Wednesday, September 4, 2019

I have been trying to get out with my fishing boat lately and last Friday evening I launched it from the Sturgis Ferry access in south Iowa City. Even though the water was treacherously shallow, I motored up to the railroad bridge near the Iowa City Dairy Queen and caught a few channel cats.

Iowa City train bridge

Later on in the weekend I made the decision to go further south a ways, thinking there might be more water. Eighteen miles south of Iowa City on Gilbert Street, which morphs into Sand Road at some point, puts you at the River Junction Park Access. The park is so named because the English River marries the Iowa nearby, in the boot heel that makes Johnson County non-rectangular. That’s where I went first thing Labor Day morning.

River Junction Park is literally and figuratively "at the end of the road" (Sand Road), and driving in I found the park to be quiet and the campground cozy. It’s the proverbial “middle of nowhere”, at least for Iowa.

Unfortunately, one look at the boat launch made me yearn for the scenic beauty of the Iowa City DQ and the amateur art of the nearby railroad bridge.

muddy boat launch

Now I just have to say this is sloppy, angry, stream of consciousness writing here, but I just looked at this launch and said to myself, what the hell. I don’t know for a certainty where the mud comes from, but because of the upstream sediment trap that is Coralville Reservoir, most of it must come in from either Clear Creek or Old Man’s Creek. Here’s a bone for everybody that thinks weather causes bad water quality: there was scattered rain between 0 and 0.5” in this area Saturday evening, otherwise known as a gully-washer (in Phoenix).

river junction park map

I just cannot comprehend why we tolerate water features such as this in what would otherwise be a splendid little park.

I went ahead and launched my boat and headed upstream where I saw a couple of miles of shoreline and rip rap so ugly that it made a row of ’49 rusted Buick car bodies look positively scenic (yes, we used to use car bodies for rip rap). The water was brown and foamy and smelly and again I thought, what the hell.

Like all states, Iowa has surface water classifications based on their designated uses. The Lower Iowa River is a “Class A1” water meaning it is designated for primary contact recreational use, i.e., “waters in which recreational or other uses may result in prolonged and direct contact with the water, involving considerable risk of ingesting water in quantities sufficient to pose a health hazard. Such activities would include, but not be limited to, swimming, diving, water skiing, and water contact recreational canoeing.”

Ok, so I don’t have any water quality measurements to give to you from Monday, but I think mine is an informed opinion and my opinion is that no human being should’ve been in contact with that water (there were kayakers).

iowa river rip rap

In 2007, the American Rivers conservation group named the Iowa River one of the 10 most endangered American Rivers because of livestock pollution and communities without proper sewage treatment.  Kevin Baskins of Iowa DNR said at the time that “there’s definitely some need for improvement there.”

According to Iowa DNR water quality resource coordinator Adam Schnieders, Iowa as a state is moving forward with stricter wastewater treatment plant rules. In 2018 alone:

  • 154 wastewater treatment plants have been required to assess nutrient removal capacity
  • 125 have been issued new, stricter permits (what a concept)
  • 82 have submitted feasibility studies
  • 24 have met targets of removing 66 percent of nitrate in waste
  • 11 have met targets of removing 75 percent of phosphorus in waste
  • 27 have committed to upgrades

Also I should say that since the 2007 “Most Endangered” designation, the number of hogs in the Iowa River watershed has increased from 2.2 million to 2.7 million (2018), with the increase alone generating the untreated waste equivalent of 2 million human beings, which is only the combined population of Iowa’s 109 largest cities (everything bigger than Waukon).

But wait a minute, by that last measure, the Iowa River should be as pristine as a mountain stream, at least if you believe the farm media and the editorial section of the Eldora Herald Ledger (8/13/10; Eldora is in the headwaters of the Iowa River).

manure can protect water quality

I have to tell you folks, if you think there is hope for a stream like the Iowa River, then you're more of a dreamer than I am.

People try to gaslight our lakes into Tahoe and our streams into the Blue Danube, but I encourage you to see for yourself.