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Serving: IA
wetland in Iowa
WATER QUALITY: Iowa is reporting 622 river, lake and wetland segments to EPA as part of the state’s update for its list of impaired waters.

Iowa DNR seeks comment on impaired waters list

Public comment is accepted through Dec. 28 on new list of state’s impaired waters.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources on Nov. 14 released its 2018 list of impaired waters and asked for public comment. The report shows DNR is recommending 27 Iowa water segments be removed from the impairments list, but added some others. DNR’s newly released draft of impaired waters will be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

Iowa will report water impairments on 622 river, lake and wetland segments to EPA as part of DNR’s biennial summary of water quality. That’s a 2% increase over the 608 reported in the 2016 report. The federal Clean Water Act requires states to report every two years. The 622 water body segments on this year’s list had 831 impairments, up from 818 in the 2016 report.

The report identifies surface waters that don’t fully meet state water quality standards for their intended use and need a water quality improvement plan. The 1,421 water segments studied —which include portions of rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and wetlands — were identified as the following:

  • 363 segments as meeting Iowa water quality standards for their intended use
  • 523 segments as waters in need of further investigation
  • 767 segments as impaired for not fully meeting water quality standards

“An increase or decrease in impaired waters doesn’t necessarily mean that water quality in the state is worsening or improving. It often is a reflection of the additional monitoring we are conducting, changes in water quality standards, and changes in assessment methodologies,” says Roger Bruner, supervisor of DNR’s Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment section. “Impaired segments are often used for recreation and fishing, among other uses, so impairment doesn’t mean that the segments are unusable or that they necessarily will cause illnesses.”

Bruner says most of the impairments on the list are “fairly minor,” and people still use impaired rivers and lakes for recreation without impact. “An impairment can be thought of like you going to the doctor and finding out you have elevated cholesterol. It doesn’t mean you are going to die but means you should be aware of it and work toward improving the situation,” he says.

Determining impaired waters

DNR uses fixed-station river monitoring, lake monitoring and beach monitoring, wadable stream biological monitoring, fish tissue monitoring, and wetland and shallow lakes monitoring.

Several other data are analyzed before determining whether a water segment does or does not meet the requirements. Those include the Iowa DNR’s Fish Kill Database, federal data (Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Geological Survey), municipal data (drinking water supplies) and surrounding states’ data.

DNR uses a three-step process for an impaired waters study. The process is to compile all available credible data in the correct time frame, Bruner says. The data is then pulled together into a common format, and the individual results are compared to the appropriate criteria.

The assessment for each segment is a compilation of these results (2,435 assessments in this report). All Iowa waters are designated for both aquatic life protection and water contact recreation. Others may include one or both designations for drinking water and human health protection.

“DNR has a long history of working with Iowans across the state to help address our water quality challenges,” says Adam Schnieders, acting DNR Water Quality Bureau chief. “The importance of this collective, persistent work is clear and will continue to be a priority for the DNR.”

Send comment before Dec. 28

The public is welcome to comment through Dec. 28. comments should be sent to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Attn: Dan Kendall, Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Section, Wallace State Office Building, 502 E. Ninth St., Des Moines, IA 50319. Or email

The report says the most common river impairments in Iowa include the presence of bacteria and fish kills, for which a common cause is animal waste. The state’s current agricultural policy pertaining to water quality is primarily the voluntary nutrient reduction effort in which farmers can choose to use practices that reduce soil erosion and farm runoff. The most severe problem for lakes is algae growth, often the result of nutrients from fertilizer in runoff and drainage from farm fields.

Activists seek better results

Environmental activists such as Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement say the new DNR report is further evidence that the state isn’t doing enough to improve water quality. CCI member Cherie Mortice says the new report is “one more sign the state’s voluntary nutrient reduction strategy is a failure. The report fails to differentiate the magnitude of impairments to Iowa’s waterways. But the reality is that any impairment is unacceptable.”

Another group, Food & Water Watch, filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging the state has violated public trust to protect the Raccoon River by failing to limit pollution running off farm fields. The Raccoon River is a primary source of drinking water for about 500,000 customers of Des Moines Water Works. The lawsuit is asking the court to order the state of Iowa to adopt a mandatory clean water plan and a moratorium on new hog farms. The lawsuit is awaiting action by the Iowa Supreme Court on an appeal.


Iowa Farm Bureau says voluntary strategy works

Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill responded to the new Iowa DNR water quality report with the following comments:

“Iowans can take great pride knowing the state and water quality stakeholders are making strides monitoring the state’s watersheds to ensure stakeholders are taking on the challenge of improving water quality. For the past 20 years, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other water quality experts have steadily ramped up monitoring efforts to identify vulnerable waterways and areas to improve, while compiling the biennial assessment of the state’s watersheds. Iowa is the envy of neighboring states for our wealth of monitoring data and researchers dedicated to water quality improvement.   

“Iowa DNR experts say the steady growth of waterways tested and the increasingly stringent standards for each reporting period is driving the 2% increase in water segments making the list. DNR says Iowans can be confident the vast majority of Iowa’s waters are safe for recreation and fishing.

“In this report, the DNR removed 27 impaired beneficial uses, such as swimming or fishing from the last report two years ago due to new data. DNR says there are many reasons why a water segment may make the list from natural, weather-driven phenomena we’ve consistently experienced, as well as unknown or human-driven impacts such as construction and commercial growth or agriculture.  

“While the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality remains an ongoing effort, Iowans can be confident the monitoring and collaborative efforts to improve Iowa’s water quality are achieving results. Additionally, this list helps our state and federal natural resource agencies target limited financial and technical resources to where they’re needed most and most effective.”

TAGS: Conservation
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