Category Archives: Water

Volunteer Program Helps Measure Water Quality

If Iowans want to achieve measurably cleaner water, we must insist upon consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress.  This takes the dedication of numerous individuals and both state and volunteer-led initiatives. One such initiative is the Polk County Water Monitoring Snapshot. The Snapshot, held twice a year in May and October, takes a comprehensive sampling of water sources in the state’s largest urban area, and provides invaluable data for environmental groups and water agencies. The sponsor-funded, volunteer-driven event measures water quality in rivers and streams throughout Polk County ranging from  the Raccoon River to small unnamed creeks.


This year’s event will be held on Wednesday, May 6, from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.  All are welcome to volunteer. Training is provided the morning of the event, and new volunteers work in teams with experienced volunteers, so no previous training is needed. To volunteer, contact Water Program Director Susan Heathcote at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org or via phone at 515-244-1194 X 205.

The initiative was started by the Iowa Environmental Council, Des Moines Water Works and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources 12 years ago. With the help of the Izaak Walton and the Raccoon River Watershed Association, the Snapshot has grown into one of the largest and most consistently occurring water quality testing programs in the state.

“Before the Snapshot, there was very little information on the quality of any water source in the Des Moines area,” Heathcote said. “We couldn’t answer questions like ‘how does our water compare to other water sources,’ and, ‘how has the quality changed over time?’ Now we can compare our data with previous years and with that of other counties across the state and nation.”jll

The Snapshot usually has 30 to 40 volunteers operating in groups of two to three people that divide and conquer to take samples at over 70 sites across Polk County. The event drew its inspiration from a similar program in Scott County. Since then, several other watersheds, counties and municipalities across Iowa have created snapshot programs of their own, but the Scott and Polk County programs remain the most consistent and thorough.

Questions about the Snapshot? Contact Susan Heathcote for more information or to volunteer at heathcote [at] iaenvironment [dot] org or via phone at 515-244-1194 X 205.

Now is the Time: Fund the Trust

Nearly five years ago, an overwhelming majority of Iowa voters (63%) supported the creation of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which would provide sustainable,   and substantial funding for conservation, and go toward unmet funding needs in existing programs.

However, the trust, which would raise an estimated $150 million annually to better protect our water quality, agricultural soils and wildlife habitat, has never been filled. This is the year to change that.



Join Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) Coalition and Iowans across the state TODAY for a Virtual Day of Action to tell legislators that the time is now, the need is clear, and it is time to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Our natural resources are an important part of our heritage and our future. The vast majority of trust fund dollars are designated for water quality improvement projects, including watershed protection, wildlife habitat, lake restoration, and enhancing flood protection efforts. Critical funding for the Nutrient Reduction Strategy can also be realized with this trust.

For nearly five years, Iowans have waited for consistent, reliable funding to protect Iowa’s water quality, agricultural soils and wildlife habitat. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Contact your legislators today and tell them now is the time to fund the trust.


Topsoil preservation rule at risk

As member based coalition, we rely on the voices of our supporters to help enact meaningful change for Iowa and its environment. Today, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard to help preserve topsoil and protect water.

Last Friday, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held their final public forum on a proposed amendment to a topsoil replacement rule that mandates developers put a minimum of four inches of topsoil back onto construction sites. The amendment would remove current requirement and replace it with vague language that requires developers to return topsoil unless it is “infeasible.” If passed, this change that could have negative repercussions for Iowa’s land and waterways.

“[The topsoil preservation rule] aids the infiltration of storm water runoff and reduces polluted runoff and the risk of flooding,” Water Program Director Susan Heathcote said at the forum. “Urban runoff is made worse when lawns do not have an adequate layer of topsoil that can absorb and hold water and instead are underlain by compacted clay that acts more like concrete than good Iowa soil.”

The Council has submitted written comments to the DNR, and we encourage you join us and speak up today, as the public comment period for the change ends tomorrow, April 1. Time and time again, our members and supporters have proven that public comments send a strong and clear message to policy makers that Iowans care about our water and land. Comments may be sent to Environmental Specialist Senior Joe Griffin at

Des Moines Water Works’ concerns are legitimate

By Executive Director Ralph Rosenberg

Yesterday, the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees voted unanimously to pursue a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties in their role as governing authority for 10 drainage districts that are discharging pollution into the Raccoon River, threatening Des Moines’ drinking water. This decision comes at the expiration of the issuance of a mandatory 60 day notice of intent to sue and unsuccessful efforts to address the issue under the current voluntary strategy.

Des Moines Waterworks (DMWW) has legitimate concerns about the operations of the drainage districts in the three counties in northern Iowa named in the lawsuit. These drainage districts contribute to high nitrate concentrations in the Raccoon River which create a significant treatment challenge for DMWW to provide safe drinking water to their customers. We share DMWW’s concern about the lack of urgency and measurable progress to reduce the nitrate pollution these drainage districts are sending downstream.

A Des Moines Register poll conducted last month found 63 percent of Iowans believe DMWW should pursue a lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa. It’s clear that Iowans want to see increased action on achieving measurably cleaner water in the state, and the lawsuit raises important questions about the effectiveness of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy in achieving measurably cleaner water.

For the past two years, the Council has called for improvements to strengthen the all-voluntary strategy to address Iowans’ concerns about the lack of local goals, timelines with benchmarks, consistent water quality testing and assessment to gauge progress, and sustainable funding for implementation. Perhaps DMWW would not have found it necessary to file suit against the three counties in northern Iowa had the state’s leaders taken meaningful action to address these concerns.

While the lawsuit works its way through the courts, we will continue to call for these improvements, and work collaboratively with elected officials, agricultural groups, individual farmers and landowners, environmental groups and other diverse stakeholders to ensure Iowa’s water quality is improving.

America Needs Clean Water

America Needs Clean Water T-shirt and stickers are now available at RAYGUN.

America Needs Clean Water T-shirt and stickers are now available at RAYGUN.

America Needs Farmers and Clean Water, and thanks to our neighbors up the street at RAYGUN, you can show off your style and support for protecting Iowa’s lakes, rivers and streams with their recently released ANCW T-shirt and stickers.

And the best part? Not only will you look and feel good wearing it, you’ll be doing good, too. RAYGUN will generously donate a portion of the sales of both the T-shirts and the stickers to the Iowa Environmental Council. Pick your ANCW goods up here:

We’d love to see your ANCW pride. Snap a photo of yourself wearing your ANCW T-shirt or displaying your ANCW sticker, tag the Council and use the hashtag #ANCW_IA

We look forward to seeing environmentalists, farmers, outdoor recreationalists and sportsmen, health advocates, business owners, students, educators, urban and rural dwellers alike showing their support for clean water!