Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

March 8, 2017

Contact the Des Moines City Council

On Monday, March 20, the Des Moines City Council is scheduled to vote on whether the city should support House File 484, a controversial bill that would eliminate the Des Moines Water Works. Call them and urge them to vote no.

Mayor Frank Cownie
Email: fcownie@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 283-4944
Home Phone: (515) 255-3644

Bill Gray – Ward 1
Email: BillGray@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 237-1623
Home Phone: (515) 274-0077

Linda Westergaard – Ward 2
Email: LindaW@dmgov.org
Home Phone: (515) 988-4288

Christine Hensley – Ward 3
Email: CLHensley@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 237-1625
Home Phone: (515) 255-4716

Joe Gatto – Ward 4
Email: joegatto@dmgov.org
Home Phone: (515) 402-2626

Christopher Coleman – Ward 5
Email: ccoleman@dmgov.org
City Hall Phone: (515) 237-1622
Home Phone: (515) 276-7644

Skip Moore – At Large
Email: skipmoore@dmgov.org
Home Phone: (515) 681-9804

Why You Should Stand Against HF 484

House File 484 is a bill being considered in the Iowa Legislature  that would disband the governing boards of the Des Moines, Urbandale, and West Des Moines water works. If signed into law, these three independent utilities would be forced to turn over management and their assets to the city councils in each city.

This is a diversion

  • There is no drinking water quality crisis in the Des Moines metro area that would necessitate the state legislature stepping in.
  • The real problem is source water quality in the state. The Legislature should be focused on water quality – not local water production.
  • Metro utilities have done an outstanding job for decades of planning and implementing the supply, treatment, and transmissions projects necessary to ensure everyone in the metro has access to quality water in adequate quantities at reasonable rates.

Legislative overreach

  • This legislation stands in stark contrast to Home Rule (the right for local self-government)
  • Iowa Code Chapter 388, states that a city may establish or dispose of a city utility, but it is subject to the approval of the voters of the city.
  • This legislation takes the right to vote out of the hands of the citizens of Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Urbandale.
  • Approximately 15 years ago, West Des Moines asked the citizens of West Des Moines to vote on dissolving their water board. More than 90% of the voters said no. This legislation will allow them to take over the utility without it going to the voters.
  • This is clearly an effort to bypass existing law and the will of the people.

Current version of the bill doesn’t even address regionalization

  • The amended bill doesn’t create a regional water authority, which was ostensibly the reason for the original legislation.
  • Regionalization, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. This is why a coalition of 22 metro water utilities commissioned a study in 2014.
  • House File 484 would dismantle in an instant all of our accomplishments today. The metro water utilities will find a solution to our region’s future water needs by continuing the dialogue, not dismantling what has already been done.

Why water boards were set up independently

  • Water utility boards were set up independent from city councils for a reason – to protect a public health necessity from politics. Simply stated, it is an independent local water utility owned by its customers and it works, and has worked for 100 years.
  • There is absolutely no need to dismantle the water boards in the metro area that have decades of experience of delivering safe and affordable drinking water, and have long histories of financial diligence that have resulted in healthy water systems at relatively affordable rates.
  • Currently, water rates are reinvested in the water system, funding imperative capital improvements – for example, over $3 million this year in water main replacement projects for Des Moines.
  • It is no secret the City of Des Moines needs new revenue sources. If assets, responsibilities and revenue are transferred to City of Des Moines, portions of water rates could be funneled to the general fund of City of Des Moines, circumventing needed infrastructure plans.
  • Takes the management of delivering safe and affordable drinking water from professionals and puts in the hands of politicians.

Why you should stand against HF 484

  • This is a solution looking for a non-existent problem.
  • The legislature is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong.
  • The proposed legislation actually impedes the regions ability to create a regional water authority.
  • House File 484 sets a dangerous precedent for all of Iowa’s 500 independent utilities boards.
  • Legislation could impede economic growth as it puts a freeze planning and construction of new water treatment facilities.
  • House File 484 is an example of politics at its worst. This legislation is clearly retaliation for the Clean Water Lawsuit, and shows no regard to the 500,000 people who depend on Des Moines Water Works for clean and affordable drinking water ever day.
  • As we saw in Flint, Michigan, when financially strained cities make decisions for purely economic reasons, the results can be catastrophic.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Posted in Board of Trustees, Customers, Value of Water, Water Quality January 5, 2017

