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Iowa Near Top in States with Toxic Algae Problems

PHOTO: An increase in fertilizer runoff from agriculture, combined with more severe weather, are the factors leading to more toxic algae blooms on waterways, in Iowa and across the nation. Photo credit: Ben Townsend
PHOTO: An increase in fertilizer runoff from agriculture, combined with more severe weather, are the factors leading to more toxic algae blooms on waterways, in Iowa and across the nation. Photo credit: Ben Townsend
October 2, 2013

DES MOINES, Iowa - A growing scourge of harmful algae blooms plagues waterways across the nation, and Iowa is among the states most affected.

A new analysis from the National Wildlife Federation found that Iowa is among 21 states that issued health warnings about toxic algae this summer. Andy Buchsbaum, director of the federation's Great Lakes office, said the warnings covered about 150 locations on lakes, rivers and reservoirs nationwide.

"Normal algae is bad enough. It gums up your boat motor; it's yucky to swim in and it's unpleasant," he said. "But this toxic algae actually threatens people's health, and threatens the health of animals and pets that go in the water. So, it's really something to be alarmed about that we're experiencing this many across the country."

Buchsbaum said 10 algae warnings were issued in Iowa last summer, which ties the state for the fourth most warnings in the nation.

The increase in the toxic algae is twofold, Buchsbaum said: It starts with more fertilizer runoff, especially from farms - and then the nutrients in the fertilizer feed the algae.

"There is more and more forms of phosphorus and nitrogen that are running off from a variety of sources - but particularly from agriculture, from farmers' fields," he said. "And we also know that there are more severe storms that are occurring. That means there's larger pulses - of rainwater, particularly - that push these nutrients into these water bodies."

Since this is a national problem, Buchsbaum said, it requires a national solution. The federation is calling for standards for the amounts of nutrients in water bodies, along with resources in the Farm Bill to give farmers added incentives for being good stewards of the land and water.

The report and maps of algae blooms are online at toxicalgaenews.com.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA