Posts Tagged ‘Nitrate Removal Facility’

June 12, 2017

How much longer will Iowa keep ignoring source water quality?

Listen to news reports about water quality efforts in Iowa, and you might start to think that no one wants to admit there’s a problem with Iowa rivers, lakes and streams.

Take, for example:

  • State legislators failed to pass any water quality legislation to protect the public health of Iowa citizens last session despite saying that it was a top priority.
  • Recent reports indicate that, in the past seven years, a whopping 750,000 conservation acres in Iowa have been ripped up and put back into production—to the detriment of water quality efforts and costing Iowa taxpayers $760 million in environmental benefits.Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey asserts that enrolling a paltry 3% of Iowa farmers in a cover crop program indicates “exciting momentum” for the voluntary-only Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
  • Iowa Partnership for Clean Water (a front for Iowa Farm Bureau) claims population growth is the major driver for expansion of Des Moines Water Works’ Nitrate Removal facility.

Water experts know, however, nitrate levels in Iowa’s waterways regularly exceed the public health threshold. Despite building the world’s largest Nitrate Removal Facility in 1992, adding off-river storage, treatment ponds and two additional water treatment plants, the costs and difficulty to remove nitrate from source water continue to escalate.  Rising nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers now require Des Moines Water Works to plan for several nitrate management projects in order to comply with the drinking water standard. The first project is the design then construction of an expanded Nitrate Removal Facility that will double treatment capacity from 10 million gallons per day (mgd) to 20 mgd.

Think Downstream – It’s time to confront the very real issues facing Iowa’s polluted waterways.

  • The responsibility for cleaning up agricultural water pollution from tile outlets has been placed squarely on the shoulders of our state legislature. Environmental impacts must be considered.
  • A plan must be formulated for the Nutrient Reduction Strategy that includes a timeline, benchmarks and water quality metrics to assess progress. Start with the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds.
  • Establish a sustainable, adequate funding source that incorporates state, federal and private money and methodically targets and solves pollution problems in the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds.
  • Adopt a set of basic standards of care required on agricultural lands tailored to the landscape that include no-till, cover crops, grass waterways and setbacks from waterways – in other words, industrialized agriculture with a conscience.
Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Conservation, Source Water, Water Quality 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 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 March 10, 2015

Board of Water Works Trustees Votes to Pursue Lawsuit Against Drainage Districts

The Board of Water Works Trustees of the City of Des Moines voted today to give direction to Des Moines Water Works staff and counsel to proceed with a citizens suit under the Clean Water Act and Iowa Code Chapter 455B, and other relief against the Sac County Board of Supervisors, Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors and Calhoun County Board of Supervisors, in their capacities as trustees of 10 drainage districts, for the discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River, and failure to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Des Moines Water Works is a regional water utility providing drinking water to approximately 500,000 Iowans, drawing most of its raw water supply from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Des Moines Water Works is obligated to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for the maximum contaminate level (MCL) in its finished drinking water. The MCL standard for nitrate is 10 mg/L. The health risks associated with nitrate contamination above MCL include blue baby syndrome and endocrine disruption. In addition to public health risks to drinking water, nitrate pollution also causes the development of hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.”

Recent upstream 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.

“Despite the degraded condition of our source water, Des Moines Water Works continues to produce safe drinking water for our customers.  Our water remains safe for customers because we have invested millions of dollars of rate payers’ money in developing the capital infrastructure to manage high nitrate levels. Record nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River have threatened, and continue to threaten, the water supply for our customers who rely on Des Moines Water Works for safe and affordable drinking water,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.

“Filing this lawsuit comes after years of effort by Des Moines Water Works officials to participate in initiatives that consider the needs of all Iowans. Unfortunately, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy fails to adequately address the interests of the people DMWW serves,” said Graham Gillette, Board of Water Works Trustees Chair. “The Board of Trustees has a responsibility to safeguard the water supply and protect our ratepayers’ financial interest. If it takes going to court to enforce laws written to protect citizen interests, so be it, and if it means working to develop new methods of problem solving collaboration, even better.”

A major source of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River watershed is the artificial subsurface drainage system infrastructure, such as those created and managed by drainage districts. The drainage systems consist of pipes, ditches and other conduits that are point sources, which transport high concentrations of nitrate quickly by groundwater to the nearest waterway, bypassing natural absorption and denitrification processes that would otherwise protect the watersheds.

