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Effectiveness of an alluvial wetland on improving ground-water quality in a municipal well field, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1998-2006

September 11, 2008

Nutrients and pesticides are water-quality topics of concern in Iowa. Nitrate concentrations in the Cedar River and other streams in Iowa are among the highest in the Nation. A 12-mile reach of the Cedar River upstream from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is identified on the Total Maximum Daily Load list for nitrate impairment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, pesticide concentrations in water samples from alluvial aquifers in Iowa have been ranked as some of the largest in the Nation. The Cedar River, like many rivers with alluvium, affects the alluvial aquifer that is used as a municipal water supply for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A continuing challenge for the Cedar Rapids Water Department is to provide drinking water that meets all drinking-water regulations; this is made more of a challenge because of the high (often over 10 milligrams per liter) nitrate concentrations in the Cedar River and the presence of other potential chemicals of concern, such as pesticides.

An alluvial wetland proved useful in improving water quality. Samples from observation wells completed in the alluvial wetland near the municipal well field had nitrate concentrations that were four to six times lower when compared to river or upland sites; however, iron and manganese concentrations in samples from observation wells in the wetland areas were an order of magnitude higher when compared to the river or an upgradient well. Biological and chemical reduction processes were determined to mobilize inorganic constituents in accordance with physical chemistry principles. Generally, selected pesticides and two pesticide degradates of atrazine that were sampled for in alluvial wetland wells remained relatively unchanged, and indicated only a slight decrease in concentration compared to the Cedar River water samples. Pesticides were not detected above regulatory limits in any of the observation wells; however, one sample from the Cedar River had an atrazine detection at 4.5 micrograms per liter, which is above the maximum contaminant level of 3.0 micrograms per liter for drinking-water regulations for that compound. Results indicate that alluvial wetlands may provide substantial reductions of nitrate concentrations in ground water, and may be a useful strategy for the reduction of nitrate for municipal wells. Results for reducing pesticides were less dramatic than for nitrate, as pesticide concentrations were reduced slightly from the river to the wetland.