Blue-green algae blooms: stay informed, stay safe

Swimming was not advised at Rock Creek Lake on August 10 due to the presence of a harmful algae bloom.

Swimming was not advised at Rock Creek Lake in August 2013 due to the presence of an algae bloom.

UPDATE: As of Thursday, August 6, DNR has posted 23 beach advisories warning Iowans to stay out of the water at Iowa State Park Beaches due to high levels of microcystin, just one warning shy of the 24 warnings posted in 2013 – the most since DNR began monitoring for the toxin at State Park beaches in 2006. Warnings have been posted at 13 beaches, including five beaches brand new to the list.

Summer is in full swing, and many Iowans are heading to the state’s lakes to swim, paddle, relax and cool off with family and friends. However, many Iowans are being greeted by an unwelcome sight at their favorite swimming spots: toxic blue-green algae blooms.

This type of algae, caused by a combination of high levels of phosphorus pollution and increased temperatures can produce harmful microcystin toxins that can make people sick and be deadly for dogs, livestock and other animals.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has posted more than a dozen swimming advisories cautioning Iowans to stay out of the water at State Park beaches throughout Iowa so far this summer due to high microcystin levels. Included on this summer’s list are Lake Darling, Pine Lake, Red Haw Lake and Twin Lake West beaches – all first time toxic blue-green algae offenders.*

“The threats posed by toxic blue-green algae blooms are serious,” said Water Program Director Susan Heathcote. “Iowans need to be aware of this problem, the health risks, and know how to recognize and respond to toxic blue-green algae blooms.”

Toxic blue-green algae blooms create green, murky water, visible surface scum and a foul odor. The blooms can spread across the water but tend to accumulate in shoreline areas. Beach warnings are posted by the DNR when microcystin levels exceed 20 ug/liter, a guideline established by the World Health Organization. Contact with water at or above this level 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.

After tracking microcystin poisoning cases in Iowa as part of a national pilot project, Iowa’s public health leaders recently announced plans to add “microcystin-toxin poisoning” to the list of conditions doctors must report to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“To rid Iowa of toxic blue-green algae blooms and ensure our lakes are safe and healthy for our families and pets, we must improve our water quality and reduce phosphorus pollution caused by agricultural and urban runoff and wastewater treatment systems,” Heathcote said. “This pollution not only puts our health at risk, but also has negative economic impacts on communities that depend on lake tourism, as well as our environment.”

The DNR monitors 39 State Park beaches for microcystin on a weekly basis between Memorial Day and Labor Day, issues advisories and posts warning signs when conditions are unsafe for swimming. The weekly beach advisories can be found on their website. Last summer, the DNR posted 22 beach warnings for high levels of microcystin during the recreational season.

At this time, DNR only monitors State Park Beaches, so if you swim at other public or private beaches you need to be aware of the potential for toxic blue-green algae this time of year. Not all blue-green algae is toxic, but when in doubt, stay out of the water and call the DNR Beach Monitoring Hotline at 515-725-3434. 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 are experiencing symptoms associated with high microcystin levels after suspected exposure, seek medical or veterinary care immediately.

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.

2015 Annual Conference aims to elevate environment

IEC_ElevateLogo_WebRegistration for our 2015 Annual Conference, Elevate: Creating an environment of action, Friday, October 2 at Drake University in Des Moines, is now open.

This year’s conference, which also marks the Council’s 20th anniversary, will empower and equip attendees to elevate their work, and will feature keynote speaker Chad Pregracke, 2013 CNN Hero of the Year, founder and president of Living Lands and Waters.

pregracke_chad_webBest known for starting out as a young man in East Moline, Illinois wanting a cleaner waterway, Chad has become a champion for the Mississippi River. Chad and his Living Lands & Waters crew have organized and led over 800 cleanups on 23 rivers in 20 states and removed an estimated eight million pounds of garbage. Chad had an idea that evolved into a movement that has helped to restore one of America’s greatest icons, the Mississippi River. He is proof that one person can make a difference.

Other sessions, featuring national, regional and local speakers will focus on providing attendees with knowledge and resources to effectively identify opportunities, define moments and move interest to action. Additional speakers and sessions will be announced soon.

Take advantage of early bird registration rates and reserve your spot today.

The Council’s Annual Conference is known for bringing together a unique cross section of Iowa’s environmental community to share their knowledge and experience to address today’s environmental challenges. Together, we learn from one another and work together to make Iowa a better place to live, work, explore and enjoy.

Exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are also available.

Questions? Contact Communications and Outreach Director Katy Heggen at 515-244-1194 x210 or

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.

