The Raccoon River had very high sustained levels of Nitrogen in 2013. Nitrogen can be toxic at high levels. The United States government has determined that nitrogen levels above 10mg/l are not healthy. So water treatment plants like the Des Moines Waterworks must keep the nitrate levels below that number. That was a real challenge last spring. When the Ikes, Waterworks, RRWA and Wells Fargo volunteers cooperated in a Polk County water quality snapshot last spring N levels were above 20 mg/l at many locations. The Des Moines Waterworks pumps Raccoon River water into ponds for natural denitrification. It mixes water from Maffit Lake to bring down the N levels. If all else fails the Waterworks cranks up the expensive denitrification equipment installed for that purpose. Much of our surface water across the state is polluted with Nitrogen, Phosphorus and bacteria. The federal EPA has told Iowa to reduce the N and P in our waters and that which leaves the state by way of the Mississippi and the Missouri. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is the result of efforts by the DNR, IDALS and others to achieve a 45% reduction in these pollutants.
I have spent eight years working with the Raccoon River Watershed Association trying to stop the degradation of the Raccoon River that runs through my farm. Twenty-five years ago I noticed how clear the river was in the winter in contrast to the rest of the year. Obviously the soil run-off that made the Raccoon muddy was not a problem when the soil was frozen. More recently the river has been getting muddier and greener from nitrogen and phosphorus fed algae. The river ran steady in the distant past, now it surges and tears out banks and trees and deposits sand on top of mussels and rock riffles where the insects that feed the fish like to hang out. And now the turtles are disappearing. Turtles can handle dirty water but not ATV destruction of their eggs and trappers sending them off to China. There has been a big decline in the health of the Raccoon River over the past twenty-five years. I have learned through my lobbying for the Izaak Walton League and Raccoon River Watershed Association that the forces of agri-business cannot be harnessed in Iowa. Iowa politicians are caught between economic interests and preservation of our air, water, land, wildlife and quality of life. I used to feel alone in my frustration over these matters. Now I know that there are many others who are deeply concerned. The Iowa water pollution reduction plan asks farmers to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorous that leaves their land. Soil loss will decline too if they follow the plan. Cities, towns and factories will be required to cut their pollution even further. My hope is that this plan will result in real improvement in our rivers and lakes and that the Raccoon River will revive over the next twenty-five years. The RRWA will assess the quality of Des Moines’ drinking water and the health of aquatic life in the river as the Iowa “Nutrient” Reduction Strategy is implemented in the Raccoon River. Mike Delaney, president-Citizens for a Healthy Iowa