of the total load in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. 

During this episode of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with one of the authors of the study, research engineer Chris Jones, about the devastating impact nutrients from Iowa farmland is having downstream.

John Pemble / IPR

For the past five or six years, there’s been a lot of attention surrounding Iowa's water quality. Last year, a federal judge dismissed the Des Moines Water Works’ lawsuit against drainage districts in three northern Iowa counties. The utility had claimed the districts were funneling high levels of nitrates into the Raccoon River, a major source of drinking water for 500,000 Iowans. Earlier this year, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill she called "monumental," which allocates $282-million for water quality projects in the state. But the law is not without controversy.

Rachel Samerdyke/USFWS Midwest via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmidwest/9260033969/

Wildlife biologists need the help of Iowa residents to monitor frog and toad populations. The research could tell scientists more about the state’s water quality.

Clay Masters/IPR file photo

In 2006, voters elected Bill Northey to be Secretary of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Now, after 11 years, Northey has resigned from that job to accept an Under Secretary position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The legacy Northey leaves behind includes adoption of a statewide, voluntary effort to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields into streams and rivers. He also oversaw two significant livestock disease outbreaks and leaves behind improved emergency preparedness plans.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds today signed her first bill into law as the state’s chief executive, approving water quality legislation while surrounded in her formal office by supporters from inside and outside the legislature.   

Senate File 512 appropriates $282 million over the next 12 years to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into Iowa waterways.     

It’s designed to help the state meet the goals of its Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nutrients in the water by 45 percent.

Reynolds said good work is already being done on the farm.

Iowa Public Radio

This hour of River to River is a "Pints and Politics" edition and includes panelists Gazette reporter James Lynch, and Gazette columnists Todd Dorman, Lynda Waddington, and Adam Sullivan. The discussion covers legislation about water quality and the state budget shortfall.  

The panel is joined by University of Northern Iowa political scientist Chris Larimer to talk through state politics and how social media and political polling shapes our politics.

Hosts and moderators are Iowa Public Radio's Emily Woodbury and The Gazette's Erin Jordan.

John Pemble/IPR

The state’s largest agriculture organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau, came in for bitter criticism in the Iowa Senate, one day after a Farm Bureau-backed water quality bill gained final passage in the Iowa House.   

Iowa is under pressure to reduce nitrates and phosphorus in waterways by 45 percent.

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, spends $282 million over the next 12 years, or about $27 million a year, to meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

But some experts put the cost of cleaning nutrients out of the water at $4 billion.

Joyce Russell/IPR

For the third year in a row, the Iowa House Tuesday morning took up water quality legislation, and by noon a bill finally passed on a mostly partisan vote.   

The legislation, which is now on its way to the governor, spends millions of dollars on water quality improvement projects over the next decade.       

But the final version pitted farm groups against environmentalists and there was bitter debate.  

John Pemble / IPR

There was a spirit of optimism in the air as state lawmakers gaveled in the 2018 session. Opening day often brings talk of bipartisanship and cooperation, but that spirit never seems to last, especially in an election year.

Nevertheless, state Senator Pam Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, struck a hopeful tone about the coming session, although her party is in the minority in a Senate controlled by Republicans 29 to 20. She says last session they made their voices heard.  

Clay Masters / IPR

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

 

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

 

Madeleine King/Iowa Public Radio

What's the solution to Iowa water quality issues? One approach is to get cities, suburbs, and farms together to find solutions.  In this special edition of River to River, hear highlights from a recent panel discussion held at the Iowa Tap Room in Des Moines.  IPR's Clay Masters moderated the conversation.  

A new report suggests the Environmental Protection Agency should consider lowering the legal limit in drinking water for nitrates, a chemical often connected to fertilizer use.

People who drink water with elevated, but not illegal, levels of nitrates could be at an increased risk of kidney, ovarian and bladder cancer, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group asserts. But a University of Iowa researcher who studies nitrate contamination says the connection to cancer is inconsistent and other chemicals may be involved.

COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER GANNON/IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY

A new study says small patches of native prairie plants provide a range of conservation benefits to Iowa’s landscape and could reduce water pollution from farm fields.

So-called “prairie strips” are patches of land strategically planted to native, perennial mixes of grasses and flowers on the edges of crop fields.

Iowa’s efforts to improve water quality could get a boost in the next legislative session.

At a meeting Monday in Des Moines to highlight partnerships among farmers, environmental groups, and state and federal agencies, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says lawmakers would likely send more money to conservation efforts in the coming years.

photo submitted

David Cwiertny of the University of Iowa is an expert in water quality and water resources. He's also one of 35 science and technology experts who've spent the past year working in the U.S. Congress as part of a fellowship program through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Host Ben Kieffer talks with him about the experience in this edition of River to River.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Chemical runoff from Midwest farm fields is contributing to the largest so-called dead zone on record in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Scientists have mapped the size of the oxygen-deprived region in the Gulf since 1985. This year’s is estimated at more than 8,700 square miles, which is about the size of New Jersey.

 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has made big changes to the state’s volunteer water quality monitoring program at the beginning of this month. This comes after statewide budget cuts, including a $1.2 million funding reduction to the DNR.

After providing initial training and resources, the continued administration and funding of the program is turned over to local government agencies and nonprofits that choose to take up the mantle of volunteer water monitoring. Previously the DNR was the program's sole administer. 

Charity Nebbe

Rivers are a vital part of Iowa's ecosystem.

“Rivers in Iowa are the most important corridors of habitat, the ribbons of habitat, that we have left," says  wildlife biologist Jim Pease.

Over the past four summers Pease has paddled 1800 miles of Iowa rivers. On these trips he’s learned a lot about habitat, water quality, and human impact on the water ways. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

More than 200 activists converged on the state capitol today, urging more funding for water quality, conservation, and outdoor recreation across the state.  

A Republican-sponsored bill in the House would raise the state sales tax for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which was approved by the voters as a constitutional amendment in 2010.  

The bill also creates a water quality revolving fund by diverting dollars currently spent elsewhere in the state budget.

Carl Wycoff/flickr

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to spend nearly $850 million over the course of 12 years to clean Iowa’s waterways narrowly advanced in the Iowa Senate today, in spite of opposition from lawmakers of both parties.    

Iowa is under pressure from the federal government to remove nutrients from the water which are contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. But at a subcommittee hearing for the Iowa Senate’s Committee for Natural Resources and Environment, the chair downplayed the seriousness of the problem.

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