Turn Talk into Action in the Raccoon River Watershed

On Monday, January 9, the opening gavel will fall, and Iowa’s 2017 state legislative session will begin. Legislators will continue to grapple with the complex and costly issues associated with improving Iowa’s water quality. Des Moines Water Works is committed to being part of the solution and has unveiled its top legislative priorities aimed at restoring and protecting source water quality in the Raccoon River Watershed. Proposed solutions include:

  • Allocate adequate, sustained funding for a statewide water quality plan that holds the largest contributors accountable, leverages public-private partnerships and doesn’t divert funding from other vital state services.
  • Implement a statewide, watershed-based approach, rather than a county-by-county approach, to treating Iowa water quality. Set a timeline for pollution reductions; target and prioritize the most urgent areas; fund and implement water quality monitoring at the sub-watershed level to assess progress; and guarantee public access to water quality data. Transparency and accountability help ensure that limited public resources are used wisely and effectively.
  • Prioritize the entire Raccoon River Watershed for immediate action. Allocate funding to implement a long-term plan that includes full-time,
    permanent coordinators; infrastructure; targeted practices in the
    watershed; measures of progress; and water quality monitoring. Watershed Management Authorities are appropriate mechanisms for implementing the Raccoon River plan.
  • Protect public health by updating agricultural tile drainage laws; i.e. require consideration of environmental and health impacts; ensure edge-of-field mitigation; and implement water quality monitoring at outlets to public waterways.

Des Moines Water Works is committed to protecting the health of 500,000 central Iowans by providing safe, abundant and affordable drinking water and will continue to pursue collaborative efforts, legal remedies, and legislative solutions that ensure cleaner source water for our customers. The year 2017 is said to be the “year of water,” and Des Moines Water Works looks forward to helping craft a plan that results in meaningful improvement in Iowa waterways.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 1 Comment
Labels: , , , Posted in About Us, Environment, Source Water, Water Quality September 20, 2016

Water Quality Concerns: More than Nitrate

Like high nitrate concentration in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, another agrotoxin from excess nutrients from intensive agricultural production upstream is threatening central Iowa drinking water sources.

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, grow and multiply quickly where there are high nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). Certain forms of blue-green algae can also produce toxins that can make humans and animals sick.  When cyanobacteria counts rise, there is greater potential for the presence of cyanotoxins, which raise health concerns related to the liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal system.

Microcystin is the cyanotoxin found in the finished drinking water of Toledo, Ohio, in 2014, that prompted the city to issue a “Do Not Drink” order for its 500,000 customers.  The cyanotoxin was released by a cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie at the time, near the city’s water intake system.

Much like Toledo, Des Moines Water Works uses surface water to produce drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa customers.

DSC_1437Des Moines Water Works recently began a more aggressive testing regimen for the presence of harmful cyanotoxins when elevated cyanobacteria levels are present in raw water sources.  While many water utilities do not have equipment to test for these toxins, Des Moines Water Works recently invested in instrumentation that allows staff to monitor for microcystin and cylindrospermospin, per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations, as well as two additional known cyanotoxins – anatoxin and saxitoxin.  Des Moines Water Works now routinely samples three times per week during the warmer months of the year, and more frequently when necessary.

Des Moines Water Works’ treatment process has limited ability to thoroughly remove these toxins from finished water; however, the ability to avoid the river source with the greatest amount of toxins remains the single most effective strategy to protect customers. Des Moines Water Works must remain nimble to the emerging science and public health considerations of these toxins.  Staff from Des Moines Water Works is working with state regulators from Iowa Department of Natural Resources and public health and emergency management personnel, to communicate health advisories if microcystin or cylindrospermospin are detected in the finished drinking water, as prescribed by EPA.

Des Moines Water Works is committed to delivering safe, affordable and abundant drinking water to its customers. Finished drinking water continues to meet or exceed drinking water quality standards; however, it is increasingly challenging.  Des Moines Water Works remains advocates for a holistic approach for addressing water quality in Iowa, including promoting precision conservation practices to reduce excess nutrients, E. Coli, eroded soil, and emerging contaminants – much of which can be attributable to agricultural production.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment May 23, 2016

Travel the Water Treatment Process

Many Des Moines metro area residents turn on the tap without thinking about where their water came from, how  it got there and who made it safe to drink. Whether you are 8 or 98 or anywhere in between, it is important to understand the multi-barrier approach that provides you with a vital public health product. Travel along the Des Moines Water Works’ water treatment process in a two-part video series that explains the many steps taken from river to tap, and the importance to Think Downstream.

To view the videos, visit www.dmww.com/education/education-resources/video.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 1 Comment
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in About Us, Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment May 12, 2016

2016 Consumer Confidence Report

woman with glass of waterDes 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 at: http://www.dmww.com/upl/documents/library/2016ccr.pdf.  If you would like a printed copy of the Consumer Confidence Report mailed to you or have any questions about your drinking water, please contact a Customer Service Representative at (515) 283-8700.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Water Quality May 9, 2016

Natural Denitrification Wetland Pilot Project

During 2015, Des Moines Water Works operated the Nitrate Removal Facility for a record-setting 177 days, eclipsing the previous record of 106 days set in 1999. The Nitrate Removal Facility is used to reduce source water nitrate concentrations to below 10 mg/L, a level established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for our 500,000 central Iowa customers.

Des Moines Water Works has been working with a consultant to evaluate nitrate trends in the raw water sources. These trends indicate that nitrate concentrations will continually increase without regulation upstream, reaching levels where the existing Nitrate Removal Facility will be unable to provide sufficient removal to meet the EPA’s drinking water standards.

In an attempt to evaluate alternative nitrate removal technologies, Des Moines Water Works is constructing a pilot wetland in 2016. This pilot project will be a one acre surface flow wetland located in Water Works Park. The pilot will be used to test the efficiency of nitrate removal through natural processes. Testing of the pilot will help staff understand how a full scale wetland would react to changes in temperature and flood events, along with any other water quality concerns.

Pilot wetland under construction in Water Works Park

In late April, DMWW staff planted 20,000 cattails and bulrush plants in the pilot wetland area.

If successful, Des Moines Water Works will consider converting a large portion (up to 80-acres) of Water Works Park into constructed wetlands, with the goal of providing natural denitrification, and ultimately protecting the health of our customers.

The consultant is also recommending several nitrate removal measures, including expansion of the current ion exchange denitrification facility. The funds needed for nitrate mitigation in the recently announced five year capital improvement plan total $70 million. An additional $10 million will be needed beyond the five year outlook, for a total of $80 million in infrastructure investments in order to meet the safe drinking water standard for nitrate.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , Posted in Parks, Source Water, Water Quality May 5, 2016

What do I Need to Know about the Risks of Lead in Drinking Water?

How does lead get into drinking water?

  • Generally, finished drinking water contains no lead.
  • Lead may be present in piping and plumbing fixtures found in customers’ homes.
  • If drinking water is corrosive, it can corrode customers’ lead service lines and plumbing fixtures, which can result in elevated lead levels in drinking water.
  • Homes constructed before 1950 may be served by a lead water service line. Copper pipe installed before 1985 may have been installed using lead-containing solder.
  • To see if your property is in a Des Moines or Polk County neighborhood that has the greatest potential for a lead service line, view the Potential Lead Service Lines in Des Moines map.

What are the health effects of lead in drinking water?

  • Customers who drink water with elevated lead levels can suffer long term health impacts including damage to the liver, kidneys, or even the brain.
  • Mental development issues are a significant concern for children exposed to lead contamination.
  • In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency published a regulation to control lead and copper in drinking water. The rule is part of the Safe Water Drinking Act, and it requires water systems to monitor drinking water at customer taps.  If lead concentrations exceed the Action Level of 0.015 mg/L (or 15 parts per billion) in more than 10 percent of taps, the system must complete additional actions to control the corrosion.

What is Des Moines Water Works doing to control elevated lead levels?

  • Des Moines Water Works treats the drinking water to ensure it is not corrosive.
  • Corrosion control is an important part of Des Moines Water Works’ treatment process.  By carefully managing the chemistry of our drinking water, Des Moines Water Works ensures the water is not corrosive.
  • A number of factors impact how corrosive treated drinking water will be.  These factors include the total amount of dissolved minerals in the water (calcium and magnesium), alkalinity, temperature, and pH.
  • Each day, samples are analyzed to ensure Des Moines Water Works’ treatment for corrosion control remains effective.

