Iowa’s Grants to Counties Program: A Valuable but Underutilized Program for Protecting the Public Health of Private Well Users
Nearly 300,000 Iowans rely on private wells for their primary drinking water supply. Because private water wells fall outside the jurisdiction of the Safe Drinking Water Act, there are no federal regulations for the quality and routine testing of private well water. Instead, the EPA states that it is the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their water.
The Grants to Counties program (641 IAC – Chapter 24) was created in 1987 as part of the Groundwater Protection Act to assist private water well owners in Iowa. Funded through the Agricultural Management Account within the State’s Groundwater Protection Fund (Iowa Code 455E.11), the Grants to Counties program provides money each year for (i) testing private water wells for total nitrate (including nitrite) and total coliform bacteria, at a minimum, with the option to test also for arsenic; (ii) reconstructing private water wells; and (iii) plugging of abandoned private water wells (including cisterns that present a contamination risk to groundwater). e Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) administers the Grants to Counties program with funding and technical assistance from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) provides additional support. Local Boards of Health implement the program in Iowa counties.
Participating counties receive an equal allocation annually from Iowa’s Groundwater Protection Fund to administer the grant activities. In 2016, program rules (641 IAC – Chapter 24) changed to allow IDPH to reallocate Grants to Counties funds between counties, with those demonstrating an under-utilization of funds receiving a mid-contract funding reduction to redistribute dollars to counties that demonstrate a higher funding need. The intent of mid-year reallocations is to allow for more effective and complete use of available funds.