Welcome back to the Iowa Environmental Council’s Weekly Water Watch newsletter! These Friday emails provide updates on E. coli and microcystin beach advisories for our state's public beaches, important water quality news, and water-related events around Iowa.  

There are 3 beach advisories for the week of 5/22

3 Beaches with an E. Coli-Related Advisory:
Beed's Lake Beach (Hampton, Franklin County, IA)

Denison Beach (Black Hawk Lake, Lake View, Sac County, IA)
Lake Darling Beach (Brighton, Washington County, IA)

Welcome Back to Beach Season

We've had plenty of opportunities to enjoy the beautiful trails, parks, and other natural spaces in Iowa this spring. This weekend marks the start of beach season! While the weather may not be overly cooperative for a beach visit, Iowa state parks are open and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is conducting weekly beach monitoring as usual this year. This week, there are three beach advisories at state park beaches.  

Today also marks the opening of modern restrooms, as well as cabins and shower facilities at state parks. You're still encouraged to learn more about the Iowa DNR's COVID-19 response and see individual park alerts before visiting at www.iowadnr.gov/Places-to-Go/State-Parks/Alerts-and-Closures.

New for 2020

The Iowa DNR announced this week they will now adhere to the EPA recommendation that states issue a swim advisory when microcystin is detected at or above 8 micrograms per liter in recreational areas. This is a win for water quality and public safety for Iowans and something IEC has called on the DNR to do for some time. The 8 µg/L threshold is much more protective than the 20 µg/L swim advisory threshold the DNR used in previous years. We will explore more details of the microcystin advisory threshold in a future edition of Weekly Water Watch. 

New to Weekly Water Watch this year will be advisory updates on Coralville, Saylorville, and Red Rock lakes with data provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District. The Rock Island District conducts weekly water monitoring for E. coli and microcystin according to the same procedures used by the Iowa DNR. IEC is pleased to collaborate with the Rock Island District to add these popular lakes to the beach advisory notifications. 

Why do we care about Iowa’s beaches? 

Iowa’s lakes aren't just a fun place to play; they're critical economic drivers for many Iowa communities and in some cases, a source of drinking water for thousands of Iowans. IEC provides beach advisory information as part of Weekly Water Watch in an easy-to-understand format that makes it possible for the average beach-goer to plan their trip, not to mention learn about the greater scope of Iowa's beach and water quality issues.  

Iowa beaches experienced 60 E. coli advisories and 21 microcystin advisories during the 15 weeks of monitoring in the summer of 2019. We invite you to view our compilation of over a decade of beach advisory data in Iowa. Our tracking reveals trends for Iowa’s beaches and insights into how we can approach water quality improvement for the benefit of all Iowans.  

What is E. coli and why does it matter?  

E. coli are bacteria that indicate when fecal matter is present in the water. Some strains of E. coli can cause adverse human health impacts, but the presence of this bacteria typically indicates there may be other harmful pathogens present. Contact with these pathogens can cause diarrhea and skin, ear, and respiratory infections. Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk. Fecal matter at beaches could come from a number of sources, including improperly operated septic systems or sewage treatment plants, manure spills, stormwater runoff, or direct contamination from waterfowl, livestock, pets, or humans.  

What are microcystin and harmful algae blooms (HABs)?  

Harmful algae blooms (HABs) occur when blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) proliferate in calm, warm, nutrient-rich waters. The cyanobacteria can release microcystin, a dangerous toxin to humans and animals. Coming into contact with microcystin by touching or swimming in the water, or swallowing or breathing in droplets, can cause serious illness including hives, rash, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, fever, asthma-like symptoms, chest pain, and even liver damage. Pets can also get sick by coming into contact with a HAB. Dogs are especially at risk of ingesting microcystin. Learn more about the effects of nutrient pollution in recreational waters.   

Stay safe this Memorial Day weekend!  

- Alicia Vasto, Water Policy and Advocacy Specialist  


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

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