Historic Nitrate Levels in Des Moines Water Works’ Source Water
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Nitrate concentrations continue to remain exceptionally high in both the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers.
Through extensive and expensive water treatment, Des Moines Water Works’ finished drinking water is currently under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/l) and is safe for drinking. For current finished drinking water nitrate levels, visit http://www.dmww.com/water-quality/water-quality-data/.
The greatest health risk posed by high nitrate concentrations is for infants under six months of age. Nitrate can transform into nitrite in the infant’s body, reducing the ability of the baby’s blood to carry oxygen. Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the 10 mg/l MCL standard could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome. Research has also indicated a possible correlation between nitrate and certain types of cancer in adults.
In order to ensure that tap water is safe to drink, the state and federal environmental protection agencies prescribe regulations limiting the amount of nitrate levels in water provided by public water systems. If you are caring for an infant or have health concerns, you should ask for advice from your healthcare provider.
Due to the historic high nitrate concentrations found in both Rivers, Des Moines Water Works is not currently pulling water from either river. The utility is able to meet current demand by relying on other water sources with less concentrated nitrate levels, including Maffitt Reservoir, Crystal Lake and aquifer storage wells. However, if customer demand increases, Des Moines Water Works will have no choice but to start taking water from the rivers which have higher nitrate levels, and may be unable to remove nitrate in a manner that keeps up with high demand. To manage customer demand, Des Moines Water Works is asking metro area customers – residential and commercial – to manage their seasonal irrigation for the next several weeks, even as drought conditions throughout the state have improved. To view current source water nitrate concentration levels, visit http://www.dmww.com/water-quality/water-quality-data/advanced-water-quality-data/.
In 1991, Des Moines Water Works built a $3.7 million Nitrate Removal Facility, which costs approximately $7,000 per day to operate. The facility has not been activated since 2007 because of other actions and investments Des Moines Water Works has made to manage nitrate levels. Des Moines Water Works activated the Nitrate Removal Facility in early May this year to keep finished drinking water nitrate levels below the10 mg/l MCL standard.
These dangerous levels are because of upstream agricultural land uses, primarily excessive application of fertilizer to row-crops, made worse by field tiles.
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