Could what happened in Flint, Michigan happen in Des Moines?

  • Des Moines Water Works is paying close attention to what unfolded in Flint, Michigan.  In North America, no one should have to question the safety of water at the tap.  Flint underscores that Des Moines Water Works’ first job is to protect the families we serve. Those of us involved in managing, cleaning and delivering water share an obligation to protect public health.
  • We do not have first-hand knowledge about what occurred in Flint, but this much seems clear: When Flint switched its water supply source, the new water caused lead to leach from service lines and home plumbing – lead that ended up in water coming out of the taps.
  •  This kind of incident is unlikely here because Des Moines Water Works monitors water quality parameters on a daily or even hourly basis to ensure the drinking water we produce will not be corrosive.  Des Moines Water Works also follows a written Lead and Copper Sampling Plan.  This plan helps ensure we stay in compliance with the requirements of the Lead and Copper Rule.
  • Des Moines Water Works tests for lead and copper contamination by asking customers with specific types of plumbing to collect samples in their homes.
  • These results are published annually in Des Moines Water Works’ Consumer Confidence Report, which describes the regulatory requirements Des Moines Water Works must meet or exceed.
  • Des Moines Water Works continues to be in compliance with Lead and Copper Rule requirements.
  • Supplying approximately 500,000 central Iowans with safe, affordable and abundant drinking water is Des Moines Water Works’ mission. Water plays a key role in your health and Des Moines Water Works plays a key role in providing water you can trust for life.

What can you do to limit exposure to elevated levels of lead?

  • Use only water from the cold tap for drinking, cooking, or preparing baby formula.
  • Flush the tap for two to four minutes before using water for drinking or cooking when no water has been used for several hours. Showering, washing dishes, or doing laundry can be effective ways to flush household plumbing before water is used for drinking or cooking.
  • While in-home water treatment devices such as softeners or filtration systems are not necessary in Des Moines, if such in-home treatment devices are used, they must be properly operated and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Improperly operated in-home treatment devices can increase the potential for water to become corrosive.

Where can I find more information?

  • To see if your property is in a Des Moines or Polk County neighborhood that has the greatest potential for a lead service line, view the Potential Lead Service Lines in Des Moines map.
  • If you are concerned about lead in your water, you may wish to have your water tested. Please contact Des Moines Water Works at 283-8700 to learn if you are eligible for a complimentary lead test.  If you are not eligible for a free test but still wish to have your water tested, a $18 fee will apply.
  • Visit EPA’s lead information website: http://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family#homeleadsafe.
Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Customer Service, Water Quality, Water Treatment April 22, 2016

On Earth Day, Des Moines Water Works Reflects on Resources Spent to Manage Agrotoxins in Source Waters

This Earth Day, as nitrate concentrations in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers continue to rise, Des Moines Water Works reflects on the vast resources spent to manage the persistent agrotoxins in the waters of the state.

Des Moines Water Works continues to meet and exceed regulatory requirements for safe drinking water for 500,000 central Iowa customers; however, not without a cost to our ratepayers.  In 2015, Des Moines Water Works operated its Nitrate Removal Facility for a record-setting 177 days, surpassing the previous record of 106, set in 1999.  Due to the significant costs to operate the facility and the rising nitrate concentration in Des Moines’ source waters, Des Moines Water Works has also invested a significant amount of capital funds in projects for natural nitrate removal or avoidance:

  • The natural denitrification strategies include Water Works Park ponds, former gravel pits near Des Moines Water Works’ L.D. McMullen Water Treatment Plant, and most recently, a constructed wetland pilot project in Water Works Park.  If the one-acre pilot wetland is successful, Des Moines Water Works will consider converting a large portion (up to 80-acres) of Water Works Park into constructed wetlands, with the goal of providing natural denitrification, and ultimately protecting the health of our customers.

In this natural process, nitrate is consumed and converted to nitrogen gas by the life processes of microorganisms.  Although the ultimate source of water is the Raccoon River, this approach maximizes the time the water is in off-river storage and allows the nitrate concentration in the river water to be reduced via biological reduction.

