No one can argue that 2020 was a remarkable year for many reasons. One of the positive outcomes of a difficult time was an increase in park visitation and outdoor recreation. With Iowans seeking solace in nature’s beauty and finding a safe way to get together with friends and family, Iowa state park usage set new records.
As we look ahead to the 2021 summer recreation season, we don’t see any reason for the outdoor activity to slow down. Our hope this year, and every year since we started Weekly Water Watch, is that more Iowans will understand the threats to our water resources, better understand what is really happening with our water quality, and be inspired to take action and call for policy change to protect our rivers and lakes.
Beginning this weekend, Iowa state parks are fully open and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District are conducting weekly beach monitoring at a limited number of public beaches; monitoring will continue through Labor Day weekend. This year, IEC has created an interactive Google map of state park beaches to our Weekly Water Watch webpage. We’ll update the map each week to reflect the latest data and advisories. This is an easy way to check the status of a state park beach you are headed to!
Why do we care about Iowa’s beaches?
Iowa’s lakes offer us the opportunity to escape, relax, spend time with friends and family, and have fun. 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 and learn about the greater scope of Iowa's beach and water quality issues. Check out the data we’ve tracked on Iowa’s beach advisories.
What is E. coli and why is it monitored?
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 toxin that is dangerous 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. Pets can also get sick by coming into contact with an HAB, with dogs being especially at risk of ingesting microcystin, which could lead to seizures and even death. Last summer, the Iowa DNR began using the EPA recommendation to issue swim advisories when microcystin is detected at or above 8 micrograms per liter. Iowa DNR issued 12 beach advisories for microcystin last summer, but due to the severe drought that impacted much of the state, it is difficult to draw conclusions about trends in the advisory numbers.
Thank you for reading and following along with us this summer! Have a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend.
- Alicia Vasto, Water Program Associate Director