CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Dec. 4, 2001
UI researchers receive grant to study water quality in agroecosystems
CITY, Iowa - A team of University of Iowa researchers has won a three-year,
$394,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study water quality
in the Iowa River and the Des Moines River watersheds. They also plan to research
federal laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, so that the law is better
able to take into account differences within and between watersheds.
Raj Rajagopal, professor of geography in the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences and the principal investigator on the project, says that it is expensive
and ineffective for all communities to test for the same set of contaminants,
regardless of seasonal, geographic and other differences.
"People ask me, 'Is my water safe?' I tell them, 'It depends,'"
he says. "It depends upon the land use around the source of your water,
the topography, the time of year and other factors. The quality of water in
the Des Moines River is not the same as it is in the Iowa River and both change
over the course of the year. I don't think we want a 'one-size-fits-all' policy
for water quality testing."
Although periodic tests under the Safe Drinking Water Act check for about
83 different constituents in water, he says that monthly or weekly tests for
perhaps five or 10 suspected constituents, depending upon the history of the
geographic area, would be more cost-effective and more complete.
"For example, you don't go to your doctor just once in your lifetime
and ask her or him to run 10,000 tests. Instead, you go for yearly check-ups
where your doctor conducts only those tests appropriate to your age, health
history, family health history and other factors," he says. "Water
quality testing can be similarly designed to meet the needs of specific communities
and administered more often."
Perhaps the biggest challenge to bringing about change in water quality
testing is convincing various groups of professionals that change is both
possible and desirable. To that end, his team plans to research and develop
the fields of science, technology, policy, integration and education in the
context of water quality protection in Iowa watersheds. In particular, they
will use geographic information systems (GIS) to locate water quality sites
in Iowa, compile the data in an electronic map, and make the information available
to the public and elected representatives for policy-making actions.
"We're going to bring scientists, technologists and policy-makers together,"
says Rajagopal, whose colleagues in the study are David Bennett, assistant
professor of geography; Ed Brands, doctoral student in geography; and David
Osterberg, associate professor of occupational and environmental health and
geography. The study includes the formation of a three-year steering committee
consisting of members of the Iowa House of Representative, the EPA, the U.S.
Geological Survey, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other offices,
university scientists, and consumers.
"Federal law -- the Safe Drinking Water Act, in particular -- currently
requires that Iowa test for some chemicals that have never even been used
in the state," Rajagopal says. "We're hoping to develop a water
quality testing strategy that treats everyone appropriately, that is equitable
and economical, but looks for different risks in different areas. As a result,
our representatives may need to rewrite the laws or design flexible approaches
to function within existing laws."