Government

More Iowa lakes, rivers and streams on impaired list

Reasons for impairment include high bacteria, harmful algae or mercury in fish

Beach-goers walk along the sidewalk leading to Lake Macbride State Park Beach in Solon on Thursday, June 27, 2019. The lake saw its first ever microcystin warning issued by the DNR following a harmful algae bloom caused by rainy weather and vegetation growth, according to the park’s manager. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Beach-goers walk along the sidewalk leading to Lake Macbride State Park Beach in Solon on Thursday, June 27, 2019. The lake saw its first ever microcystin warning issued by the DNR following a harmful algae bloom caused by rainy weather and vegetation growth, according to the park’s manager. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The number of polluted lakes, streams and rivers in Iowa increased slightly from 2016 to 2018, with 57 percent of water segments tested meeting federal standards for impairment.

Iowa has 1,110 impairments on 767 segments of lakes, streams and rivers, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources draft 2018 list. This is up from 1,096 impairments on 750 segments on the 2016 draft list.

About 22 percent of Iowa wetlands assessed for the 2018 report had impaired segments.

To be considered impaired, a river, stream, lake or wetland has failed to meet water quality standards for one or more of its intended uses, such as drinking, recreation or supporting aquatic life. Impairments don’t note the magnitude of the problem at each site.

“We do have challenges, despite the differences in magnitude,” Adam Schnieders, acting Water Quality Bureau chief, said in a Thursday conference call with media. “These are things we are working to address.”

Although the DNR has been compiling an impaired waters list every other year since 1998, officials caution against using it to find long-term trends. Each year’s report includes data for the previous five years and sometimes there are changes in the amount of monitoring done and methodology for monitoring.

But Wally Taylor, of Marion, legal counsel for Iowa’s chapter of the Sierra Club, said the DNR has seen an increase in the number of impairments over the years because of lack of follow-through with clean-up plans.

“There’s a lack of will,” Taylor said. The DNR has faced budget cuts and officials may be concerned lawmakers will further shrink appropriations if regulation is viewed as harming Iowa’s agricultural industry, Taylor said.

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Among water bodies listed on the 2018 impaired waters list are Kent Park Lake and Lake Macbride as well as segments of the Iowa River, Cedar River, Volga River, Wapsipinicon and Turkey River. Reasons water bodies may be considered impaired include high levels of bacteria or algae, low oxygen or high levels of mercury in fish.

Kent Park Lake has been on the list since 2014 for bacteria, which can sicken swimmers.

The lake underwent a two-year, nearly $3 million renovation completed earlier this year to improve water quality. Water tests done at the last this past summer showed E. coli levels were down and well within safe levels for swimming, park staff reported.

Lake Macbride has two listed impairments, one for bacteria first listed in 2006 and another for algal growth added in 2010. Macbride had its first ever swim warning in July for microcystin toxins that come from harmful algae.

The DNR isn’t able to assess all Iowa lakes, rivers and streams every two years because of budget constraints. For 2018, 52 percent of rivers, 61 percent of lakes and reservoirs and 83 percent of wetlands were assessed. This is the same percentage as 2016.

The draft list 2018 list will be open for public comment through Dec. 23. The DNR will then modify the list based on comments received and forward the final report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You can email comments to Dan Kendall at daniel.kenall@dnr.iowa.gov.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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