Posts Tagged ‘Raccoon River’

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 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 April 25, 2013

Master River Steward Program

DSC_2146Here’s an exciting opportunity for river enthusiasts! Plan to participate in Iowa Rivers Revival’s “Master River Steward Program” in the Des Moines/Raccoon River Watershed.  This will be Iowa Rivers Revival’s second year offering this program. The eight week course, beginning  May 14, will focus on riverine systems, including skills to paddle and navigate rivers, restore aquatic habitat, improve water quality, and understand policies related to floodplains, river protection and restoration.

The “Master River Steward Program” will build on a network of river experts in various partner agencies and organizations. It will help adult learners collaborate to protect and improve Iowa’s rivers, so that current and future generations can enjoy these resources. Visit Iowa Rivers Revival’s website to view an outline of last year’s program: http://iowarivers.org/education/river-stewards/.

Registration Cost: Participants will pay a fee of $50 which will include program materials. Participants will be expected to attend each session and there will be “homework” assignments following each class – materials will be provided.  Please register by April 30, 2013.

Feedback from 2012 Pilot Participants:

  • “Great class, thoroughly enjoyed each and every session.”
  • “Great leadership. Great resources/readings. Great speakers. Great group.”
  • “Really enjoyed class. Had zero expectations coming in. Was surprised by the amount of river experience/Project AWARE tie in. Really enjoyed meeting such passionate people. Each week gave me something to think about and discuss with co-workers.”
  • “This was a fantastic program. I came in with no expectations, but left every night excited to share what I learned with others… Thanks so much for putting this together. I will become active in the stewardship of rivers at a far greater level due to this program.”

Funding for this program has been provided by Metro Waste Authority, Des Moines Water Works, DNR IOWATER, Polk County Conservation Board and Iowa DNR River Programs.

For more information and to register, contact:

Rosalyn Lehman, Executive Director
Iowa Rivers Revival
PO Box 72, Des Moines, IA 50301
515-724-4093
rlehman@iowarivers.org

Iowa Rivers Revival (IRR) is Iowa’s only statewide river education and advocacy organization committed to protecting one of our most precious natural resources – our rivers and streams. Since 2007, IRR has been working to engage individuals, organizations, communities and our government leaders in river awareness, responsibility and enjoyment in an effort to improve and enhance the condition of Iowa’s waterways – ensuring a quality, safe and lasting resource for future generations.

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , Posted in Environment, Source Water, Value of Water, Water Quality October 16, 2012

Manure Application to Soybeans

Des Moines Water Work’s primary water sources are the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. Land use in the Raccoon and Des Moines River Watersheds is overwhelmingly agricultural. About 1.7 million of the 2.3 million acres in the Raccoon watershed is cultivated for corn and soybeans. Land covered by perennial vegetation is nearly non-existent outside urban areas. Much of the corn-soybean system requires constructed drainage (agricultural tile drainage) to maximize yields. Manure and commercial fertilizers applied to crop land are transported during rainfall events as either run-off or discharged to a river through a tile drainage system. All of these factors have resulted in various consequences for water quality and challenges for drinking water utilities.

Today, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) will meet to discuss whether or not to continue to ban manure application to soybean crops. Manure is a source of nutrients used in combination with or in place of commercial fertilizer.  Nutrients in water are necessary for healthy watersheds; however, in high concentrations they can adversely affect aquatic life and human health. For a drinking water utility, increasing nutrient loads can cause difficult and costly challenges at the source, in the treatment process, and at the tap. Monitoring trends in the Des Moines and Raccoon River since 1974 show the ever-increasing trend of nitrate-nitrogen (a nutrient) loading and concentrations. Without a comprehensive, measurable state nutrient standard and strategy these conditions will be perpetuated.

All waters in Iowa are “public waters and public wealth” of its citizens and is for the beneficial use of all citizens. It is also the policy of the State of Iowa – delegated to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission – to protect existing water uses and to protect and maintain the physical, biological and chemical integrity of all waters of the state. Making a decision on whether manure should be applied to soybeans is again representative of the piecemeal approach to nutrient management that will not effectively decrease non-point source nutrient contributions to Iowa’s surface and ground water resources.