“In order for Des Moines Water Works to continue to provide clean and safe drinking water and to protect the state of Iowa and the United States from further environmental and health risks, the discharge of nitrate from drainage districts must be addressed,” said Stowe. “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. 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 polluter.”

“Point sources” discharging into water ways have permits under the NPDES.  NPDES permits have been successful nationwide in controlling pollution caused by industrial waste and sanitary sewer discharge.

Both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers experienced extremely high concentrations in the spring and summer of 2013, fall of 2014, and winter of 2015.  Nitrate levels above the MCL increases the cost of drinking water treatment for more Des Moines Water Works customers. 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. On December 4, 2014, the utility began operating the nitrate removal facility continuously for 97 days – unprecedented in the winter months – for a total of $540,000 in operations and additional expenses. Moreover, record high nitrate concentrations will require future capital investments of $76-183 million to remove the pollutant and provide safe drinking water to a growing central Iowa.

A Notice of Intent to Sue was sent by the Board of Water Works Trustees on January 9, 2015 to the three County Board of Supervisors. The required 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, communicated the intent of the Board of Water Works Trustees to sue the three Iowa counties for discharge of nitrate into the Raccoon River by point sources without the permits required by law.

Since the filing of the Notice of Intent to Sue, Des Moines Water Works representatives have met with numerous officials and stakeholders, but no means of resolution of the issues has been proposed.

A defense fund has been established to offset costs incurred with the Clean Water Act legal proceedings. Individuals who wish to make a contribution may do so by mailing contributions payable to Des Moines Water Works, 2201 George Flagg Parkway, Des Moines, Iowa 50321.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 2 Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Board of Trustees, Source Water, Water Quality 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 December 4, 2014

Des Moines Water Works Forced to Start the Nitrate Removal Facility

Nitrate Removal FacilityContinued high nitrate levels in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers have forced Des Moines Water Works to activate its nitrate removal facility in order to keep finished drinking water safe for consumption. Nitrate levels in September, October and November were the highest ever experienced in those months and have required extraordinary efforts by Des Moines Water Works staff.  Activation of the nitrate removal facility is the last step available to maintain safe drinking water.

Current nitrate levels are 12.62 milligrams per liter (mg/L) in the Raccoon River and 11.63 mg/L in the Des Moines River. By means of extensive and expensive water treatment, Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water currently has a nitrate level of 8.79 mg/L. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrate in finished drinking water is 10 mg/L.  Despite the high levels of nitrate in the source waters, Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water remains safe for consumption, due to the activation and operation of the costly nitrate removal facility.

Des Moines Water Works began using the nitrate removal facility today to keep finished drinking water nitrate levels below the Safe Drinking Water standard. Prior to starting up the facility, Des Moines Water Works staff managed the fall/early winter high nitrate situation through blending of various water sources, including water from the gallery system at the Fleur Drive Treatment Plant (shallow ground water collector system), Maffitt Reservoir, Crystal Lake and Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells.

“Des Moines Water Works staff has employed extensive efforts to mitigate nitrate levels, but because nitrate continues to be introduced in the watershed at high levels, we were left with no alternative but to activate the nitrate removal facility,” said Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager, Des Moines Water Works.

According to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, approximately 92% of nitrate loads enter our water resources through sources that are not currently being subject to any mandatory regulations, despite longstanding legal mandates to address such pollution.

“Continued but unfounded insistence from state leaders that the voluntary approach of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working does not give solace to the 500,000 central Iowans who must now pay to remove pollution from their drinking water,” said Stowe. “Further, the persistent argument that ‘weather is to blame’ for this situation is wrong.  Science proves weather and other natural conditions do not create excessive nitrate concentrations. Intensive land use and extensive agricultural drainage systems are the source of the high nitrate in our source waters.”

Raccoon River               Des Moines River

September 2014           11.61 mg/L                          7.20 mg/L

October 2014                 13.23 mg/L                         11.15 mg/L

November 2014           13.25 mg/L                         11.88 mg/L

Record nitrate levels were reached in 2013, when the Raccoon River reported 24 mg/L and the Des Moines River reported 17.87 mg/L. Throughout the spring and summer of 2013, Des Moines Water Works operated the nitrate removal facility for 74 days, at approximately $900,000 in treatment costs and lost revenues passed on to ratepayers.

