How an upstream ditch limits downstream algae

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

A ditch cuts through the fields of this Indiana landscape.

But it’s no ordinary ditch. This one reduces the nutrients leaving the farm fields that can eventually pollute waterways nearby and far away.

It is called a two-stage ditch because of the two levels of soil, called benches, on either side of the stream that flows through it. The benches act as a buffer, soaking up the fertilizers and other water contaminants draining from the field.

DeWitt board, Clinton Landfill owners reach deal barring PCBs

Read the full story in the News-Gazette.

Ending a 7-year-long dispute, the DeWitt County Board on Thursday night voted to approve a settlement agreement with the owners of Clinton Landfill that keeps PCBs and manufactured-gas-plant wastes out of the landfill.

The landfill sits over the Mahomet Aquifer, which is the water source for Champaign-Urbana and about 800,000 central Illinois residents.

MPCA celebrates citizen work to preserve Minnesota lakes

Minnesotans feel strongly about their iconic lakes and are uniquely active in protecting them. This Earth Day, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) honors the work of citizens around the state who are responding to water quality threats to their beloved lakes. Their work, in some cases, has been going on for decades, and the MPCA recognizes their critical role in defending lakes from a variety of contaminants. A few examples:

  • Lake Volney — A local association has worked for decades to improve Lake Volney in Le Sueur County, near Le Center. They’ve taken on wetland restoration, buffer strips, stream bank stabilization, raingardens, annual cleanups, and working with farmers to adopt beneficial practices. The lake has gone from algae covered in the 1990s to good water clarity in 2013.
  • Lake Shaokatan —Located near Ivanhoe in Lincoln County, Lake Shaokatan is in a watershed dominated by agriculture and has suffered from excess runoff of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. It has extensive algae blooms in the summer — including blue-green algae which is toxic to humans and pets — and has seen periodic fish kills. A partnership of state and federal agencies, local governments, and local groups began by addressing malfunctioning septic systems near the shore, runoff from animal feedlots, and wetlands restoration. Ongoing efforts continue to bring improvements in the lake’s water quality.
  • Lake Winona — A group scientists, residents, and local officials calling themselves Healthy Lake Winona has formed recently in order to look at ways to improve water quality in Lake Winona. The lake is burdened with excess phosphorus, which can cause algae growth, reduce water clarity, and kill fish. One source of the phosphorus is stormwater runoff that carries fertilizers, leaves, and grass clippings. The group hopes to promote residential rain gardens that can reduce stormwater and to educate city residents on keeping debris out of storm drains.

The Minnesota Waters web site has a list of and links to the state’s active network of lake associations and rivers organizations, which are critical to protecting water quality in the state. The sheer number of lake and river organizations demonstrates how important our water resources are to Minnesotans.

Another way state residents demonstrate their affection for water is by participating in the MPCA Citizen Monitoring program. More than 1,300 Minnesota citizens perform water clarity tests at a designated lake or stream each week throughout the summer. For some lakes and streams, volunteer-collected data is the only data available, making citizen involvement crucial to ensuring the lasting health of Minnesota’s waters.

Conflict Over Soil and Water Quality Puts ‘Iowa Nice’ to a Test

Read the full story in the New York Times.

The flat, endless acres of black dirt here in northern Iowa will soon be filled with corn and soybean seeds. But as farmers tuned up their tractors and waited for the perfect moment to plant, another topic weighed on their minds: a lawsuit filed in federal court by the state’s largest water utility.

After years of mounting frustration, the utility, Des Moines Water Works, sued the leaders of three rural Iowa counties last month. Too little has been done, the lawsuit says, to prevent nitrates from flowing out of farm fields into the Raccoon River and, eventually, into the drinking water supply for roughly 500,000 Iowans. The suit seeks to make farmers comply with federal clean-water standards for nitrates that apply to factories and commercial users, and requests unspecified damages.