Amana wells are at high risk for contamination, Iowa DNR says

State review follows spike in nitrate in Amana wells, but more information needed to determine source

A water tower in Amana. (Photo courtesy of Amana Society Service Company)
A water tower in Amana. (Photo courtesy of Amana Society Service Company)

Amana’s public wells, which have nearby sewage lagoons and land application of industrial waste, are at high risk for contamination, a new state report shows.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently completed a source water assessment of the Amana Society’s six wells after high nitrate levels were discovered in December in three wells near High Amana.

The assessment shows all six of the Amana Society’s alluvial wells are “highly susceptible” to contamination because they are less than 25 feet from the surface and because there are potential contamination sources nearby. The report doesn’t provide details about the potential contaminants, which makes it hard to know whether they are adding to the nitrate load.

For example, the report says there is a site within the 2-mile catchment zone of the wells where waste from the International Paper Cedar River Mill in Cedar Rapids is applied to farmland. Russ Eimers, general manager of the Amana Society Service Co., said the waste is shredded cardboard added to the soil to help the earth hold moisture.

Within the 5-mile catchment area of the High Amana wells is a sewage lagoon drain tile that outflows during heavy rains, the Iowa DNR reported.

The initial assessment doesn’t include nonpoint sources such as manure or commercial fertilizer applied on farmland near the wells, said Chad Fields, an Iowa DNR geologist. A second phase will add that information and try to identify a specific source.

“We’ll limit land application of fertilizers to the extent that we can until we receive the results of the Phase II Assessment,” said Eimers.


The service company, a private utility that serves 850 water customers, sent a letter Dec. 3 to residents and business owners and posted a warning on its website and Facebook page saying to avoid giving tap water to infants or nursing mothers.

Nitrate in drinking water has been linked to infant methemoglobinemia — blue-baby syndrome — a life-threatening condition reducing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, as well as some cancers and thyroid problems.

Dec. 2 tests of three wells by High Amana showed nitrate at 12 milligrams per liter. The federal standard for safe drinking water is under 10 milligrams per liter.

Water operators already had been drawing water just from three wells in Middle Amana that had lower nitrate levels, so the water delivered to customers is safe.

Tests of water in the Amanas’ water tower have averaged at 4.2 milligrams per liter of nitrate — well within the standard for safe drinking, Eimers said last month.

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