Iowa ground-water quality

Open-File Report 87-725

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The population served by ground-water supplies in Iowa (fig. L4) is estimated to be about 2,392,000, or 82 percent of the total population (U.S. Geological Survey, 1985, p. 211). The population of Iowa is distributed fairly uniformly throughout the State (fig. IB), with 59 percent residing in rural areas or towns of less than 10,000 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1982). Surficial aquifers, the Jordan aquifer, and aquifers that form the uppermost bedrock aquifer in a particular area are most commonly used for drinking-water supplies and usually provide ample amounts of good quality water. However, naturally occurring properties or substances such as hardness, dissolved solids, and radioactivity limit the use of water for drinking purposes in some areas of each of the five principal aquifers (fig. 2/4). Median concentrations of nitrate in all aquifers and radium-226 in all aquifers except the Jordan are within the primary drinking-water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1986a). Median concentrations for dissolved solids in the surficial, Dakota, and Jordan aquifers exceed secondary drinking-water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1986b).

Ground water in Iowa, however, has been affected by human induced contamination. Water from some wells in surficial and the uppermost bedrock aquifers contains nitrate concentrations exceeding the primary drinking-water standard of 10 mg/L (milligrams per liter) as nitrogen. Surficial aquifers also contain detectable concentrations of pesticides and other organic substances. Standards have not been established for many of the organic substances detected, and water supplies containing these substances may continue to be used. The long-term health consequences of exposure to these substances are not known; however, the estimated number of people in Iowa exposed to pesticide contaminants is believed to exceed 750,000 or 25 percent of the population (Kelley and others, 1986.)

Land-use and waste-disposal practices are believed to be responsible for most human-induced contamination in Iowa. About 33 million acres, or nearly 93 percent of the land area of Iowa, is fanned (Skow and Halley, 1986). About 56 million pounds of herbicides was used for agriculture during 1979 (Becker and Stockdale, 1980) and about 2.7 million tons of fertilizer products was used during 1985 (Skow and Halley, 1986). Additionally, 30 hazardous-waste sites are under authority of the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976; six other sites have been listed in the National Priorities List (NPL) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1986c). As of September 1985, two Federal sites at one facility under the U.S. Department of Defense Installation Restoration Program (IRP) were designated for remedial response in accordance with CERCLA. In addition to the above sites, Iowa has 90 active municipal landfills (fig. 3C).

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and several counties in Iowa, currently (1986) is monitoring about 1,500 public and private wells for inorganic and organic constituents. The principal objective of this program, begun in 1982, is to collect water-quality data that will describe the long-term chemical quality of the surficial and major bedrock aquifer systems in Iowa (Detroy, 1985).

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Iowa ground-water quality
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Iowa Water Science Center
iv, 9 p.: ill.; 28 cm.
United States
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