Thursday, August 07, 2014

Iowa officials fear Des Moines faces algae threat to water supplies, similar to that in Toledo

Algae-based toxins in Lake Erie tainted drinking water supplies in Toledo, Ohio, and have led state officials to adopt a law requiring farmers to obtain fertilizer licenses in an attempt to control farm run-off in water supplies. Environmentalists and water officials fear Des Moines is headed in a similar direction, Donnelle Eller reports for the Des Moines Register. Bill Stowe, chief executive of the Des Moines Water Works, told Eller, "It’s not a matter of if—it’s a matter of when. With the right conditions, it could have been Des Moines.”

Eller writes, "The state has adopted a voluntary plan that has Iowa farmers working to reduce nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which can feed the toxic blooms and contribute to high levels of nitrates that must be removed from drinking water. But Stowe said Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a 'prescription for failure,' and conditions contributing to the toxic blooms will only worsen without regulations forcing broader action by Iowa farmers and landowners."

Des Moines has come close to losing its water supply in the past, with algae-based toxins so high that Water Works was unable to use Raccoon River in 2009 and the Des Moines River in 2012, Eller writes. And currently, two beaches in the state at Black Hawk State Park "are currently not recommended for swimming because of blue-green algae that can produce toxins." So far this year the state has issued 11 advisories, with four weeks left in the recreational beach season. Last year the number of advisories was 24, three times more than in 2011. (Read more)

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