Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

October 6, 2014

Your Comments Needed for the Waters of the U.S. Rule

One in three Americans gets their drinking water from rivers and streams that are vulnerable or impaired, including the 500,000 central Iowans who depend on the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as the source of their drinking water.

Iowans must speak out and demand clean water in our rivers that is essential for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Clean water is critical to viable communities and economic growth. Sixty percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country are not clearly protected from pollution and destruction.

Over 40 years ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. The focus was to, through regulatory means, remove raw sewage and industrial pollution from rivers and lakes. Thanks to cleanup efforts spurred by the Clean Water Act, the pollution from these sources has decreased immensely or been eliminated.  Unfortunately, agriculture was exempt from most provisions of the Clean Water Act, and today, is the largest contributor to water pollution in Iowa’s rivers and the country. It is time to expand the Clean Water Act regulations to include all sources of pollution – including agriculture.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed stronger protections for the clean water vital to all Americans, but agriculture continues to be exempted. The proposal is the Clean Water Act-Waters of the United States rule. Agriculture exemptions have degraded Iowa’s rivers and lakes and should no longer be allowed. Iowans must engage in protecting water resources by demanding the support of Iowa’s congressional delegates and state legislators to expand regulations in the Clean Water Act to include sources of agricultural pollution.

The current EPA-Corp of Engineers proposed rule is open for public comment until October 20, 2014. Do your part to support the current proposal, but also ask for expansion of the Clean Water Act to include agricultural sources of pollution. Your drinking water, your health, the ability to fish and swim in Iowa rivers and lakes, and the economic viability of our communities is dependent on your actions today. Future generations are depending on you. Submit your comments at: www.epa.gov/uswaters.

For additional information:

Posted by: Linda Kinman 1 Comment
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality September 30, 2014

Middle School Students, EPA Region 7 Administrator Talk Water Quality

DSC_0452EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks will be in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday, Oct. 3, to visit with Brody Middle School seventh grade students about EPA’s role in protecting water quality. Brooks’ visit will include a role-play exercise featuring six groups of students representing EPA, scientists, farmers, concerned citizens, Des Moines Water Works, and non-profits. Afterwards, a group of students will participate in a water quality testing exercise at Des Moines Water Works Park.

Brooks will discuss the importance of EPA’s partnerships to protect water quality in Iowa, and the Waters of the U.S. proposal. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a draft proposal in March to strengthen protection for the clean water that is vital to all Americans.

The students are learning about Iowans’ water pollution reduction efforts, Iowa’s nutrient reduction strategy, and best management agricultural practices to improve water quality.

Brody Middle School serves about 780 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students within the Des Moines Public School District.  Brody is an International Baccalaureate candidate school where learning is incorporated with an understanding of how individuals fit into the world and how their actions affect others.  Approximately 120 seventh graders have been learning about water quality at Brody.

The Des Moines metropolitan area’s 500,000 residents receive their drinking water from Des Moines Water Works, which draws water from the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. The quality of these rivers is fundamental to providing safe drinking water for the public health of the Des Moines community.

  • WHO: Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7 Administrator
  • WHAT: Remarks, role-play student exercise and students learning about water chemistry (all events are open to the press).
  • WHEN: Friday, Oct. 3, 2014, 1:00 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., Brooks’ remarks and activity at Brody Middle School; 2:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., Water quality testing at Des Moines Water Works Park.
  • WHERE: Brody Middle School, 2501 Park Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50321 and Des Moines Water Works Park, 412 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, Iowa 50321. After entering the park, watch for signage to the pond.

Clean water is important for drinking, swimming, farming, fishing, businesses and communities.  Sixty percent of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren’t clearly protected from pollution and destruction. One in three Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams that are vulnerable.

To help celebrate October as Children’s Health Month, EPA works with parents, teachers, and health providers to promote environmental education and healthy environments for children. EPA recognizes the importance of educators’ in incorporating environmental education in their classrooms and teaching methods.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality August 18, 2014

Water Quality Mystery

It is no mystery as to why water quality in Iowa must be improved. The mystery is why major efforts to improve water quality are not moving forward with the urgency Iowans should demand.

