Water quality on the Iowa Great Lakes is extremely important to all of us. We know that water is not unlimited, and whether in our homes, in our businesses, on our farms or as we recreate on these waters, it is the responsibility of all of us to be stewards of this valuable resource.
For those of us in the communities around the Iowa Great Lakes, including some of the unincorporated areas, we are part of the Iowa Great Lakes Sanitary District (IGLSD). The District's collection system includes a service area of approximately 12,000 acres.
Municipal wastewater includes wastewater from homes as well as businesses and industries within the service area, as well as from storm water runoff. The wastewater passes through several treatment processes at the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) to remove pollutants before discharge into Mill Creek. All of this follows the rules and regulations of the Clean Water Act and, in Iowa, the Iowa DNR supervises and grants the permits for the release of this discharge.
In a recent visit with Steve Anderson, Superintendent of the IGLSD, we learned the IGLSD is currently applying for its new permit.
"We have always met the levels as dictated by the Clean Water Act," he said. "As sanctions have become more stringent, we have worked to meet those demands. One of the newest areas of focus is the level of phosphorus."
Too much phosphorus in the wastewater is suspected to cause algae blooms, stress on aquatic life and vegetation and unsafe limits for humans recreating in that body of water. According to Anderson, "We don't currently have a limit for phosphorus, but our average level is 2.89 milligrams per liter of water. As the Clean Water Act has increased its restrictions, we know that we will need to do more to decrease our levels of phosphorus released into Mill Creek."
At this point, the DNR is requiring the IGLSD decrease its phosphorus discharge level to 1 milligram per liter of water.
"I think this is something we can do by tweaking a few things here at the plant," Anderson said. "We can add an iron chloride treatment that will pull phosphorus levels down. These changes will cost about a million dollars, but it's something that we can handle."
However, Anderson has also been told that the permit could include eventually dropping the phosphorus level to .5 milligrams per liter of water.
"If we have to do this, we will have to install a filtration system that will cost around $7 million," he said. "The Trustees will either have to change priorities to further improve Mill Creek or raise the tax levy to continue our work for protecting the Iowa Great Lakes and the additional requirements for Mill Creek."
WHAT WE CAN DO
That's a lot of money, but there is something we can do -- all of us -- to help lower the level of phosphorus. It all comes down to what we use and what we flush down the drain and into our wastewater systems.
Anderson says, "Everything we use and flush into the sanitation system affects the way we handle our discharge."
One of the best things we can do is do away with using as much phosphorus as we can. For example, our dish soap, our detergent, our hand soap and shampoos -- if we go phosphate free, we will make a huge difference. That's thousands of homes and businesses doing their part.
At the same time, business and industry can look at using chemicals and cleaners that are phosphate-free. All of these steps can go a long way toward helping keep our IGLSD from having to pass a $7 million filter system on to all of us!
Let's do our part, and see just how much of a difference we can make without having to pay for a $7 million filtration system!