Posts Tagged ‘Iowa DNR’

January 8, 2015

Board of Water Works Trustees Issue a Notice of Intent to Sue for Polluted Drinking Water

The Board of Water Works has voted unanimously to issue a notice of intent to sue, under the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code Chapter 455B, to the Sac County Board of Supervisors, Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors and Calhoun County Board of Supervisors in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollutants into the Raccoon River. The affected drainage districts are:

  • Drainage District 32
  • Drainage District 42
  • Drainage District 65
  • Drainage District 79
  • Drainage District 81
  • Drainage District 83
  • Drainage Districts 86
  • Joint Drainage Districts 2-51
  • Joint Drainage Districts 19-26
  • Joint Drainage Districts 64-105

Copies of the notice have also been sent to Governor Terry Branstad; Chuck Gipp, Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources; Karl Brooks, Region VII Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture; and Tom Vilsack, United States Secretary of Agriculture.

The notice of intent to sue is a 60 day notification under the citizen suit provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) and Iowa Code Chapter 455B.  The notice communicates the intent of the Board of Water Works Trustees to sue for discharge of pollutants into the Raccoon River by point sources without the permits required by law.

Des Moines Water Works uses both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as water sources and has experienced extremely high concentrations of nitrate in both rivers in the spring and summer of 2013 and the fall and winter of 2014.  Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate is 10 mg/L.  This standard is set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Des Moines Water Works is legally obligated to provide clean and safe drinking water that meets this MCL standard.

Recent water monitoring by Des Moines Water Works at 72 sample sites in Sac County has shown nitrate levels as high as 39.2 mg/L in groundwater discharged by drainages districts. These extraordinarily high nitrate levels correlate with measurements by the United States Geologic Survey (USGS), a scientific agency in the United States government at monitoring sites along the Raccoon River.

Water monitoring and scientific analysis have shown that the cause of the high nitrate is the extensive system of drainage infrastructure created and maintained by drainage districts in the Raccoon and Des Moines River watersheds.  These drainage systems quickly transport nitrate by groundwater to the nearest waterway, bypassing natural absorption and de-nitrification processes that would otherwise protect the watersheds.

“Drainage districts are a source of high nitrate concentration in our water supply and the Sac County Board of Supervisors have failed to take any meaningful action to protect downstream users from unsafe levels of nitrate introduced into the Raccoon River,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.  “Des Moines Water Works is taking this decisive action to underscore that the degraded condition of our state’s source waters is a very real problem, not just to Des Moines Water Works, but to the 500,000 customers we serve, as well as to Iowans generally who have a right of use and enjoyment of the water commonwealth of our State.  The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a failure. Since its announcement, we have suffered through record nitrate concentrations in both the summer of 2013 and winter of 2014.  It is simply not a credible approach to protect the public health of Iowans who rely on safe drinking water every day. We can no longer rely on voluntarism, rhetoric, and speculation to protect the waters of our state.”

The EPA has set the maximum contaminant level of protection based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems. Nitrate levels above the MCL are a public health risk. Particularly at risk are infants below six months of age who, if left untreated, could become seriously ill or die.

Nitrate levels above the MCL increases the cost of drinking water treatment for more than 500,000 central Iowa consumers. Standard Des Moines Water Works treatment processes do not remove nitrate from drinking water. Des Moines Water Works staff monitors nitrate concentrations in the source waters and activates a costly nitrate removal facility when necessary in order to produce a safe water supply meeting the MCL.  In 2013, when nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers were at a record high, Des Moines Water Works incurred approximately $900,000 in treatment costs and lost revenues. Moreover, record high nitrate concentrations demand significant future capital investments to remove this pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.

“We are not seeking to change agriculture methods, but rather challenging government to better manage and control drainage infrastructure in order to improve water quality within the state. Water quality improvements in Iowa demand accountability for protecting against water degradation by all sectors, including local governments and agriculture,” said Stowe. “Because drainage districts transport nitrate pollution through a system of channels and pipes, they should be recognized and held accountable like any other point source contributor.”

