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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 10, 2003

UI Water Quality Experts: Clean Water Is Everyone's Concern

October 18 is World Water Monitoring Day, a day to call attention to the value of clean water as well as the importance of water quality monitoring on the local, state and national levels.

Water quality experts at the University of Iowa say World Water Monitoring Day -- established last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 -- is a good time for Iowans to consider the importance of water quality and even participate in water quality monitoring.

"We all recognize the need for clean streams, lakes and wetlands, whether it's for recreational purposes like fishing or swimming, or even if ultimately we may be drinking water that comes from these sources," said Michael Wichman, a chemist and head of water quality programs at the University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL). "No one wants to go swimming at an Iowa beach and come down with a disease. But clean, safe water is not a given. It takes awareness, and it takes collaboration and effort."

The UHL analyzes more than 40,000 water samples each year, including drinking water from municipal supplies and private wells, recreational water at state beaches, surface water and wastewater.

Working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the UHL conducts ambient water monitoring across the state. Fish and benthic macroinvertebrate (such as aquatic insects, crayfish, leeches and snails) samples are gathered annually to assess the biological health of Iowa's rivers and streams. The sites are also monitored on a monthly basis for water quality.

Water samples are collected at additional sites around the state to establish biological criteria used to measure the health of other streams; determine how a stream is impacted by livestock grazing, manure or chemical spills; measure wastewater discharges and urban runoff; and determine the location and amount of impairment in a particular watershed.

As recently as four years ago, Wichman noted, widespread monitoring of Iowa's surface waters was not performed routinely. Recent studies have suggested that monitoring should be even more widespread and include pesticide breakdown products and pharmaceutical compounds. These compounds have been found at very low levels, but they are persistent in the environment and generally are not included in monitoring programs. Monitoring for some of these pesticide breakdown products and pharmaceutical compounds are included in the ambient monitoring program, Wichman said.

Private citizens also play a part in water quality monitoring in Iowa. The IOWATER Program is a statewide volunteer water-monitoring program available through the Iowa Geological Survey. IGS staff train and provide water-testing kits to volunteers, who conduct field tests from rivers, streams or other water sources where they live or wherever they choose. IGS posts the information -- such as turbidity (the amount of suspended solids in the water) measurements, nitrate and phosphorous levels, and habitat information -- on its web site.

"Since this program started in 1999, it's been a tremendous success," said Mary Skopec, a research geologist and director of the water quality section at IGS. "We have almost 2,000 volunteers trained to do water quality testing. People enjoy the educational component, but most get involved simply because they want to help the state by identifying potential problems or areas where follow-up monitoring might be needed."

As part of World Water Monitoring Day, Skopec said the IOWATER Program is asking its volunteers to go out across the state on Oct. 18 and monitor their sites. "This will provide a great 'snapshot' of what the state's water quality is on this particular day," she said.

For more information on the IOWATER Program, call program coordinator Brian Soenen at 515-281-6640 or Skopec at 319-335-1579, or visit its web site at

For more information on World Water Monitoring Day, visit its web site at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032,