Des Moines Water Works provided comments to EPC commissioners strongly urging them to take this opportunity to support development of comprehensive nutrient management strategies and standards. Standards that protect Iowa’s water resources, promote economic development, and enhance the quality of life necessary to attract workers and jobs to the state. And most importantly, establish the target so many producers and the public have requested.

It is not Des Moines Water Works’ intent to tell people how to farm or what they can and cannot do on their land. But it is our intent, to rigorously advocate for establishing a comprehensive nutrient strategy, setting numeric nutrient standards, and the aggressive reduction of non-point source nutrient contributions to Iowa’s surface and ground water resources.

Des Moines Water Works and the drinking water industry ensures that the investment the public has made in them results in all Iowans having access to safe drinking water. We believe every Iowan who drinks a glass of water should recognize the importance of our water resources to sustaining life and the critical connection between our water resources and food production, an existence and connection that should occur without degradation of our water resources.

Producers are able to make all the decisions on his or her land, but those decisions are having dramatic consequences that impact others. Integrated solutions on a watershed scale and involvement of all stakeholders in the planning and implementation process is critical to generating change. Whether you live in an urban, rural or something in-between, we are all part of the watershed and whatever we do in our daily lives impacts water quality in the watershed.

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Environment, Source Water, Water Quality July 30, 2012

New Raccoon River Watershed Alliance

Des Moines Water Works through the Central Iowa Regional Drinking Water Commission Assisting Dallas County Board of Supervisors in Formation of a Middle-South Raccoon River Watershed Alliance

The State of Iowa has authorized local governments to address flooding and management of water and soil resources in watersheds across the state through the formation of local alliances. An alliance is formed through a 28E agreement (contractual agreement between governmental organizations) with representatives appointed by city, county and soil and watershed conservation districts (SWCD) within the watershed. An advisory body with landowners and other groups will also be part of the process.  The watershed alliance has no taxing authority and no impact on the authority of a city, county, or SWCD to conduct its business. Instead, the alliance will educate, coordinate and leverage resources for the betterment of the watershed.

The Middle-South Raccoon River Watershed Alliance is working within the following vision and mission statements:

Vision: A regional alliance with resources to lead, and support improvements in soil protection, flood management and water quality.

Mission: To facilitate regional collaboration that will identify strategies and goals to educate the public, reduce the risk of flood events, and leverage resources for improved soil and water quality protection.

As outlined by legislators in Iowa Code the alliance can:

  • Educate residents
  • Identify sources of funding to institutionalize the Watershed Management Alliance
  • Assess flood risks
  • Assess options for cutting flood risk
  • Monitor state & federal flood risk planning activities
  • Assess water quality
  • Leverage funding of multiple partners
  • Allocate state and federal moneys available for water quality and flood risk reduction programs and implement best management practices
  • Implement the Raccoon River Master Plan
  • Enter into contracts and agreements

Source: Iowa Code Chapter 466B, Subchapter III

The Middle-South Raccoon River Watershed Management Alliance has just recently been selected to partner with the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) on a multi-year project to monitor, plan, and implement watershed projects aimed at improving soil and water resources and the adverse impacts of flooding. Phase I will focus on the Middle Raccoon River watershed. The IFC formally announced the partnership June 22, 2012, in Redfield, IA.

The landscape of the Middle-South Raccoon River Watershed is located in the best of rural Iowa, where community is tied to the tradition of farming and outdoor recreation. The benefits gained from the partnerships in the Middle-South Raccoon River watershed is a place where agriculture, communities, recreation, and Iowans thrive and prosper.

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , Posted in Environment, Flooding, Source Water, Water Quality June 20, 2011

Fishing in Water Works Park

Are you looking for a fun, relaxing outdoor activity?  Grab your fishing pole, tackle box and lawn chair and head to Water Works Park to try your luck at fishing.  With the scenic surroundings, even if the fish aren’t biting, you’ll certainly enjoy the solitude and beauty of nature.

Fishing has always been a favorite pastime in Water Works Park.   The park offers a multitude of perfect fishing spots, whether it is along the banks of the Raccoon River that winds through the park or one of the 12 ponds. 

