Iowa DNR dissolves Bureau of Forestry and other programs


Savanna, Overlooking Wet Prairie
The State Forest Nursery and urban foresters program will stay in tact amid multiple program eliminations. (Joshua Mayer/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 7, 2017

Iowa legislators approved a $1.2 million cut to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this year, resulting in the elimination of the Bureau of Forestry and several other positions.

The department announced on Wednesday that it terminated the Forest Bureau Chief Paul Tauke. All other foresters were reassigned to other divisions within the DNR. Alex Murphy is a spokesperson for the department. In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, he said, “We’ve moved these employees under different areas and actually eliminated the bureau itself, although all the functions of the bureau exist, just in different bureaus or divisions.” The changes saved the department around $277,000.

The DNR Trail Crew program was abolished along with two full-time program DNR employees. The Trail Crew team was comprised of 15 Americorps members that traveled around the state with DNR employees to develop and improve Iowa’s 500 miles of nature trails. Other Americorps programs within the department were eliminated as well.

State Geologist Bob Libra also lost his job. The state plans to contract UI geologists to take over geological research projects. Among the other positions eliminated are the department safety officer, animal feeding operations coordinator and art director for the DNR’s magazine.

UI environmental science program graduate Megan Henry warned that the elimination of positions in environmental sciences may drive more young people out of Iowa. Her letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register reads,

“Now the university will likely also equip natural science students in geology with even more hands-on experience, because “without a state geologist, the DNR will contract with the University of Iowa for geological research and technical assistance.” The only problem: How do you attract students to this vital work, if the jobs only exist while they are paying tuition?”

Thousands of Iowans exposed to drinking water contaminated with lead


lead-pipe
Utilities stopped using lead pipes in water mains in the 1950’s, but copper service lines often contain lead that contaminate water if pipes are corroded. (Siddhartha Roy/FlintWaterStudy.org)

 

Jenna Ladd | December 20, 2016

More than 6,000 Iowans have been exposed to drinking water with levels of lead that exceed the 15 parts per billion the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe.

Following the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan this year, EPA began to investigate how states are monitoring and testing for lead in drinking water. According to a report by USA today, an estimated 4 million people live in communities were testing was performed improperly or skipped all together.

Per federal regulation, utilities with more than 50,000 customers must continually take measures to protect against pipe corrosion, which can cause to lead contamination. In contrast, communities with less than 50,000 people can stop protecting against contamination as soon as levels drop below the federal limit. Data from Iowa Department of Natural Resources show that 13 rural water systems in the state exceeded federal limits in the last six months. An additional five utilities failed to test for lead at all over this period of time.

The EPA requires communities with less than 50,000 people to perform 20 lead tests per water system twice per year. If those tests come back normal, the utility is allowed to test much less frequently: 10 tests at 10 separate locations every three years. Some towns with less than 3,000 residents can qualify to test every nine years. Lead contamination in drinking water can cause lowered IQ, irreversible brain damage, behavioral problems and language acquisition delays, particularly for children. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, there have been no reported instances of children with elevated lead levels in their blood in the most recent 20 years.

Richard Valentine, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Iowa, said, “I don’t think the regulation is adequate.” Valentine continued, “It’s like saying, ‘It’s OK if only 10 percent of your airplanes crash; you’ve got good safety.’ If you’ve got one failure, you’ve got one hundred (more). You’ve got to find out why, where and sample a whole bunch more times and do something about it.”

The town of Kalona was on the reduced-testing plan prior to lead tests performed in the community this September. Two of the ten private homes tested in the town had drinking water with lead levels that were three times higher than the EPA’s 15 parts per billion limit. Kalona must now double the number of lead tests performed on drinking water. Lead levels also exceeded federal limits in Council Bluffs, Shueyville, Churdan, Blue Grass and Livermore.

The EPA announced late last month that it will be reconsidering its lead regulations. Mary Mindrup is head of the EPA’s Region 7 drinking water management branch, which serves Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Mindrup said, “The EPA has always been concerned about smaller systems just because the economics are different…than larger systems.” She continued, “But we want to ensure that regardless of the size of system, everybody is receiving water that is safe to drink.”

Mindrup said that the EPA will focus on improving lead management for small rural communities and increasing water infrastructure funding.

Iowa sees record number of blue-green algae advisories


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Microcystin toxins float on top of water and often look like spilled paint or pea soup. (Oregon State University/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 9, 2016

Iowa State Park beaches saw a record number of advisories this summer due to unsafe levels of microcystin, a toxin produced by some types of blue-green algae.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors the water at state beaches each season from Memorial Day through Labor Day. DNR issued six beach advisories this week for a total of 37 microcystin warnings this year, surpassing last year’s record of 34,  just as DNR officials predicted earlier in the season.

