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Raccoon River Included in Nation's Most Endangered Rivers List

April 14, 2021 7:30am

The environmental group American Rivers lists two waterways that either border Iowa or flow through the state on its annual list of the nation's ten most endangered rivers.

The Raccoon River is on this year's most-endangered list for the first time. Its three forks run for 226 miles across western and central Iowa. The longest of the three forks, the North Raccoon River, covers 196 miles. It rises north of Marathon, and initially flows southward into Sac County, and then into counties including Calhoun and Carroll. Sac City is among the towns it passes through.

Olivia Dorothy, director of the American Rivers Upper Mississippi River Basin, says the Raccoon is most threatened by pollution due to agricultural runoff, which she attributes to "industrial agriculture."

"In the Raccoon watershed, we have a lot of confined feeding operations, we have a lot of confined factory farms," Dorothy says. "They spread manure in excess across the watershed on farms for fertilizer. A lot of times, that fertilizer is running off and getting into our drinking water."

It's forced cities like Des Moines to install expensive nitrate removal equipment, while she says it's continuing to threaten the drinking water in rural areas, especially for people who use wells.

Dorothy says nitrogen is particularly toxic to children, infants and pregnant women.

"We are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in in Iowa and step up their enforcement actions," she says, "and really start regulating these factory farms that we know are being installed in excess throughout the state of Iowa but especially in the Raccoon watershed."

The Lower Missouri River, for the second year in a row, is also among the group's most endangered rivers list.

The full report is available here. Dorothy encourages Iowans to log on and learn more, and find links so they can contact federal agencies and officials to demand action to protect our rivers -- and people.

(thanks to Radio Iowa for contributing to this story)