If the named drainage districts do not cease to discharge pollutants without permits or act within 60 days to correct the ongoing violations, Des Moines Water Works will seek relief in federal court under the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code citizen suit provisions.  These laws require that “point sources” discharging into rivers have permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  NPDES permits have been successful nationwide in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , , , , Posted in About Us, Board of Trustees, Source Water, Water Quality 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 May 2, 2013

Get Healthy and Happy Outdoors Today!

Healthy&HappyOutdoorsIf you’re looking for a way to get healthier, a new program from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in partnership with Des Moines Water Works and several Iowa organizations, provides you resources and recognition for spending more time outdoors.

The Healthy & Happy Outdoors initiative, or H2O, connects you to Iowa’s natural resources and helps you enjoy an active lifestyle.

It’s easy to get started:

  1. Register online at www.iowadnr.gov/h2o.
  2. Get outside. Log your outdoor recreation activities on the H2O website.
  3. Need some recommendations? Find more than 1,600 recreation locations across the state in an interactive map (including Water Works Park and Maffitt Reservoir Park) along with suggestions for outdoor opportunities you might enjoy.
  4. Win prizes! Each activity you log counts as an entry for regular drawings of outdoor-themed prizes, with a first-year celebration of H2O at the Iowa State Fair in August 2013.

The DNR and the program’s partners aim to have 1,000 participants sign up for H2O in the first year, and 50,000 participants by 2016. Program partners include the Healthiest State Initiative, Des Moines Water Works, Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards, Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Transportation, and Iowa Tourism Office.

“Our goal is to help Iowans increase mental and physical health through outdoor recreation in Iowa’s natural spaces,” said Chuck Gipp, DNR Director.

The H2O website will continually grow with tips, healthy resources, additional activities and more. You can also help improve the map – if you visit a recreation area not shown on the map, just include it in your activity log and the H2O team will add it.

Des Moines Water Works is pleased to be a part of this exciting initiative. Get healthy and happy outdoors today!

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Customers, Environment, Health, Parks August 2, 2011

Iowa Public Drinking Water Annual Compliance Report

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) administers the Public Drinking Water Program in Iowa under delegation of authority from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The 1996 re-authorized Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires that each state prepare an annual report on violations of national primary drinking water regulations within the state.

A public water supply (PWS) is defined as a system that provides water to the public for human consumption. In Iowa, there are 129 surface water systems, 28 groundwater systems that are under the influence of surface water, and 1,809 groundwater systems. 45% of the population is served by surface water or groundwater under the influence of surface water systems and 55% are served by groundwater sources. The mission of Iowa DNR’s Public Drinking Water Program is to protect and enhance the public health, safety, and quality of life for all persons by ensuring the public drinking water is safe to drink. The overall drinking water program compliance figures in 2010 continue to be very similar to those in the previous two years.

Compliance with Health-Based Standards

  •  No waterborne diseases or deaths were reported from Iowa public water supply systems (PWS) in 2010.
  •  Over 2.62 million people (of the 2.84M people served by PWS) regularly received water from systems meeting all health-based drinking water standards.
  • Health-based drinking water standards were met by 91.0% of the 1,966 regulated public water supplies. There were 176 public water supplies that had 351 violations of a health-based drinking water standard: maximum contaminant level (MCL), maximum residual disinfectant level (MRDL), treatment technique (TT), or action level (AL).
  •  Eighteen of the more than 80 regulated contaminants were found at levels that exceeded the health-based standards during 2010. The top four contaminants based on total health-based standard violations, along with the percentage each contributed to the total number of health-based standard violations are; Total Coliform Bacteria (58.4%), Nitrate Nitrogen (8.3%), Fecal Coliform Bacteria (7.4%), and Nitrite Nitrogen (6.8%). Six other health-based standards were each exceeded at least once during the year: the maximum contaminant levels for chlorite and uranium; and treatment techniques for nitrate, contact time, gross alpha, and significant deficiencies not promptly corrected.

The complete 2010 report can be found on the IDNR website at, http://www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/water/wse/2010SAR.pdf

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Health, Water Quality