McGregor taking part in Iowa Source Water Protection Program

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

McGregor is one of just eight communities selected this year to participate in the Iowa Source Water Protection Program. Coordinated by the Iowa DNR, with local assistance from Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), the program helps communities identify potential contaminants to the source water of the town’s drinking water supply and create a plan to deal with those risks before a major incident impacts the quality or quantity of the water supply.

Rebecca Ohrtman, a DNR Storm Water Protection Program Coordinator, and Nathan Thompson, a project coordinator with Northeast Iowa RC&D, spoke about the program with the McGregor Council at its regular meeting April 19, seeking community involvement with planning efforts.

When Ohrtman first became involved with the Source Water Protection Program 11 years ago, she said few communities in the state had implementable plans to protect source water, which is defined as a lake, stream, river or aquifer where drinking water is obtained. In order to rectify the problem, the state prioritized communities as either susceptible (527 communities) or highly susceptible (262) to source water contamination. Through 15 pilot projects, the DNR was able to gather resources, knowledge and partnerships—essentially building a framework—to complete future plans through the program.

“Now that we have that framework, we’re going out to at-risk communities to help them assess [potential contaminants] and build a plan,” she explained. “We want to help communities help themselves. We want to work on preventing problems to the drinking water supply—problems that will cost money down the road.”

Northeast Iowa, said Ohrtman, is one of the state’s more susceptible areas, and McGregor one of the high-priority communities. 

“A lot of communities are eligible,” noted Thompson, but some are prioritized due to their history or geology, which can present several risk factors. McGregor’s geology, for example, has fractured rock. “Anything on top can go into the drinking water supply,” he added.

Participation in the Source Water Protection Program will come at no cost to the city. The DNR has already contracted with Northeast Iowa RC&D to get the process underway.

“It’s something you would probably pay a consultant a lot of money for,” Ohrtman said.

To get the process underway, Thompson said he will begin meeting with a local storm water protection team, made up of city officials, McGregor Municipal Utilities representatives and other community members, next month.

The group will then identify source water areas, inventory contaminant sources and assess and rank those contaminants.

For McGregor, the team will investigate potential risks like underground storage tanks and private wells within the city, assessing whether they are still active and, if not, if they’ve been plugged properly. The team will also consider how the river, stormwater and runoff could affect the community water supply.

“We will estimate the capture zones around the city’s wells, the area where contaminants would flow into the well,” Thompson added. “We will see if there are any other possible contaminants in those capture areas.”

Thompson said he’s looking forward to this project because McGregor is different from other communities in that it does not have nitrate problems since it’s not surrounded by farmland.

Once the community’s priorities have been determined, they can be incorporated into a plan, said Thompson. 

“We intend to create an action plan—solutions that can actually be implemented to get the community thinking about its water supply,” he shared. 

The plan, he explained, might include developing urban runoff best management practices, such as permeable paving, bioswales and landscaping. Land use recommendations, an action plan for finding and capping wells within the capture zone and educating the public could also be included.

“We will submit that to the council for approval, then to the DNR,” Thompson said. “Then, hopefully, it can be implemented.”

Down the road, Ohrtman said, having a plan will hopefully help the city obtain possible funding for source water protection projects.

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