Category Archives: Water

Volunteers provide “snapshot” of Polk County water quality

Jordan Garvey, an employee at Genus Landscape Architects and a recent ISU grad was a first-time snapshot volunteer.

Jordan Garvey, an employee at Genus Landscape Architects and a recent ISU grad was a first-time snapshot volunteer.

Yesterday, Oct. 7, 34 volunteers participated in the fall Polk County Water Monitoring Snapshot, and took samples of water at 65 stream, lake and pond sites in Polk County. The biannual event, which is in its 12th year, is organized and sponsored by the Iowa Environmental Council, the DNR IOWATER program, Des Moines Water Works, the Des Moines Izaak Walton League, and the Raccoon River Watershed Association.

Samples will be assessed at Des Moines Water Works’ lab and results will be uploaded to the IOWATER volunteer database. Data collected provides a “snapshot” of Polk County’s water quality and allows the County’s water quality to be compared year-to-year. The project gives insight into problem areas, the nutrient impacts from lawns, gardens, golf courses and more, as well as involves the public in the water quality issue here in Iowa. The event uses DNR’s IOWATER equipment and supplies to do field tests and collect water samples.

Several cities in Polk County provide city staff to sample in their communities including Johnston, Ankeny, Clive and Pleasant Hill. The City of Des Moines Parks Department also provides a crew to sample ponds in Des Moines City parks, Polk County Conservation provides staff to sample the lakes and ponds in county parks, Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District helps with sampling of Four Mile Creek, and Wells Fargo provides several volunteers.

The next Snapshot will be held in spring 2016. To volunteer for future events, please Contact Susan Heathcote at

Agenda announced for 2015 Annual Conference

Today, we are excited to announced seven sessions featuring a dynamic slate of speakers hailing from across Iowa, the Midwest and as far as Washington D.C., that will take the stage to share their knowledge and expertise at our 2015 Annual Conference, Elevate: Creating an Environment of Action, on Friday, October 2, 2015 at Drake University in Des Moines.

Join us to learn about work being done in Iowa to elevate agricultural action on climate issues, be inspired by one man’s quest to clean up our rivers one piece of garbage at a time, dive into the sociology of sustainability, engage in conversations about bridging the clean energy divide, and more!

View this year’s agenda and reserve your spot alongside Iowa’s environmental leaders today.

The theme of this year’s conference, which also marks the Council’s 20th anniversary, is elevate. Sessions will focus on providing participants with knowledge, information and resources to identify opportunities, define moments and move interest to action.

As always, the conference will also feature networking opportunities, top-notch exhibitors and a delicious lunch featuring seasonal produce.

Take advantage of early bird registration rates, ending Sept. 4, and register today.

Our  conference is also a great opportunity to connect your organization with a unique cross-section of Iowa’s environmental community. Register as an exhibitor. Don’t delay – space is limited.

Questions? Prefer to register via phone? Contact Communications & Outreach Director Katy Heggen at or 515-244-1194 x210.

Interested in sponsoring our conference? Contact Development Director Jamie Burch at or 515-244-1194 x202

Warnings for blue-green algae blooms reach new heights

Submitted to the Iowa Environmental Council by Sheryl Paul.

Submitted to the Iowa Environmental Council by Sheryl Paul.

A new state water quality-related record has been set, and it is likely the number will continue to climb in the coming weeks.

Today, DNR issued two beach advisories warning Iowans to stay out of the water at two State Park beaches due to high levels of microcystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae blooms that can make people sick. This week’s advisories week bring the total number of microcystin warnings posted this year to 25, surpassing the previous record – 24 warnings – set in 2013. It’s likely we’ll continue to see additional beach warnings between now and Labor Day, the last week of the DNR beach monitoring program.

Blue-green algae, which is caused by a combination of high levels of phosphorus pollution and increased temperatures, has long been an issue in Iowa. However, in recent years, the high levels of microcystin in Iowa lakes and resulting beach warnings have been on the rise.

Since 2006, DNR has issued 139* beach warnings for levels of microcystin exceeding 20ug/L, a level deemed unsafe by the World Health Organization. Nearly two thirds (91) of these warnings have been posted in the past four years. Additionally, more than half (23) of the 39 State Park beached monitored by DNR have made an appearance on the DNR warning list, many making repeat appearances.

While the problem has increased in Iowa in recent years, we’re not alone. According to a recent report from scientists at Oregon State University and the University of Northern Carolina, blue-green algae blooms are are “a poorly monitored and underappreciated risk to recreational and drinking water quality in the United States, and may increasingly pose a global health threat.”

To reduce the occurrence of these harmful algae blooms we must reduce the phosphorus pollution coming from farms, city lawns, wastewater treatment systems that is feeding the algae. Failing to reduce these sources of phosphorus pollution not only puts our health at risk, but also threatens safe drinking water, has negative economic impacts on communities and our quality of life.