The toxic cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie that shut down the water supply for nearly half a million residents in Toledo, Ohio for several days earlier this month has highlighted the importance of watershed protection.

Much like Toledo, cyanobacteria is prevalent in Iowa. Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager of Des Moines Water Works, said “it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Des Moines could face a similar problem.

state beach closed by DNR

Frequently, we hear on local news stations that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued a beach advisory, which can be due to bacteria or microcystin (toxin from cyanobacteria) levels. Both cyanobacteria and algae growth are in response to warm weather and nutrients (i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus) from agricultural practices, and can proliferate in the source water to a degree that affects water treatment operations.

On August 7, 2014, “Swimming not Recommended” advisories due to high levels of bacteria were posted by Iowa DNR at the following state beaches:

  • Blue Lake Beach at Lewis & Clark State Park
  • Denison Beach at Black Hawk State Park
  • Prairie Rose Beach at Prairie Rose State Park
  • Lake of Three Fires at Lake of Three Fires State Park
  • Beed’s Lake Beach at Beed’s Lake State Park
  • Union Grove Beach at Union Grove State Park
  • Backbone Beach at Backbone State Park
  • Lake Keomah Beach at Lake Keomah State Park
  • Geode Lake Beach at Geode State Park

The number of microcystin advisories at state beaches has increased each year.

Year      Number of Microcystin Advisories

2014       11 (through week 11 of a 15-week season)

2013       24

2012       14

2011       7

Swimming advisories are issued between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. The advisories are posted when bacteria or microcystin levels are determined to be a risk for swimming and/or potential ingestion of contaminated water. For up to date information, call the DNR Beach Monitoring Hotline at (319) 353-2613. Information is also posted at http://www.iowadnr.gov/Recreation/BeachMonitoring.

The “do not drink” incident in Toledo is a reminder that the protection of our source waters is critical to the protection of public health. This should be a call to action for citizens to advocate for cleaner source water and to question the current rhetoric on voluntary agriculture conservation practices.

The benefits of hearing about water quality issues and concerns first hand from the public are invaluable to local and state government leaders. The Governor, agency directors, legislators and local city council members need to hear from you about your experiences and perceptions of the quality of water in Iowa’s rivers, streams and lakes. When citizen outcry is sufficient, and actions are transparent and measured, we will be able to take the next step to improving Iowa’s quality of life.

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality August 6, 2014

Toledo’s “Do Not Drink” Order Should be a Wake-up Call

Toledo glass of algaeLast weekend, the City of Toledo advised its customers against drinking the city’s tap water. The municipal ban left 500,000 Toledo and Michigan residents without drinking water for three days, which was contaminated by a toxin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, are a serious problem in surface water sources in the United States. In drinking water, they are most commonly known for causing taste and odor problems.  In some cases they can also release cyanotoxins, which raise health concerns related to the liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal system.

In Toledo, a cyanobacteria bloom is an annual occurrence and was recently quite visible near Toledo’s water intake system on Lake Erie. Tests last week from the city’s water treatment plant confirmed the detection of microcystin — a cyanotoxin produced by the harmful blue-green algae. City officials were told by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to issue a “do not drink” order for its entire population.

The cause of the annual cyanobacteria bloom in Toledo is primarily phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff, and the amount of phosphorus determines the bloom’s size. Scientists are also learning that another farm fertilizer, nitrogen, affects the size and composition of the annual bloom.

The “do not drink” incident in Toledo is a reminder that the protection of our source waters is critical to the protection of public health.

Much like Toledo, cyanobacteria is prevalent in Iowa. At Des Moines Water Works, phytoplankton studies are performed on Des Moines’ sources waters – the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Cyanobacterial and algal counts comprise the phytoplankton studies.  These studies determine the numbers and species of the most common phytoplankton viewed microscopically.

Blue-green algae bloom at Big Creek

 

Both cyanobacteria and algae grow in response to warm weather and nutrients (i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus), and can proliferate in the source water to a degree that affects water treatment operations.