A variety of fish species can be found in the waterways that inhabit the park — bass, crappie, bluegill, catfish, bullhead, and carp, to name a few.   The ponds are adequately stocked with fish due to the frequent flooding of the Raccoon River.   Also, this past May the Iowa DNR released 10,000 “keeper” size bullheads in the ponds for the Hy-Vee Fishing Derby, and rumor has it that many of those fish are still there. 

Both the river and the ponds are accessible to the public during normal park hours.  Patrons must abide by the Iowa Fishing Regulations, as posted on the Iowa DNR’s website:   http://www.iowadnr.gov/law/regs/regs_fish.pdf

Do you have a favorite fishing spot in Water Works Park?

Posted by: Scott Atzen No Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Des Moines Water Works Park, Parks April 5, 2011

Raccoon River Watershed Master Plan

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has contracted with the Missouri & Mississippi (M&M) Divide RC&D and Agren, both located in Carroll, Iowa, to develop a comprehensive watershed plan for the Raccoon River.  Agren, Inc. was founded by brothers Tom and Stan Buman in 1996 as a private consulting firm dedicated to helping agriculture find profitable solutions to environmental challenges. The master plan will guide management efforts with a focus on improving water quality in the Raccoon River watershed. 

Agren facilitated “expert panels” to evaluate both agricultural and urban stormwater best management practices (BMP). Following the expert panel events, the potential water quality impacts of recommended practices were estimated by Iowa State University scientists. More than 80% of the land use in the watershed is dedicated to row crop agriculture, so initially the implementation plan will concentrate on agricultural BMPs. Consideration is also being given to various incentives and funding sources for implementation of the recommended practices.

This month, another panel focused on what a watershed management organization should look like to ensure the master plan is implemented when completed. Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) participated on the panel. Discussion consisted of what the barriers are to effective watershed management, what type of watershed authority could overcome the barriers, and evaluation of scenarios for watershed management. Throughout the discussion it was apparent that DMWW will continue to be a key partner in managing the Raccoon River Watershed.

Recommendations best suited to protect the source of drinking water for approximately 500,000 people in central Iowa and restore and maintain an environmentally and economically sustainable landscape. These recommendations will be compiled into a comprehensive Raccoon River Watershed Master Plan. Public comments on the plan will be solicited this spring, with the final plan development completed by June 2011.

Posted by: Linda Kinman No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Environment, Public Policy, Value of Water, Water Quality February 10, 2011

Des Moines’ Water Quality

Des Moines Water Works uses the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers as its source supply. How does water quality in these two rivers compare to that found in other parts of the United States?

Water from our rivers is “hard,” meaning it has a high mineral content, especially calcium and magnesium. This is because 100 million years ago, what is now Iowa, was under the surface of the ocean, and large limestone deposits are the result. As rain water and snow melt trickles through the limestone, toward shallow groundwater and eventually into our streams, it dissolves mineral deposits. Hardness is reduced in DMWW’s treatment plants using a process called lime softening.

The river water has a high nutrient content, especially nitrate-nitrogen and phosphorous. Some of the fertilizer used for crops is washed away or enters the streams through agricultural drainage tiles. Our super-rich soils also contain a lot of natural nitrogen and phosphorous, which is liberated from the soil during cultivation. The Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers have the highest and second-highest nitrate concentrations of the 42 largest Mississippi River tributaries. DMWW operates the world’s largest nitrate removal facility at its Fleur Drive Plant.

Our rivers have a relatively high level of sediment. Erosion is a natural process that has been greatly increased by both rural and urban land uses. It’s likely that most Iowa streams ran much clearer prior to settlement than in the present day. Loss of native perennial vegetation and increased streamflows because of human modification of natural hydrology, along with changes in land use and climate, are the primary culprits for increased erosion. In addition, levees have divorced streams from their floodplains, increasing river energy during high flows. This helps the stream scour sediment from the stream bed and banks. DMWW removes about 20,000 pounds of sediment (1,400 pounds per million gallons) from the treated river water every day, so the water will be clear and safe to drink.

