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An area of Fourmile Creek in northern Polk County is part of an ongoing water monitoring program. Photo courtesy of Polk County Water Quality Monitoring Program

Elevated levels of chloride have been consistently documented in at least 11 metro area stream test sites, according to a new report from the Polk County Conservation Board.

Why it matters: Excessive amounts of the naturally occurring element can be toxic to some aquatic life and could make stream water, which feeds into DSM drinking water sources, taste salty.

  • A planned $117 million water trails project that runs through downtown Des Moines is adding to the urgency and interest in addressing the issue.
  • While chloride is not usually harmful to human health, it could negatively impact overarching conservation and recreational goals by diminishing the natural habitat that attracts trail users.

Details: The problem sites are primarily on the city's south side and in West Des Moines, Polk County Conservation Board's monitoring program shows.

  • Most of the streams drain into the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers — where we get our drinking water. But the rivers are well diluted and have far lower levels of chloride.

By the numbers: Areas with a five-year average of greater than 100 milligrams per liter are considered to have elevated levels in the Polk County review.

  • Public drinking water standards allow for up to 2 ½ times that amount, which no site average exceeded.
  • Yes, but: The EPA recommends sodium levels not exceed 30-60mg per liter to avoid any hint of salty water.

What's happening: Conservationists don’t yet know what’s behind the spikes, Polk County Conservation director Rich Leopold told Axios. Their working theories:

  • It’s not likely from de-icing chemicals or salt runoff. The spikes are relatively consistent, even in warmer months when roads go untreated.
  • Sewer overflow or breaks in pipes carrying wastewater could be to blame. Some of Des Moines’ underground infrastructure is more than 100 years old.

What's next: Leopold tells us that scientists and conservationists will spend the next few months analyzing the data to see whether it can help pinpoint the reason for the spikes.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Men account for just 31% of Iowa's vaccinations so far

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The majority of Iowans who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are women, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Why it matters: Overlooking any group or segment of our community in vaccine distribution could exacerbate death rates among those groups and thwart pandemic recovery for all of us.

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."