AP NEWS

Nitrate problem shows up in Amana Colonies water supply

January 7, 2020 GMT

MIDDLE AMANA, Iowa (AP) — A private utility providing water to 850 customers in east-central Iowa’s Amana Colonies has stopped using three wells because tests show a nitrate level above federal safety standards.

The Amana Society Service Co. instead is using water from three other wells that have tested as safe, The Gazette reported.

The company sent a letter Dec. 3 to residents and business owners and posted a warning on its website and Facebook page to avoid giving tap water to infants or nursing mothers.

Nitrate in drinking water has been linked to infant methemoglobinemia, also known as blue-baby syndrome. The life-threatening condition reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can cause cancers and thyroid problems.

A Dec. 2 test of three wells in High Amana showed nitrate at 12 milligrams per liter — 2 milligrams above the federal limit of under 10 milligrams per liter.

Operators already had not been drawing water from one well with elevated nitrate levels, but they thought they had to include that well in monthly blended water tests, said Russell Eimers, the service company’s general manager. Previous monthly tests of all three northern wells were fine, he said, but the Dec. 2 test showed a spike.

A test later in December showed nitrate levels were rising at another of the High Amana wells, so the utility started drawing water just from the three wells west of Middle Amana, Eimers said. Tests of water in the Amanas’ water tower have averaged at 4.2 milligrams per liter of nitrate — well under the federal maximum, he said.

Officials don’t know why the nitrate levels rose in late November or early December. Spring usually is the season for elevated nitrate in streams and rivers as melting snow washes fertilizer off farm fields.

Eimers thinks the spike may be linked to fall application of manure or commercial fertilizer.

The seven villages in Iowa County that comprise Amana Colonies were built and settled in the 1850s by German Pietists who had fled persecution in their homeland.