Iowa’s long-running drought raises water quality concerns

JOHNSTON — A University of Iowa engineering professor says extreme drought poses concerns about water quality as well as the water supply.

David Cwiertny is a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Lots of communities are looking at how they can augment their existing supply or have alternative supplies,” he says, “which is why we really need to take good care of the resources that we have or have impaired supplies that can’t work.”

Cwiertny is director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination. The center was established in 1987 by the Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. “When we have a drought…we still have the same types/amounts of chemicals that we’re putting into that water, but less water there leads to higher concentrations and sometimes greater need for treatment,” Cwiertny says, “which also stresses how water systems need to provide for their communities.”

Cwiertny says beyond regional water systems that serve communities and rural residents, 300,000 Iowans rely solely on a private well for their water.

“Many of those are shallow inside, say, the alluvial plains near rivers and creeks. As those start to dry up, then you have homeowners on their own because those fall outside of most state and federal oversight –needing secure water supplies,” Cwiertny says. “We hear anecdotal tales of residents in northwest Iowa who’ve had their wells run dry and we’re just beginning to think about what that means for the quality and the reliability of well water for private well consumers.”

Cwiertney made his comments during a recent appearance on Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.