Although DMWW’s source waters are considered impaired, DMWW is continuously adapting its treatment processes to deliver Water You Can Trust for Life.

Posted by: Chris Jones No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , Posted in Water Quality, Water Treatment November 17, 2010

Know Your Watershed – Part 1

Watershed, catchment, and drainage basin are all the same thing: an area of land that drains to a common point. Small watersheds drain into larger watersheds in a hierarchical pattern. For example, the Mississippi River Watershed is comprised of hundreds of other smaller sub-watersheds.

The City of Des Moines is located at the bottom of two large catchments: the Raccoon and the Upper Des Moines River watersheds. These are two of the 42 largest sub-watersheds in the Mississippi River basin. Water draining from more than 5 million acres, from as far away as Jackson, MN, flows through the city. Des Moines Water Works treats water from both rivers to provide Des Moines Area residents with drinking water.

Knowledge of Iowa’s geological history and current land uses are necessary to understand each river and its water quality. Both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers flow through and drain the Des Moines Lobe Landform. It was here that a glacier covered the landscape only 12,000 years ago. The weather warmed and the disintegrating ice sheet formed the prairie pothole region that was once home to uncounted millions of waterfowl. After the glacier melted, the landscape was colonized by tallgrass prairie and wetland plants that helped form the region’s tremendously rich soil. The rivers ran clear and cold as rain water was naturally filtered through the perennial vegetation.

The early European settlers found the region nearly uninhabitable due to the swampy landscape and swarms of mosquitoes. A few decades after arrival, they realized that the soils formed under such conditions were ideal for the cultivation of corn. But first, large scale drainage was necessary. Networks of porous drainage pipes (now known as tile) were buried to lower the water table and dry out the soil. These were connected to constructed drainage ditches, essentially forming hundreds of new streams where none previously existed. This enormous project was mostly complete by 1920, although farmers continue to connect into and improve the system in the present day.

Constructed drainage and replacement of perennial vegetation with annual crops turned Iowa into the world’s richest agricultural region. But altering the natural hydrological system also had an impact on water quality in Iowa’s streams, this is will be discussed in the next piece in this series.

Posted by: Chris Jones No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , , , Posted in Water Quality October 4, 2010

Improvements Since ’93 Des Moines Floods

The Raccoon River was above flood stage in Water Works Park seven times in 2010.  Even though record high flood levels were not reached, all that water creates a lot of work and makes us wonder what the future will bring.

In 1993 the levee surrounding Water Works’ Fleur Drive Treatment Plant was overtopped by flood waters, leaving the Des Moines without water for more than a week.  Since then a number of projects have been completed to help ensure this does not happen again.

Most importantly, the levee surrounding the Fleur Drive Plant has been raised by six feet to a level four feet above the record 1993 water level.  A flood gate has also been added which can be closed quickly as compared to the earthen plug that was used to close the levee in the past.  These improvements have not seen water as high as 1993 but they were tested during the flooding in 2008 when more than 8 feet of water rose against the 14-foot tall flood gates.  The levee and flood gates performed well and treatment plant facilities were protected.

In addition to levee and flood gate improvements the Water Works has added additional sources of supply since 1993.  In 2000 the LD McMullen Water Treatment Facility went into service near Maffitt Reservoir with the ability to produce up 25 million gallons of water per day.  Four aquifer storage and recovery wells have also been constructed around the metro with a combined capacity of over 10 million gallons per day.  Later this year the new Saylorville Water Treatment Plant will go on line with the capacity to supply up to an additional 10 million gallons per day to the metro area.  Taken together these facilities provide valuable backup to the primary Fleur Drive Water Treatment Plant.

All of these changes have helped protect the water supply but Water Works Park is still vulnerable to flooding.  Just this year the high water has caused tens of thousands of dollars of damage to park roads, plantings, and other park facilities.  Each time the water level goes above flood stage the cleanup effort in the park requires hundreds of man hours to complete.  In addition high water resulted in the cancellation or relocation of numerous events scheduled on park grounds including concerts, cultural festivals, and family gatherings.

Posted by: Ted Corrigan No Comments
Labels: , , , , , Posted in Environment, Flooding