  • To avoid high nitrate water in a particular source water, Des Moines Water Works has also invested capital funds for projects that provide access to water with very little nitrate levels – Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells – or water with lower nitrate concentration – Des Moines River – that can be blended with other water sources in order to meet drinking water quality standards.

Des Moines Water Works’ two ASR wells (a third one is currently being constructed) store finished water in wells for distribution to customers at a later date. Although originally developed to smooth out spikes in treatment demand during high customer demand periods, the ASR wells have been utilized to meet customer demand during high nitrate levels.

The Des Moines River Intake facility was constructed to provide additional raw water supply for the Fleur Drive Water Treatment Plant. With the Saylorville Reservoir upstream from the intake, the nitrate concentration in the Des Moines River is almost always lower than the Raccoon River. Access to the Des Moines River provides Des Moines Water Works with another lower nitrate water supply option that was not available prior to construction of this facility.

  • Des Moines Water Works’ newest treatment plant – Saylorville Water Treatment Plant – uses reverse osmosis membranes that removes nitrate from the water, without the use of a side-stream nitrate removal facility.

Ultimately, the best way to reduce nitrate concentration in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers is nutrient management on farms and watershed protection to prevent agrotoxins from directly entering surface waters.  Des Moines Water Works follows this concept by practicing agricultural best management practices on 100 acres of leased farm land on Maffitt Reservoir property, including the use of cover crops and adjusted rental rates for the tenant to install conservation practices.

Des Moines Water Works remains vigilant in protecting the source waters that produce drinking water for central Iowans.  On this Earth Day and every day, Des Moines Water Work is committed to producing water you can trust for life, even with adverse water quality conditions.  Des Moines Water Works asks all Iowans to Think Downstream.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality January 18, 2016

Water Quality Monitoring and Public Data

As consumers, we think of “nutrients” as something good and even necessary to support maximum crop yields.  But pollution occurs when the amount of nutrients present or applied to land are more than can be used by plants.  Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that are discharged into our water are wasted resources and pose significant, costly risks to human health and the environment, both here in Iowa and the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is required to meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. The MCL standard for nitrate (a form of nitrogen) is 10 mg/L (or 10 parts per million).  The health risks associated with nitrate contamination above MCL include Methaemoglobinemia, or also known as “blue baby syndrome,” where infants under six months of age who consume water over 10 mg/L may lose the ability to transport oxygen. It is unknown how higher nitrate levels affect the broader population, but researchers are studying potential impacts.  When nitrate concentrations in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters (Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers) are above 10 mg/L, the utility must operate a costly nitrate removal facility in order to meet the Safe Drinking Water Standard for its finished drinking water.  In addition to public health risks to drinking water, nitrate pollution also contributes to the hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.”

Water Quality

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was introduced in 2012 with a stated goal to eventually reduce the state’s contribution of nutrients in rivers, streams and lakes by 45%.  However, in order to see those results many things need to happen – including agricultural accountability, effective monitoring and sustained funding.

Source water quality is a vital interest of Des Moines Water Works, which has been increasingly threatened by agricultural pollution.  Because of this interest, Des Moines Water Works is pleased to recognize progress in water quality research and monitoring of Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams, by initiatives currently being developed by the IIHR – Hydroscience and Engineering program at the University of Iowa, headed by Dr. Larry Weber.  IIHR has been a worldwide leader in hydrology and fluids-related research for nearly a century.  The IIHR is focused on science-based research, independent of Iowa Board of Regents’ bias.

Research at IIHR includes a network of 28 water quality monitoring sites throughout Iowa. State-of-the-art remote sensors provide near real-time data (every 15 minutes), that measure nitrate, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, specific conductance, and pH.  Researchers at IIHR have also developed an easy-to-use web platform, the Iowa Water-Quality Information System (IWQIS), to disseminate and interpret the sensor data.  IWQIS displays near real-time data on nitrate and other water-quality variables from in-stream sensors across Iowa in a user-friendly interface.  This new information makes it possible for all interested Iowans to use a science-based approach when making decisions that affect water quality.  Des Moines Water Works encourages citizens to visit http://iwqis.iowawis.org to view this interactive tool containing real-time water conditions and historical data.

wqi-map2 2

IIHR’s monitoring network will expand to 55 sites in 2016. Coverage will include all the state’s major rivers. For the first time, water quality researchers will be able to quantify many important parameters, including the total amount of nitrate leaving Iowa via the state’s rivers and the effectiveness of specific nitrate mitigation efforts.

