Iowa Water Crisis Worsening, Major Beach Closed Due To Blue-Green Algae

The beach and new outdoor waterpark at the $60 million Honey Creek Resort are closed this week, as well as two other beaches on Rathbun Lake.

The closures came after dangerous blue-green algae blooms were detected at several spots around the lake. Swimming warnings are in place at all three beaches and the public was warned to keep pets out of the water. The waterpark is off limits to humans and pets until the dangerous bacteria levels are reduced. The indoor hotel waterpark remains safe to use. 

The Environmental Protection Agency warns that microcystin cyanobacteria generated by blue-green algae can be toxic. The dangerous toxins produced by algae blooms can sicken and kill humans and animals. The EPA sets a maximum microcystin limit of 8 micrograms per liter of water. The Rathburn beach samples measure 20 micrograms per liter, more than double the EPA maximums.

The Des Moines Register reported that an Iowa child suffered microcystin poisoning after swimming at Green Valley State Park Lake on June 10. The microcystin level at Green Valley Lake was measuring 8.8 micrograms. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources [IDNR] refuses to follow the EPA’s recommendation and close these lakes until the microcystin levels exceed 20 micrograms. 

Honey Creek Resort, near Centerville, is Iowa’s premier recreational park funded and owned by IDNR. It was developed in part as an economic stimulus for southeast Iowa communities. 

The resort includes a 100-room hotel surrounded by 28 family cabins and an 18-hole golf course. The resort has struggled to make money since it opened in 2008. In June 2018, a one-of-a-kind outdoor waterpark was added to entice additional visitors.

Visitors and guests only can look at the giant waterpark this week because the lake water is too dangerous for swimming. These dangerous water conditions can’t be good for business or for the economy of the surrounding communities. 

In an ironic twist, Honey Creek Resort is the only LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]-certified hotel in Iowa. It features electric car charging stations; geothermal heating and cooling; solar roof panels to provide hot water; and a wind turbine for electricity. It was built and maintained to minimize its carbon footprint. 

The IDNR should be lauded for building an environmentally conscious resort, but the state agency has failed miserably in doing anything to improve Iowa’s water quality crisis. 

The IDNR and Gov. Kim Reynolds claim Iowa is making progress in improving water quality. Though they claim the Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working to limit excess nitrogen and phosphorous in Iowa’s lakes and rivers, algae blooms, like those found at the resort, are fueled by excess nutrients in the water.

This week, three state park beaches — Honey Creek Resort, Green Valley and Lake of Three Fires — closed because of dangerous blue-green algae outbreaks. Two additional beaches, Lake Keomah and Lake Darling exceed the EPA’s 8 micrograms per liter, but have not been closed by IDNR.

Another four Iowa beaches at Backbone, Emerson Bay, Lake Wapello and McIntosh Woods closed due to alarming levels of E. coli (fecal bacteria). McIntosh beach on Clear Lake has been closed for nearly two months with high E. coli levels. 

We know blue-green algae blooms are increasing with the growing number of polluting nutrients in Iowa waters, caused in large part by fecal matter runoff from large animal operations. The Iowa Policy Project’s 2018 report warns that state beach advisories for mycrocystin (blue-green algae toxins) spiked 60 percent from 2006 to 2016.

Gov. Reynolds and the IDNR need to admit their nutrient reduction strategy is failing and putting Iowans’ health at risk. The growing beach closures also are an economic loss for those cities and parks that depend on lake recreation revenue. Honey Creek Resort is suffering this week as Iowa families arrive and are disappointed to find the beach and water park closed.


By Rick Smith
Posted 8/15/19

1 Comment on "Iowa Water Crisis Worsening, Major Beach Closed Due To Blue-Green Algae"

  • There are definitely valid points made above. But when fingers are being pointed in regard to Iowa water pollution, what about IDALS, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship?

    The Secretary of IDALS is elected in a general election and therefore has more independent political power than the Director of the IDNR. And it has been well-established by research, and acknowledged in Iowa’s official Nutrient Reduction Strategy, that the majority of Iowa’s nutrient pollution comes from agriculture.

    Also, there are some good people working within the IDNR who would be doing a lot more for water quality if they could. They don’t control Iowa state laws, state administrative rules, agency policies, or the agency budget.

    I’m old enough to remember when the IDNR director was selected by citizen commissions. That system was political, but not as directly political as the IDNR director being appointed by the Governor, which is what happens now.

    It’s absolutely fair and appropriate to criticize Iowa’s sorry inadequate water policies. Those policies are having predictable results.

    But there’s a lot of credit (discredit?) to go around when it comes to who is responsible for those policies. The Iowa Legislature plays a big role. And most responsible of all, let’s face it, are the Iowans who vote and also the Iowans who could vote but don’t. We all make policy indirectly when we vote for the people who make it directly.

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