Des Moines Water Works staff treats for unfavorable tastes, odors, and toxins by dispersing powdered activated carbon throughout the water (much like when water is ran through a carbon filter).  Chlorination of the water also helps remove or destroy bad tastes, odors, and cyanotoxins.

When the phytoplankton counts become high, Des Moines Water Works staff can respond by switching from one river to the other, by maximizing use of the infiltration gallery system (a series of underground pipes located throughout Water Works Park next to the Raccoon River), and by using water stored in aquifer storage reservoirs or water produced at the L. D. McMullen and Saylorville Water Treatment Plants.

Currently there is not a federal standard for blue-green algae or their toxins in drinking water; however, a growing number of states are introducing their own guidelines and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has named cyanotoxins as a candidate for federal regulation.

Strategic water treatment, testing, and federal regulation of cyanotoxins are worthy, but a remedy at the source of the contaminant is more urgent. The only viable option to curtail the presence of algae that can potentially cause toxins to infiltrate our drinking water is changing upstream land practices.

Creating buffers, like plants and trees that stand between farms and the water, may help catch fertilizer chemicals before they get into water ways, spurring algae growth. Farmers could also, theoretically, use less fertilizer, though there are no regulations in place as of now.

Farm runoff is not very regulated, so the drinking water contamination incidence in Toledo could happen again, and here in Iowa.

This should be a call to action for citizens to advocate for cleaner source water and to question if voluntary water protection measures work.

 

Top photo credit: A glass of algae filled Lake Erie water, near the Toledo water intake crib, on Sunday via The Toledo Blade.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment July 16, 2014

Des Moines Waterways Snapshot

Cool streams on hot summer days draw children like a magnet.  Children are out of school and seeking adventure.  They see streams as an opportunity to explore, looking for stream critters or perhaps simply to cool off by wading in shallow water.

They are typically less aware of the potential physical, biological, and chemical hazards from runoff, failing septic systems, and broken sewer pipes.  So what is the condition of our urban streams?  Are they healthy and safe or simply storm sewer waterways to quickly discharge contaminated water to the major rivers?  Approximately 25 volunteers, together with staff from the Iowa DNR, have sought to answer these questions.

Polk County SnapshotThe Polk County Snapshot volunteers go out on a designated day in the spring and fall, rain or shine, to perform field analyses, collect samples, and make field observations of the physical characteristics of the water and look for exposed or damaged pipes.  They have been doing this since 2004, routinely collecting samples from 30 sites throughout the metro area to answer water quality observations.

The most recent snapshot was taken in May. The good news is that there is little evidence of direct fecal contamination from broken sewer, despite the more than a thousand miles of sewer pipe.  There is little difference in fecal bacteria levels between rural and urban streams.  During rainy weather with runoff, bacteria levels get very high in both urban and rural streams.  During hot dry weather (when children most likely are exploring streams) bacteria levels are low (sewage from broken pipes would cause very high levels of bacteria during low stream flow because of less dilution by stream flow).  Occasional high bacteria levels were observed in locations where yard wastes were raked into the stream.  It is probable that pet droppings were included with the leaves. Urban streams differ slightly from rural streams following a small shower. In urban areas, roofs and streets create runoff to storm sewers and elevated bacteria levels in the stream while a light rain in rural area soaks into the ground with little runoff to carry fecal matter to the streams.  During heavy rain, rural streams generally had higher bacteria levels.  Livestock wastes are essentially untreated and often applied on the ground and not incorporated to reduce loss from runoff.

Nitrate and phosphorus concentrations are usually higher in rural streams.  Exceptions occur during dry weather below the outfall from wastewater treatment plants.  The concentrations decrease downstream because of dilution and biological activity including algae growth.  Bacteria levels at these sites were low, indicating good biological treatment. Very high chloride concentrations (up to 10 times normal conditions) occurred at sites in the spring that implicated road salt as the source.

Arguably, the biggest threat to stream quality and public safety is flash flooding following a heavy rain.  Storm sewers are designed to drain water from streets as quickly as possible.  This greatly increases erosion leading to bank instability and a scouring of the stream bed.   Redesigning storm water discharge structures and the creation of greenways should reduce this threat, improve habitat, and reduce erosion.  Continued observations and stream monitoring will help determine the effectiveness of these activities.

