The first Iowa Water Festival is this Sunday, June 23 from 11:30-2:30 at the Izaak Walton League and Water Works Park in Des Moines. The clean water advocacy organizers have a lineup of speakers, educators and scientists dedicated to improving Iowa’s deteriorating water quality. It is a free public event. The Izaak Walton League will be providing lunch for $15.
The urgency of addressing Iowa water quality was reinforced last week as the state was rated number one in the nation in the production of number two. The Raccoon River, one of Iowa’s most polluted rivers, runs through Water Works Park and provides drinking water to metro Des Moines. The timing and location of the festival will educate the attendees about the urgency of action to address Iowa’s water crisis.
Researchers at the University of Iowa recently released a shocking scientific analysis of the quantity of fecal waste generated by Iowa livestock. Iowa ranks first in the nation in the quantity of waste produced per square mile of land. Iowa has a human population of 3.3 million and approximately 110 million animals. However, animals produce significantly more waste than humans. A feeder pig in comparison to a human being excretes three times as much nitrogen, five times as much phosphorus and nearly four times as much solid matter.
As a result, the total Iowa human and animal population generates fecal waste equivalent to 168 million people. In order to provide perspective to the enormity of Iowa’s waste generation problem, University of Iowa researcher Chris Jones labeled each watershed (river) with the equivalent human population.
The Raccoon River watershed has some of the highest density livestock operations producing a staggering amount of fecal waste. The Raccoon watershed alone produces as much waste as the city of Tokyo which has a population of over 9 million. The Raccoon is one of the major Midwest sources of the giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. A study last year indicated Iowa’s nitrogen contribution to the dead zone had grown 50% in the last two decades.
Based on the total waste produced, Iowa would rank as the tenth largest country in the world. It’s obvious that this gargantuan volume of waste must be disposed of somewhere. Regulation requires treatment of human waste before release into our rivers, but animal waste is spread untreated over farmland. The logistics of handling and applying this astonishing amount of waste is contingent on wet conditions, frozen soils and proximity to adequate application zones. This untreated animal waste, much in liquid form, is spread over farmland and a great deal eventually washes untreated into our lakes and rivers.
Each week the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) tests Iowa public beaches for E. coli bacteria and microcystins (blue-green algae toxins) contaminants. The DNR then issues warning of contamination levels and closes beaches for swimming if the levels exceed public safety limits.
Iowa waters not only carry bacterial contamination from livestock waste. The massive contribution of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers to Iowa water quality has been well documented.
The Iowa Water Festival speakers will address the totality of Iowa’s water quality emergency. The event will provide an opportunity to discuss solutions. Organizer Christine Curry explained the rich variety of activities offered at the festival.
“The Iowa Water Festival showcases a wide array of talented individuals and organizations who share the same concern for clean water,” Curray said. “It is a free event for the entire family featuring water related artwork, music, dance, and fun educational activities. Kids and adults can make origami boats, do water testing, Japanese Fish painting, experience Indigenous drumming, and authentic teepee, a dunk tank, and much, much more.”
The link to the event is: https://www.iowawaterfestival.org
by Rick Smith