Posts Tagged ‘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 November 24, 2014

Investment in Aging Water Infrastructure and Degraded Source Water

PumpsIn setting water rates and the proposed budget for 2015, the Board of Water Works Trustees has demonstrated a continued commitment to investing in Des Moines’ aging water infrastructure and providing safe water to customers, despite increasingly poor quality of source waters.

“While Des Moines Water Works has a long history of substantial reinvestment in water infrastructure, the aging of our assets and our increasing concerns about the impacts of climate change requires even greater investment going forward,” said Bill Stowe, Des Moines Water Works CEO and General Manager. “The degradation of our infrastructure is evidenced by the increasing number of main breaks, and affects our mission to provide a quality and reliable service to our customers.”

The Board of Water Works Trustees believe in a funding philosophy of “pay as you go,” where improvements and replacements are funded through rates and not funded by debt, all while maintaining reasonable water rates in relation to the rest of the country.

The proposed Des Moines Water Works’ 2015 calendar year budget includes rate increases for Des Moines, total service, and wholesale water customers. The rate increases include a 7% increase for Des Moines and total service customers and a 5% increase for wholesale customers, namely suburban customers who purchase water from Des Moines Water Works to resell to their residents. The 7% rate increase is only for the water portion of the monthly bill, not city services that Des Moines Water Works collects for city agencies. For a typical four-person household inside the city of Des Moines, the 7% increase equates to an additional $1.65 on a customer’s monthly water bill.

Certain service areas, such as unincorporated Polk County, have greater capital needs to combat an aging system and accommodate growth. Beyond a 7% increase in rates, those customers will have an additional $1.50/thousand gallon fee that will fund significant capital improvements in the service area.

The 7% increase for Des Moines customers is fundamental to supporting operations and a healthy capital reinvestment program, including facilities necessary to adequately treat source waters that continue to degrade.

“Delivering safe and reliable water to our customers is a capital intensive responsibility,” said Stowe. “Even while working efficiently, the costs for treatment and distribution of water continue to rise. To not invest in critical water infrastructure and capital improvement projects would be irresponsible.”

In addition to investment in the aging infrastructure, the 2015 rates reflect the nearly $1 million Des Moines Water Works spent in 2013 to reduce nitrate concentrations found in Des Moines Water Works’ source waters to a level below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water standard.

Within the proposed 2015 budget, 16% of the utility’s capital budget will be spent on improvements to naturally reduce rising nitrate levels in source waters. This includes the use of sand quarries and gravel pits that naturally filter nitrate – a longer term investment and more cost effective solution in comparison to operating and expanding the expensive nitrate removal facility.

New water rates will go into effect April 1, 2015. A complete listing of Des Moines Water Works’ 2015 water rate structure is available at www.dmww.com/upl/documents/library/2015-water-rates.pdf.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Infrastructure, Rates, Value of Water, Water Quality August 18, 2014

Water Quality Mystery

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

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

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

state beach closed by DNR

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

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

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

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

Year      Number of Microcystin Advisories

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

2013       24

2012       14

2011       7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue-green algae bloom at Big Creek

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , , , Posted in Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment June 27, 2014

What’s that Foam on the River?

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Consumer Confidence Report

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

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

Safely Dispose of Unwanted Prescription Drugs on April 26

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

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

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

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

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

Important Information about your Drinking Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taste and Odor Episode Due to Runoff from Recent Snowmelt

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

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

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

Posted by: Laura Sarcone 4 Comments
Labels: , , , Posted in Customer Service, Source Water, Water Quality, Water Treatment January 7, 2014

Seeking Applications for Environmental Impact Awards

Envir. Impact Award LogoThe Greater Des Moines PartnershipCenter on Sustainable Communities, Des Moines Water Works and Metro Waste Authority will honor local organizations and leaders for their sustainability efforts in the Greater Des Moines area. Environmental Impact Award applications will be accepted through Friday, March 14, 2014, at 4:30 p.m.  Winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22.

Organizations that are dedicated to sustainability, or have made notable contributions to positively impact the environment, are encouraged to apply. Now in its fourth year, the Environmental Impact Awards honor organizations in the following categories:

  1. Businesses (large and small)
  2. Civic organizations (governmental and non-governmental)
  3. Built environment (residential and commercial construction).

Special honors will be given to an award winner for the best water management practices and an award winner for the best energy efficiency practices.  The award applications are available at www.desmoinesmetro.com/events.

Last year’s award winners were DART Central StationOakridge Neighborhood Teen CenterThe ReWall CompanyUnity Point Health – Des MoinesIowa Legal Aid, and City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation.  Their many sustainability initiatives are highlighted at www.WhereItShouldGo.com/EIA.

Winners will be recognized at the Environmental Impact Awards luncheon from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, at the Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge in West Des Moines. For more information, contact the Greater Des Moines Partnership at (515) 286-4950.  Media inquiries should be directed to Reo Menning, Metro Waste Authority public affairs director, at (515) 244-0021 or rme@mwatoday.com.

Posted by: Laura Sarcone No Comments
Labels: , , , , Posted in Conservation, Customers, Environment