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The new Iowa Drought Plan serves its purpose in a challenging year

Iowa closed the 2023 'water year' on September 30, with DNR water staff noting that the state's precipitation deficit was more than 15 inches between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023. That made the 2023 Water Year the third year in a row with below normal precipitation.

Streams and rivers across the state are running low to nearly dry. Eastern Iowa and especially Linn County have been hard hit. According to an October 6 report by KGAN News, Cedar Rapids has had only 15.5 inches of rain all year, which is about half of what it would normally see by early October. Drought impacts across the entire state exploded in late summer as intense heat waves gripped all of Iowa. U.S. Drought Monitor maps show the severity and extent of drought in Iowa has increased in over the past year.

Source: Iowa Water Summary 2023, Iowa DNR

The impacts of drought are felt not only in Iowa, but throughout the Mississippi River Basin. Historic lows on the Mississippi River have slowed shipping and increased costs of grain export. Saltwater is threatening drinking water supplies in New Orleans, as low river levels allow the saltwater to move up the Mississippi River channel from the Gulf of Mexico.

This year, officials across Iowa have been able to access a new resource as they navigate drought impacts: the new Iowa Drought Plan. The plan was released in January of 2023 to be a "tool to be used by local, county, and state agencies and governments before, during, and after droughts in Iowa. The process for development of this plan was started during meetings held during the summer of 2021 to address growing concerns over drought conditions in Iowa."

The drought plan outlines Iowa's six drought regions, triggers and actions, the different vulnerabilities of the six regions and their needs, mitigation and response options, and implementation. The plan also delineates priority sectors, such as drinking water vs. irrigation, and what agencies are responsible for decision making.  

As Iowa continues to face water resource challenges due to ongoing drought conditions, such forward-thinking plans and policy solutions will be even more vital as the impacts of climate change increase. 


Eastern Iowa Airport conducting further PFAS testing in private wells

Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are ‘forever chemicals’ posing associated health risks including cancer, thyroid disease, and developmental delays in children.  

According to a recent Gazette article, water samples taken in March at Plum Creek south of the Eastern Iowa Airport near Cedar Rapids found PFAS at roughly 2,000 times the national standard for drinking water.

The DNR ordered the airport to conduct further testing, revealing a cluster of contaminated sites near the airport.

Bordering Plum Creek, the town of Swisher found elevated PFAs levels in private wells. Amidst these concerns, Swisher proposed a $19.2 million public water project, but it was voted down over concerns of excess spending.  

Photo courtesy of the Gazette.

Central Iowa Water Works continues planning; some cities opt out 

As the Central Iowa Water Works (CIWW) progresses its regionalization resolutions, some communities are rejecting the efforts, citing unnecessary costs.

After purchasing water from DMWW for nearly twenty years, Bondurant announced plans for an $18 million independent water system. Altoona has also announced plans to invest in its existing water utility.  

Under the regionalization agreements, Des Moines Water Works, West Des Moines Water Works, Grimes, and Polk City would transfer their existing water system facilities to CIWW ownership. Repairs, updates, and improvements to the water system would then be the responsibility of CIWW. 

Get more information here on the progress of the regionalization plan, including dates for community sessions being held for public comment and questions through December. 

Climate change and HABs: How Mississippi River States are responding

Last month, we wrapped up another summer of beach monitoring and tracking swim advisories at Iowa lakes. 2023 broke a few several records since we started tracking beach advisories, including length of time for a harmful algae bloom (HAB) on a single lake. The 10-week HAB at Brushy Creek Beach supports a growing body of science that says HABs are getting worse because of climate change.   

On September 28, IEC Water Program Director Alicia Vasto presented alongside experts to the Mississippi River Network about how climate change is impacting HABs. She shared information on data we have collected through the Iowa Water Watch program, how Iowa is addressing HABs, and policy solutions to address the root cause of the blooms.  

Watch the webinar here to learn how climate change is impacting HABs and other issues affecting the Mississippi River due to climate change.


Join IEC on November 5 for the annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival, this year at the historic Varsity Cinema in Des Moines!

Enjoy a Sunday afternoon at the theater, watching inspiring and visually compelling films covering critical environmental topics, including clean water, habitat and native species loss, clean energy, and more. Emcee Kellie Kramer of PBS' Iowa Outdoors returns to lead the event, which will feature a panel of Iowans discussing local connections. Tickets range from $9 - $13 dollars. Get details, including the list of films, and get your tickets today!


What's new in Iowa's water news:

Upcoming water events:

Starting a Salt Watch Advocacy Campaign in Your Community - Webinar 10/11
• Easter Lake Habitat Restoration - Des Moines 10/14
Little Wall Lake Halloween Event - Hamilton Co. 10/14
2nd Annual Crawford Creek Campoween - Battle Creek 10/14
Wapsi Through the Seasons: Fall Kayak and Walter House Tour - Rowley 10/15
Pint Night for Wings2Water - Cedar Rapids 10/19
Fall Color Ecocruise - Camanche 10/19 
• Duck Creek Spooky Cleanup - Davenport 10/28
Pumpkin Plunge & Paddle - Hazelton 10/28
Bald Eagle Cruise - Camanche 10/28
• Lake Keomah Restoration Meeting - Oskaloosa 11/1
IStorm 2023 Conference & Exhibition - Coralville 11/1 - 11/2
Fluid Impressions: A Water Quality Exhibition - Iowa City 11/3
IEC's 2023 Wild & Scenic Film Festival - Des Moines 11/5
IGWA 2023 Fall Conference - Johnston 11/8


Iowa Environmental Council
505 Fifth Ave., Suite 850 
 Des Moines, Iowa 50309-2317
515-244-1194 | iecmail@iaenvironment.org

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