Activation of the Des Moines Water Works' nitrate removal facility May 10 to treat tap water for consumer consumption has created quite a stir. The facility hadn't been used for six years as a result of resourceful management of water at the treatment plant and also thanks to cooperative weather. But with record precipitation in April 2013, the Des Moines Water Works needed to act by turning on its nitrate removal system.
The Des Moines Water Works draws its source water from both the Des Moines River and the Raccoon River. And both sources have recently gone over the federal EPA's limit on nitrate content for drinking water so the waterworks has its nitrate removal system running as a result. Meanwhile, letters to the editor in the Des Moines newspaper and statements like "water customers have to pay while farmers pollute" have caused Iowa farm groups to say "wait a minute."
Iowa has had unusually dry conditions going back to 2011, an unprecedented drought in 2012 and record rainfall and snow this April, points out Rick Robinson, environmental policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau. In fact, April 2013 had the most precipitation than any April in Iowa in more than 140 years of recordkeeping. He points out that the simple truth is there's not one regulation that would have prevented the current spike in nitrates from the Raccoon River and Des Moines River watersheds, short of outlawing crop production in Iowa.
Farm groups are concerned about calls for increased regulation of farmers as a way to try to control nutrient runoff from farm fields
Because increasing regulations on farmers won't prevent such weather-induced nitrate spikes that's exactly why the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have drafted the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The strategy is a science and technology based approach to assess and reduce the amount of nutrients going into Iowa waters and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, notes Robinson. It will use best management practices for farmers to target efforts to reduce the amount of nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost-effective manner. Weather patterns of extreme drought and extreme rainfall are taking their toll in Iowa and all watersheds see the impact.