We applaud the diligence of the stream guardians in protecting our urban streams, making them safer, healthier, and more attractive.

Posted by: Gordon Brand No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality June 27, 2014

What’s that Foam on the River?

With recent, heavy rains, all eyes are on the metro area’s rivers. With the water so high and visible, you may have recently noticed the foam floating on top of the Raccoon River. It may look like there was an upstream truck spill carrying dish detergent, but in fact, it is not soap causing the foam you are seeing on the river.

Detergents can produce foam, but usually the foam caused by detergents is white. The light tan foam recently seen in the Raccoon River typically occurs when decaying organic matter enters the water or is washed into the rivers and streams and begins to decay.  This forms soap-like molecules that are attracted to water on one end and oily substances on the other end.  The attraction of these substances to water reduces the surface tension on water.  Surface tension of water creates the “skin” on the surface of water that allows water strider insects to skate across the surface of the water and not sink.  When this skin becomes weaker, wind and turbulent water can easily break this skin.  The soap-like molecules (surfactants) hold onto fats and oils on one side and water on the other with air trapped inside.  The stronger the soap and water layer, the larger and more stable the bubbles.  Eventually, bacteria break down these substances so they can no longer form bubbles.

DSC_2835When living things die and decay, cells breakup.  This occurs in the alimentary tract (the tubular passage extending from the mouth to the anus, through which food is passed and digested) of animals and is eliminated with the fecal matter. Therefore, a high concentration of this waste contributes to the formation of the foam you are seeing on the Raccoon River right now.  This can come from poorly operated waste treatment facilities and untreated animal waste.

Testing at Des Moines Water Works’ laboratory shows low phosphorus concentrations, indicating the foam to be from the decay of natural vegetation and waste products, rather than from direct human activity. Des Moines Water Works monitors its source waters daily for contaminants to determine which source to use and how to best treat the water in order to provide safe and clean drinking water to its customers.

Posted by: Gordon Brand No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality May 30, 2014

2014 Consumer Confidence Report

Des Moines Water Works is committed to delivering safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to our customers. Safe drinking water is treated water that has been tested for harmful and potentially harmful substances and has met or exceeded drinking water quality standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Iowa. The EPA sets drinking water standards to define the limits of contaminants considered safe for drinking water. These levels are based on studies of the health effects associated with each contaminant and include a sufficient safety margin to ensure that water meeting these standards is safe for nearly everyone to drink. The Consumer Confidence Report is an annual water quality report that helps customers understand the quality and safety of tap water provided by Des Moines Water Works. The current Consumer Confidence Report is now available on Des Moines Water Works’ website at http://www.dmww.com/upl/documents/library/2014-ccr.pdf. If you would like a printed copy of the Consumer Confidence Report mailed to you, please contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700. If you have any questions about your drinking water, please contact Des Moines Water Works at (515) 283-8700.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Customers, Source Water, Water Quality April 21, 2014

Safely Dispose of Unwanted Prescription Drugs on April 26

Rx drugsOn April 26, communities across the United States are teaming up with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to give the public the opportunity to safely dispose of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs.

Traditional methods for disposing of unused medications – flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash – both pose threats to our groundwater supplies. Additionally, leftover medications are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

Do your part to help keep our groundwater clean and your family safe! Dispose of all your expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs on April 26, at a drop off location near you. For drop off site locations, visit the DEA website or call 1-800-882-9539. The DEA cannot accept liquids or needles or sharps, only pills or patches. The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

To learn more about what you can do to protect your family and the environment from leftover medications, please visit The Groundwater Foundation website.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality April 7, 2014

Important Information about your Drinking Water

Spring melting has caused significant water quality concerns for Des Moines Water Works, in particular ammonia present in our rivers from livestock runoff and other upstream land uses.   Many customers may have noticed a chlorine taste and smell in their drinking water. Weeks of disinfection treatment has been necessary to reduce runoff impacts; however, disinfection has its own risks, including potential health risks if continued over the long term.

