Urban waterways offer fun with risks
DES MOINES, IOWA
As someone who has spent countless hours rowing along the Des Moines River, Tonya Logan appreciates the city’s vision to create a whitewater course that would draw kayakers to the Iowa capital.
But there’s a dirty secret for Des Moines and many other U.S. cities that want to upgrade their urban waterways into scenic destinations: Much of the water is so polluted with manure that people fear it’s not safe to dip their hands in the current, let alone to swim in it.
“I won’t,” said Logan, who doesn’t touch the water that passes inches beneath her narrow rowboat, known as a scull, even on blistering hot days. “The last time I went into the water, I took a long shower and then scrubbed myself with peroxide.” Others have complained of intestinal problems, skin rashes and infections.
The unseen but potentially dangerous pollutants threaten to undermine the efforts of dozens of communities seeking to turn rivers into urban amenities that will attract tourists and businesses and become centerpieces of downtown life.
Most U.S. rivers are far cleaner than in decades past, largely because of the federal Clean Water Act, which was approved in 1972. But many waterways still carry farm runoff and city sewage that contain nitrates, ammonia and E.coli bacteria, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.