In order to ensure that tap water is safe to drink, the EPA prescribes regulations limiting the amount of nitrate levels in water provided by public water systems. The greatest health risk posed by high nitrate concentrations is for infants under six months of age. Nitrate can transform into nitrite in the infant’s body, reducing the ability of the baby’s blood to carry oxygen. This may result in Blue Baby Syndrome. Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water nitrate concentration is currently below the level which is indicated to cause these health implications.  If you are caring for an infant, you may wish to seek advice from your healthcare provider.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 1 Comment
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality May 16, 2013

Customers Pay When Others Pollute

In response to Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s environmental policy adviser, Rick Robinson’s “State Rules Wouldn’t Fix Nitrates” letter to The Des Moines Register on May 13.

Nitrate Removal FacilityThanks to a capital investment made years ago and the dedicated work of our employees Des Moines Water Works continues to meet the needs of the 500,000 customers in the twenty communities we serve. However, the extreme levels of nitrates found in our water supply this year poses a significant threat to our customers. We feel it is time for Iowans to engage in a serious discussion about this growing problem.

Nitrate levels in both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nitrate standard (10 mg/l – determined as the level protective of public health) this spring. There were more nitrates in those rivers last week than there were all of last year combined.

Des Moines Water Works relies primarily on the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as sources for Central Iowa’s drinking water. Because unprecedented nitrate levels have affected both rivers concurrently, Des Moines Water Works activated its Nitrate Removal Facility last Friday to keep finished drinking water below EPA standards. This facility, constructed in 1992 for $3.6 million, costs $7,000 per day to operate. Ratepayers fund the cost of constructing, maintaining and operating this facility.

We agree with one thing Rick Robinson of Iowa Farm Bureau Federation wrote, “if we all do our part – farmers, homeowners, businesses and communities – we will have a positive impact on Iowa’s watershed.” Where we diverge is that we do not believe everyone is doing their part to protect Iowa’s waterways.

Des Moines Water Works had the foresight to build a denitrification facility. DMWW has not had to operate it since 2007, but this is largely because DMWW has invested millions of additional dollars in additional treatment options to provide denitrification since 2007. It is misleading for a person to suggest the denitrification facility’s lack of use during recent years is proof nitrate levels have been lower than they have been in past years. DMWW has been able to avoid the costly operation of the facility because of other actions and investments it has made.

The heart of Des Moines Water Works’ mission is protecting public health. We can no longer work quietly while source waters continue to be severely polluted by upstream land practices. This should not be a sterile discussion influenced only by data and statistics—although ample alarming data and statistics exist. Nitrates pose serious health risks. It is increasingly costly for Des Moines Water Works to remove nitrates through treatment processes to meet necessary EPA standards.

There is simply no disputing surface water is significantly impacted by certain types of land use – the primary land uses in our upstream watersheds are agricultural related. Chemical fertilizers applied to fields are exacerbated by field drainage tiles, allowing run off to reach rivers and streams quickly and without the benefit of natural filtration and, this year, plant uptake.

In addition to exceptional levels of nitrates, high levels of ammonia and phosphorus, algae blooms, and increasing levels of bacteria are all deteriorating water quality in Iowa. The recently published Nutrient Reduction Strategy supported by many prominent State leaders, including Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land StewardshipIowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Governor’s office, is inadequate in that it lacks regulation, goals, measurable outcomes, or timelines for reducing agricultural (non-point) discharges. We advocate regulation through EPA-endorsed numeric standards by watershed—an approach with local emphasis that considers the current state of each watershed and does not force a one-size-fits-all approach.

Facing the reality of the degrading water quality and open meaningful discussion to identify solutions is long overdue.

Iowans should demand state leaders address improving and protecting owa’s water sources. State funding to support monitoring of nitrate pollutants should not be stripped away from the flood center of Iowa, an objective guardian if Iowa’s rivers and streams. Without significant action, Des Moines Water Works will be forced to continue treating degraded source waters, and our customers will continue to pay for that extensive treatment in their rates. With bold and innovative action, Des Moines Water Works believes healthy source waters and agriculture can co-exist. They must—both are critical to Iowa’s future.

Respectfully Submitted,

Water Works Board of Trustees:

Graham Gillette, Chair

David A. Carlson, Vice Chair

Leslie A. Gearhart, Trustee

Susan R. Huppert, Trustee

Marc R. Wallace, Trustee

and

William G. Stowe, Des Moines Water Works CEO & General Manager

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