Des Moines Water Works remains committed to protecting Iowa’s water by holding agriculture accountable for environmental protection, just like any other business who discharges into Iowa’s waterways.  The water quality monitoring and public data collected and compiled by IIHR and presented by the IWQIS are important steps to assess the condition of Iowa’s waterways, quantify the effectiveness of water quality efforts, and track progress toward meeting water quality improvement goals.  Please support IIHR’s leadership in science-based environmental protection.

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Water Quality December 1, 2015

Reacting to What’s Flowing Down the River

Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, are a serious problem in surface water sources in the United States, including Iowa.  Cyanobacteria grow and multiply quickly where there are high nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in warm, calm waters.  Blooms create blue to green murky water, visible surface scum and a foul odor. The blooms can spread across the water but tend to accumulate in shoreline areas.

IMG_5714{Cyanobacteria bloom at Big Creek State Park. Photo courtesy of Iowa Environmental Council

While algae blooms are a nuisance, certain forms of blue-green algae can also produce toxins that can make humans and animals sick.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors state park beaches weekly in the summer for the toxin microcystin that is produced by some forms of blue-green algae common in Iowa. Warnings are posted when microcystin exceeds 20 parts per billion (ppb), a guideline established by the World Health Organization for recreational waters. Contact with water with more than 20 ppb of microcystin represents a risk of cyanotoxin associated illnesses including breathing problems, stomach upset, skin reactions, and even liver damage. Inhaling water droplets containing microcystin can cause runny eyes and nose, cough and sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms or allergic reactions. Pets and other animals that swim or drink the water can be exposed to deadly levels of microcystin.  This year has been favorable for cyanobacterial blooms, with high nutrients and warm waters. Iowa Department of Natural Resources posted a record 34 warnings at state park beaches with high levels of microcystin.

It is important to note that while DNR monitors state park beaches for this toxin, the problem is not isolated to these lakes. Many other public and private beaches not monitored by DNR are also susceptible to blue-green algae blooms.

Cyanobacteria are also known for causing taste and odor problems in drinking water for utilities that use surface water.  When cyanobacteria counts rise, there is greater potential for the presence of cyanotoxins, which raise health concerns related to the liver, nervous system and gastrointestinal system.  Last year, the City of Toledo, Ohio, issued a “do not drink” order. The municipal ban left approximately 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.

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 (EPA) has named cyanotoxins as a candidate for federal regulation with recently published guidelines.

Historically, Des Moines Water Works had to send cyanotoxin samples to a laboratory in Florida, and wait up to three days for results.  As a result of the events in Toledo, Ohio, recently released EPA guidelines for cyanotoxins, and the increasing occurrence of cyanobacteria blooms in source waters, Des Moines Water Works has begun a more aggressive testing regimen for the presence of harmful cyanotoxins when elevated cyanobacteria levels are present in raw water sources.  Des Moines Water Works recently invested in instrumentation that will allow staff to monitor for microcystin and cylindrospermospin, per EPA recommendations, as well as two additional known cyanotoxins – Anatoxin and Saxitoxin. Des Moines Water Works now routinely samples three times per week during the warmer months of the year, and more frequently when necessary.

With increased monitoring, Des Moines Water Works has detected cyantoxins in our raw water sources.  While the presence of cyanotoxins has been detected in our raw water sources, the treatment processes have adequately prevented the toxins from reaching finished drinking water.  Des Moines Water Works staff treats for unfavorable tastes, odors, and toxins by dispersing powdered activated carbon throughout the water during the presedimentation phase of treatment.  Chlorination of the water also helps remove or destroy bad tastes, odors, and cyanotoxins.

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 causes toxins to infiltrate our drinking water is changing upstream land practices, notably industrial agricultural production.

Short of meaningful and measurable water quality improvements in Iowa, Des Moines Water Works, and all Iowans who wish to enjoy water recreation, have no control of algal and cyanotoxins in the Raccoon or Des Moines Rivers, and must react to what flows into the river intakes. The presence of both elevated cyanobacterial levels and related cyanotoxins in Iowa’s lakes and rivers is another reminder of deteriorated water quality in the state of Iowa – forcing water utilities and water recreation enthusiasts to be on alert.

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