It’s important to note that while DNR monitors State Park beaches for this toxin, the problem is not isolated to these lakes. Many other public and private beaches not monitored by DNR are also susceptible to blue-green algae blooms. Also, while swimming activities drop off after Labor Day, the danger of exposure to blue-green algae continues as long as the hot, sunny weather lasts, so the public must continue to be vigilant.

Toxic blue-green algae blooms create blue to green murky water, visible surface scum and a foul odor. The blooms can spread across the water but tend to accumulate in shoreline areas. Contact with water at or above 20 ug/L can result in breathing problems, upset stomach, skin reactions, and even liver damage. Inhaling water droplets containing toxic blue-green algae can cause runny eyes and nose, cough, sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.

Earlier this summer, Iowa’s public health leaders announced plans to require doctors to report “microcystin-toxin poisoning” to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

If you think you or your pets may have been exposed to toxic blue-green algae, thoroughly wash it off with fresh water. If you or your pet experience symptoms associated with high microcystin levels after suspected exposure, seek medical or veterinary care immediately.

Weekly beach advisories can be found on the DNR website. Call the DNR Beach Monitoring Hotline at 515-725-3434 to report a potential blue-green algae bloom.

Records showing State Park Beaches with documented Microcystin levels exceeding 20 ug/L dating back to 2006 are available on the Iowa Environmental Council’s website.

*Excludes 2008 when beaches were not monitored due to a diversion of DNR resources to address extreme flooding in the state.

Detrimental 4″ topsoil rule change proposed during International Year of Soils

This Tuesday, August 11, the Administrative Rules Review Committee will meet to consider a proposed change approved by the Environmental Protection Commission earlier this summer to Iowa’s Topsoil Preservation Rule. If adopted, the amendment would eliminate the current rule that mandates developers put a minimum of 4” of topsoil back onto construction sites, replacing it with vague, unenforceable language. If approved, this change could have negative repercussions for Iowa’s land and waterways. The Council has submitted comments opposing the change. The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in Room 103 at the Iowa State Capitol and is open to the public.

It is easy to overlook the importance of soil health, however, to do so would be a mistake with far-reaching impacts. Beyond supporting Iowa’s widespread agricultural productivity and associated industries, healthy soil can have significant impacts on a variety of environmental and health issues.

In particular, healthy soil retains water better than degraded soils, helping to decrease the risk and severity of flooding. Healthy soil also supports a host of microorganisms and nutrient cycling processes that help keep nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil for longer, resulting in less synthetic application and runoff of fertilizers and other chemicals, which improves water quality. Healthy soil also results in less particulate matter in the air, improving the air quality for surrounding areas.

It is ironic that this proposal comes before the legislative Rules Review Committee during the International Year of Soils, an event that aims to celebrate soil and raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for food systems, agriculture and the environment. In support, earlier this year state lawmakers adopted House Resolution 31, which recognizes the importance of managing Iowa’s precious soils.

Whether advocating for the importance of replacing topsoil on construction sites, or advocating for long-term, sustainable funding for the conservation programs that help keep Iowa’s soils healthy, protecting and preserving all of Iowa’s soils is important. Now is the time for Iowa to cement its commitment to healthy soil and protect this valuable resource that serves as the foundation for so much of our state’s productivity and prosperity.

Dialogue Dinner Series: Conversations about the Future of Iowa’s water

wallaceFor many, the dinner table serves as a place to gather not only to share a meal, but also  stories, thoughts and ideas. What better place to discuss one of our state’s most important, and recently one of the most discussed natural resources: water.

This summer, Iowans are invited to sit down together for Dialogue Dinner Series – Conversations about the Future of Iowa’s Water, a series of dinner discussions hosted and facilitated by the Wallace Centers of Iowa. The first dinner, will be held at 6 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, June 30 at 6 p.m. , at the Henry A. Wallace Country Life Center in Orient, Iowa.

No experts will speak at the dinners. Instead, prepared questions at each table will prompt discussion among attendees, which will be followed by a facilitated group discussion. The event aims to create a space for civil conversations that will encourage citizens to become more informed about the complexities of this important resource and the impact of their personal actions.

Two other dinners will also be held later this summer, Thursday, July 30 at the Wallace House in Des Moines, and Tuesday, July 7 at Whiterock Conservancy in Coon Rapids. Both dinners will begin at 6 p.m.

Due to limited seating, reservations are required. The cost to attend each event is $25, which includes a locally-sourced dinner. To make a reservation, call Deanne Bryce at 515-243-7063 or email

For more information, visit the Wallace Center’s of Iowa’s website.

Promotional partners encouraging this civil dialogue include the Iowa Environmental Council, the Iowa Association of Water Agencies, the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, and the Iowa Farmers Union.