Microcystin is considered toxic to humans when levels are at or above 20 micrograms per liter (ug/L), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Swimming in water that has harmful levels of microcystin in it can cause breathing problems, upset stomach, skin reactions, and liver damage. If the water is inhaled, it has been known to cause cause runny eyes and nose, cough, sore throat, chest pain, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions. Contaminated bodies of water can be especially harmful to pets and children, who are more likely to ingest water.

In total Iowa DNR has issued 185 microcystin beach advisories since 2006, and two-thirds (117) have been in the most recent four years. The blue-green blooms that produce microcystin feed on nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that seep into waterways from pollution sources like agricultural fertilizers, livestock waste, septic systems, and urban runoff. Blue-green algae toxins do not only pose a threat to beachgoers. Last month, Des Moines Water Works detected microcystin in treated municipal drinking water.

While DNR monitors 39 State Park beaches across Iowa for these toxins, many public and private beaches are not monitored. As the total number of beach closures rises each year, Ann Robinson, agricultural specialist at the Iowa Environmental Council said, “This is a wake-up call that more needs to be done to reduce the nutrient pollution coming from the farms, city lawns and urban and industrial wastewater plants that are feeding the algae. If we don’t take action on the scale needed, unprecedented numbers of beach warnings will become our new normal.”

More information about identifying harmful blue-green algae blooms and a chart that outlines dangerous levels of microcystin in Iowa’ lakes dating back to 2006 can be found at the Iowa Environmental Council’s website.

On the Radio: Water quality meetings begin this week


A rock in the Cedar River near Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)
A rock in the Cedar River near Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Rich Herrmann/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment introduces a series of meetings being held by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on state water quality. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Water Meetings

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is seeking the public’s input on water quality through a series of meetings beginning in early September.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The meetings happen every three years, as part of a review process mandated by the Federal Clean Water Act. The DNR hopes to gather feedback from Iowans on what issues are important to them in order to set new water quality goals for Iowa’s rivers and streams.

The DNR will then consider the public’s responses and use the information to form an updated action plan for the next three years. This updated plan will also be available for public evaluation.

Meetings will begin on September 3rd, and one will be held in each of the six field office regions.

For more information and to find a meeting near you, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.iowadnr.gov/InsideDNR/RegulatoryWater/WaterQualityStandards/TriennialReview.aspx

http://www.iowadnr.gov/insidednr/ctl/detail/mid/2805/itemid/2091

On the Radio: Iowa lakes undergo restoration projects


A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)
A lake near Buena Vista, Iowa. (Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment highlights the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing lake restoration program. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Iowa Lake Restoration Program

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is cleaning dozens of Iowa lakes this summer as part of its ongoing lake restoration program.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Iowa DNR has selected 35 Iowa lakes and watersheds for restoration with the goals of improved water quality, a balanced aquatic community and improved fishing and swimming. Their 2013 report states that many Iowa lakes suffer from excessive algol growth and sedimentation.

The DNR plans to work with local towns and watershed groups to develop action plans, including marsh rehabilitation, wetland reconstruction and lake dredging. Similar projects at Clear Lake, Storm Lake and Lake MacBride have enhanced recreation opportunities, putting them in the top five most visited lakes in the state.

For more information about the Iowa lake restoration program, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Are large mammals coming back to Iowa?


Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr
Black bear at Lake Ekultna, Alaska. Photo by Doug Brown; Flickr

Sightings of large mammals such as bears, moose, mountain lions, and wolves have become increasingly common as of late. Many Iowans are beginning to wonder what would change if the mammals established breeding populations within the state.

In July, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed a set of bear tracks and scat outside of Wadena, Iowa after a sighting was reported. A beekeeper saw an adult female bear with two cubs destroy a set of beehives before vacating the area. If there are cubs, they are the first to be documented in Iowa in over a century. Other beekeepers have complained of damage to their bee yards as well. Black bears are not protected in Iowa and can legally be shot, although such extreme measures are rarely necessary.

A lone moose was spotted wandering through Iowa at the end of last year, and a wolf was shot by a coyote hunter in February. Both moose and wolves are protected by state law.

Several mountain lion sightings have been reported to the DNR in the past few weeks, but none have been confirmed.

DNR looking for Iowans’ input on water quality


Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced a series of public meetings to review the state’s water quality standards. The open discussions, which occur triennially in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, will be held throughout Iowa in early September.

Iowans with ideas and opinions about state water quality goals are encouraged to attend one of the events. After the meetings, the department will review the public’s suggestions and adjust their work plan accordingly.

Rochelle Weiss, DNR water quality standards coordinator, describes the meetings as “the public’s opportunity to tell us what is important to them.”

Visit the DNR’s website to find a meeting near you, and find out more about the review process here.