A win for solar energy in Iowa

Gov. Branstad signs HF645.

Gov. Branstad signs HF645, expanding access to solar energy for more Iowans.

Today, surrounded by solar energy advocates, Governor Branstad signed HF645 into law, expanding access to solar energy for Iowans across the state.

HF645 is a modest but important piece of legislation that increases available solar energy tax incentive funds by $500,000 from $4.5 million to $5 million, and makes improvements to the 476C production tax credit for solar energy, which can be used to support community solar power projects.

“Iowa is beginning to see growth in solar energy, but much potential – from a capacity, economic and an ownership interest perspective – still remains,” said Energy Program Director Nathaniel Baer. “HF645 will increase Iowans’ ability to seize those opportunities, and do so in a way that benefits our economy, communities and environment.”

HF645 is the most recent legislation in a string of legislative victories for clean energy. Last year, the Iowa Legislature tripled Iowa’s solar energy tax incentive funds. The program has been so effective that demand still exceeds the annual cap. HF645 will help meet some of that demand.

Solar tax incentives are only one of the policies needed to support the growing solar sector. Strong net metering policies, financing options, and policies to support connecting to the grid are all needed to ensure Iowa benefits from adding solar energy in coming years.

Iowa currently ranks among the top third of U.S. states in its technical potential for solar PV energy production, ahead of some southern states including Florida, Georgia, and both North and South Carolina. Solar energy also offers significant economic benefits to Iowa. Solar energy jobs in the state have grown from 210 in 2012 to 900 last year. Additionally, solar energy strengths Iowa’s energy independence, reducing the need and costs associated with importing fossil fuels, translating to cleaner, healthier state.

The cost of installing solar has decreased significantly in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue, and generates the most electricity during the periods of highest demand. By generating electricity during these times, solar power can reduce costs and improve the reliability of the grid.

To view fact and figure sources related to Iowa’s solar potential, download the Real Potential, Ready Today 2-Page Handout.

Amplifying Iowa’s wind power

Wind XIowa’s wind energy leadership has created significant economic, community and environmental benefits for the state, but there is huge potential for additional wind energy. Thanks in part to continued advocacy for wind energy growth, utility companies are taking notice and investing in clean energy.

In May, we welcomed announcements from Alliant Energy to add 200 MW of wind and by MidAmerican Energy to build 552 MW of wind. When MidAmerican filed its official proposal – Wind X – with the Iowa Utilities Board, we joined with the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) to intervene and file testimony in support of the proposal.

Iowa ended 2014 with over 5,700 MW of installed wind energy that accounts for 28.5% of the state’s electrical generation, the highest of any state. Iowa’s wind energy potential is over 570,000 MW, and recent national studies indicate that 20,000 MW could be developed by 2030, and 37,000 to 46,000 MW by 2050. Wind X is an important step to reaching these goals, meeting more of our energy needs with clean energy, and reducing our reliance on coal.

Despite its leadership in wind energy, coal still accounts for the largest share of MidAmerican’s electricity. Importing coal costs MidAmerican’s customers approximately $285M annually, and the state of Iowa $590M annually. Wind X will directly reduce coal use and the associated costs, as well as cut emissions of carbon and other pollutants.

By doing so, Wind X will help MidAmerican – and Iowa – prepare to comply with the proposed Clean Power Plan, the first-ever standard to reduce carbon pollution – our country’s largest source of carbon pollution – from existing power plants. The Clean Power Plan establishes state-specific carbon reduction goals based on each state’s energy portfolio. Based on 2012 carbon pollution levels, Iowa’s proposed cut in carbon pollution from power plants is 16%. As a wind energy leader, Iowa is well-positioned to meet its goal.

Recent wind projects have already helped reduce MidAmerican’s rate of carbon emission from 1,168 lbs/MWh to 1,030 lbs/MWh. Wind X would further reduce the rate to 940 lbs/MWh or even lower. Thanks to its wind leadership, MidAmerican is ahead of schedule and can help the state – or even other states – meet these targets.

In addition to expressing our support for Wind X, our testimony encouraged MidAmerican to more thoroughly consider adding solar energy when it builds its next clean energy project. We reviewed MidAmerican data showing that its energy demand peaks occur in the summer and during the day, typically between the hours of noon and 6 pm. A typical solar array in Iowa can be expected to produce very well during such times, meaning solar can help MidAmerican meet energy needs when demand is at its highest.

We will continue to advocate, shape and voice our support for Wind X and projects like it, and build a broad base of support for the Clean Power Plan and a strong implementation plan that will benefit Iowa’s economy and environment.