High Nitrate Levels a Long-Term Concern for Cedar Rapids Water Supply

By Adam Carros, News Director

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By Adam Carros

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – High nitrate levels in area water ways this spring and summer could be a sign that changes are needed to keep Cedar Rapids drinking water safe.

Cedar Rapids Water Department spokesperson Megan Murphy emphasized the city’s water is safe and not in any danger, but says higher-than-normal nitrate levels in the Cedar River are a “major concern”. The city monitors nitrate levels closely and adjusts which wells it uses based on those levels, Murphy said, but all water goes through a filtration process.

Nitrate levels can rise in Iowa rivers, mostly from runoff of farm fertilizer, especially during times of heavy rains and flooding as the state experienced in May and June. High nitrate levels are only dangerous to infants, causing sudden illness and possibly death.

Right now, nitrate levels on the Cedar River measure 12 mg/liter, down from a high of 18 mg/liter earlier this spring, Murphy said. The Environmental Protection Agency limit for nitrate level in drinking water is 10 mg/liter, Cedar Rapids drinking water nitrate level is 5 mg/liter.

Filtering out higher nitrate levels does not add any extra cost to the process, but Murphy said the department expects to see water rate increases for general maintenance.

Cedar Rapids is not changing any procedures or policies because of high nitrate levels this year but Murphy said it may be addressed if high nitrate levels become the norm. That could include new filtration procedures and watershed management, which would include working with farmers upstream to limit runoff of fertilizer.
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