Des Moines Water Works aggressively and continuously monitors for the presence of drinking water contaminants. Tests indicating a “snap shot” of drinking water quality are taken often in the Des Moines Water Works system. Testing results received on March 21, 2014, show Des Moines Water Works exceeded the regulatory standard for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM). The standard for TTHM is 0.080 milligrams per liter (mg/L), or 80 parts per billion. Des Moines Water Works’ result for TTHM during the monitoring period, which ended in the first quarter, was 0.090 mg/L in the Des Moines Public Water Supply (PWS) and 0.0926 mg/L in the Southeast Polk Rural Water District PWS.

“First and foremost, we take very seriously our responsibility to customers to provide a safe, reliable, and abundant water supply, and recognize that responsibility was not met here,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager. “Safe drinking water standards exist to protect public health – some for immediate health considerations, and others that protect against unwanted long-term effects.  This exceedance falls within the second category.  What is important here is that we respond with a sense of urgency to remedy the issue so it does not have the opportunity to become long-term.  Our customers need to understand that there is not an immediate concern with respect to the drinking water – it remains safe to consume and customers do not need to use alternative sources of drinking water, nor use additional treatment techniques.”

Trihalomethanes are one of the most common disinfection by-products. Disinfection by-products form when chlorine used for disinfection reacts with organic matter present in the water. Some people who drink water containing Trihalomethanes in excess of the standard over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system.

The violation occurred due to the interaction between chlorine and organic matter in the water system.

“At the time of the violation, Des Moines Water Works saw elevated levels of ammonia and other organic matter in both the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers,” said Stowe.

Disinfection with chlorine is more difficult when ammonia is present in source waters. Ammonia consumes chlorine, leaving it unavailable for disinfection. This requires adding additional chlorine to eliminate the ammonia and obtain proper disinfection during the final stage of treatment. For that reason, chlorine levels have been purposefully higher since early January. Elevated levels of organic matter, at a time when chlorine is being dosed aggressively, causes the formation of the undesirable disinfection by-products.

High levels of organic matter and ammonia in the rivers are often the result of agriculture runoff, especially livestock operations and manure fertilized fields.

“Runoff into the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers has once again created significant water quality and water treatment concerns,” said Stowe. “We are completely at the mercy of what is in our rivers each day.”

“Investing in multi-million dollar capital improvements to adjust treatment processes is one viable solution to eradicate similar violations in the future, but the source of the problem remains in our rivers,” said Stowe.  “This should be a call to action for all central Iowans to advocate for cleaner source water and to question if voluntary water protection measures work.”

Des Moines Water Works customers will receive the public notice required by Iowa Department of Natural Resources in their April bill statement. Copies of the notices can be found here:

The regulation requires averaging the samples obtained in the last four calendar quarters. Because of the high results in the first quarter of 2014, similar notices will be sent to customers in future quarters unless and until the average falls below the standard. Customers can expect three additional notices in 2014.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in About Us, Source Water, Water Quality February 20, 2014

Taste and Odor Episode Due to Runoff from Recent Snowmelt

Des Moines Water Works uses both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as water sources. By using surface water, seasonal variations can occur. The recent warm-up in temperatures has caused increased runoff into our water supply, requiring Des Moines Water Works to use more chlorine to achieve the desired chlorine levels in the finished product.

Both rivers are currently experiencing elevated levels of ammonia. Disinfection with chlorine is more difficult when ammonia is present in source waters. Ammonia consumes chlorine, leaving it unavailable for disinfection. This requires addition of extra chlorine to eliminate the ammonia and maintain adequate disinfection. For these reasons, chlorine levels have been purposefully higher for the past three weeks. Chlorine levels in the water leaving Des Moines Water Works’ treatment plants are monitored continuously to ensure they do not exceed the maximum allowable limit set by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Finished drinking water from Des Moines Water Works is safe to consume. Some people are more sensitive to these subtle changes in taste or odors. These conditions will improve as the weather stabilizes and levels of runoff decrease.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 4 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Customer Service, Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment