Iowa's Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?

Iowa Events Center - Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center (Vets Auditorium), Des Moines, IA
Friday, June 17th, 2016 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Image of tap water pouring into glass and Iowa's Drinking Water symposium logo

The Public Policy Center's June symposium, "Iowa's Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?" explored the current state of Iowa’s drinking water and the future challenges confronting water providers in the state to reliably deliver safe drinking water to Iowans.  Co-organized by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center and the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC), this all day event included panels of water experts from academia, industry and the public sector, including the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

In light of recent, high profile incidents of public health crises arising from drinking water contamination around the United States, a special focus was placed on whether drinking water supplies in Iowa are susceptible to similar vulnerabilities experienced elsewhere. This included a presentation by Joyce Zhu, a member of the Flint Water Study, who shared first-hand experiences and lessons learned from the public health crisis in Flint, Michigan. Beyond Flint, panel topics addressed other potential threats to the sustainability of Iowa’s drinking water supplies.

The Symposium was accredited for 0.6 CEUs for the renewal of Iowa water treatment and distribution operator licenses.

*Partial support for this symposium has been provided by the Iowa NSF EPSCoR project; this project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number EPS-1101284. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed during this event are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Please note: This is not an exhaustive list of media coverage of water quality. It is a sampling of articles related to the issue. 

In U.S. drinking water, many chemicals are regulated -- but many aren'tThe Washington Post, 6/10/16

Iowa fails to fix water problems -- for 80 years, The Des Moines Register, 6/3/16

Ripple effectWired, 6/16

At least 33 U.S. cities used water testing 'cheats' over lead concerns, The Guardian, 6/2/16

The two words that rewrote American water policy, Politico, 05/25/16

Unsafe lead leavels found in 12 Des Moines schools, The Des Moines Register, 4/29/16

Mayors: Flint could happen to us, Politico, 4/25/16

Avoiding the next Flint: Testing school water, Politico, 04/22/16

America's water crisis is way bigger than Flint, Market Watch, 04/20/16

How do we get our drinking water in the U.S.?NPR, 04/14/16

How New York gets its water, The New York Times, 3/24/16

One step to help restore trust in Flint, Detroit Free Press, 03/06/16

16 water recommendations for the next president, Huffington Post, 10/16/12


Friday, June 17th, 2016
Session Details Speakers
8:00 AM Coffee & Registration
8:45 AM Welcome Remarks
  1. Peter Damiano
  2. Peter Weyer
  3. P. Barry Butler
9:00 AM Morning Keynote
  1. Peter Gleick
  1. Dave Cwiertny (Moderator)
9:45 AM Lessons from Flint
  1. Joyce Zhu
  2. Jon Tack
  3. John North
  4. Barb Wagner
  5. Mike Ricks
  1. Shelli Lovell (Moderator)
11:15 AM Lunch and Lunch Keynote
  1. Sally Gutierrez
  1. Craig Just (Moderator)
12:30 PM Influence of Agriculture on Iowa's Drinking Water Sources
  1. Brett Lorenzen
  2. Roger Wolf
  3. Neil Hamilton
  1. Larry Weber (Moderator)
2:00 PM Afternoon Break
2:15 PM Beyond Nitrate: Current and Emerging Challenges for Iowa Drinking Water Resources
  1. Dana Kolpin
  2. Bob Libra
  3. Wayne Petersen
  4. Dale Barrie
  1. Mary Skopec (Moderator)
3:45 PM Late Afternoon Break
4:00 PM Policy Approaches for Protecting Iowa's Drinking Water
  1. Chuck Gipp
  2. Karen Flournoy
  3. John Wills
  4. Janet Petersen
  1. David Osterberg (Moderator)
4:45 PM Wrap Up
  1. Dave Cwiertny
  • Dale Barrie

    Iowa Rural Water Association

    Dale has worked in the water and wastewater industry since 1975 beginning his career with his hometown of Gilbert.  In 2004 he retired as the general manager of the Winterset Municipal Electric & Water Utilities and began work as the Western Iowa Circuit Rider with the Iowa Rural Water Association providing onsite technical assistance to water systems in the state. Dale is currently the Training and Technical Assistance Specialist for the association.

  • P. Barry Butler

    Executive Vice President and Provost, University of Iowa

    P. Barry Butler was appointed provost of The University of Iowa in May of 2011, after serving as interim provost since October 2010. Prior to his appointment, Butler was dean of the UI College of Engineering, where he holds the rank of full professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.  He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1979 and 1981, respectively.  He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 1984, also from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He joined the University of Iowa faculty in 1984.


    Butler has worked as a visiting research fellow for the U.S. Navy and Sandia National Laboratories and as a visiting faculty member at Université de Provence in Marseille, France.  He is active in a number of aerospace-related instructional and research activities at UI.  He currently serves on the boards of several state and national technology-based organizations committed to economic growth and the advancement of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, including the American Wind Energy Association, for which he also serves as research committee co-chair.  He serves as the Governor's delegate to the Aerospace States Association.  Butler is an active participant in Iowa’s STEM Initiative, and has been a strong advocate for working with industry, community colleges, and Iowa’s K-12 educators to promote STEM education. 

  • Dave Cwiertny

    UI Civil & Environmental Engineering

    David M. Cwiertny is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa.  He also holds an appointment in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. He joined the faculty at Iowa in the Fall of 2011 after four years as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside.


    David holds B.S. in Environmental Engineering Science and minor in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley (2000), a Ph.D. from the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University (2006), and he previously conducted post-doctoral research at the University of Iowa in a joint appointment between the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemistry.


    His research group broadly focuses on pollutant fate in natural and engineered systems, with a particular emphasis on emerging pollutant transformation pathways and the development of materials-based treatment technologies that promote water sustainability. He is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award (2010) and his group is supported by the US EPA, USDA, SERDP and the NSF.


    At the University of Iowa, he is a core faculty member in the campus-wide Water Sustainability Initiative, developing interdisciplinary research, outreach and education programs intended to increase water awareness at the University and across the state of Iowa. He is also an associate research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering. He has developed courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels related to society’s pursuit of sustainable water resources, and is the current Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.


    In 2014, David became the Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, a new RSC journal devoted to water research and technology in the built environment. He also serves on the editorial advisory board for Environmental Science and Technology, and is an active member of the American Chemical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors. 

  • Peter Damiano

    Director, Public Policy Center

    Peter Damiano is the Director of the Public Policy Center (PPC) and Bernstein Professor, Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry at the University of Iowa. He started the health policy research program at the PPC in 1990 and has been Director of the Center since July 2007. He is a health services researcher who investigates issues relating to access to care, quality, cost and outcomes of care. Dr. Damiano has authored over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and research monographs and has been the principal investigator on over 50 research studies funded by federal, state and Foundation sources. He is a former staff intern in the US Senate, a Robert Wood Johnson Dental Health Services Research Scholar and HRSA Primary Care Policy Fellow. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry (DDS) and UCLA School of Public Health (MPH).

  • Karen Flournoy

    Division of Water Wetlands and Pesticides, US Environmental Protection Agency

    Karen Flournoy has served as Director of EPA Region 7’s Water Division since November, 2011.  She served for 6 years as the Region 7 Ag Advisor to the Regional Administrator.  Karen joined EPA Region 7 in 1978 in the construction grants program, and has 14 years experience in the hazardous waste and superfund programs. She has served as Deputy Director of the air and waste programs and Director of the public affairs office.  Karen received a degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

  • Chuck Gipp

    Director, Iowa Department of Natural Resources

    Chuck Gipp was born and raised on a diversified farming operation near Decorah, Iowa.  After graduating from Decorah High School, he graduated with a BA Degree from Luther College.  Upon graduation, he returned home to become a managing partner in A-G Swiss Farms, Inc. with two of his brothers where they specialized in breeding and milking registered Brown Swiss Dairy cattle until the fall of 2002.


    In 1990, Gipp was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives where he served for nine consecutive terms.  During his legislative tenure, he served as an Assistant Majority Leader, Majority Whip and Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  In 2002 and again in 2004, he was elected to the position of House Majority Leader.


    After deciding not to seek re-election, Gipp was hired by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, as Director of the Division of Soil Conservation in July of 2008.  He served in that role for three years.  The Division is responsible for administering state programs and providing leadership to farmers and landowners to promote the protection and management of soil, water and mineral resources.


    August 5, 2011, Gipp accepted the invitation of Governor Branstad to become the Deputy Director of Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Finally, as of May 25, 2012, Gipp accepted the request by Governor Branstad to fill the position as Director of DNR.


    Gipp continues to reside in Decorah, Iowa with his wife Ranae and makes the weekly commute to Des Moines.

  • Peter Gleick

    Pacific Institute

    Dr. Peter Gleick is a world renowned expert, innovator, and communicator on water and climate issues. In 1987 he co-founded the Pacific Institute.


    Peter developed the first analysis of climate change impacts on water resources, the earliest comprehensive work on water and conflict, and defined basic human need and right to water – work that has been used by the United Nations and in human rights court cases. Also, he pioneered and advanced the concepts of the “soft path for water” and “peak water”.


    Peter received the prestigious MacArthur “genius” Fellowship and was elected both an Academician of the International Water Academy, in Oslo, Norway and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He serves on the boards of numerous journals and organizations, and is the author of many scientific papers and nine books.  Dr. Gleick holds a B.S. from Yale University and an Master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

  • Sally Gutierrez

    US Environmental Protection Agency

    Sally C. Gutierrez is the Director of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Technology Innovation Cluster Development and Support Program within the Office of Research and Development (ORD).  This new effort seeks to advance environmental protection in tandem with economic development through the formation of community based public private partnerships. She has been leading EPA’s efforts to leverage its research and development capability in Cincinnati, Ohio with community based assets to establish the region as a water technology innovation hub and is leading an effort to network water innovation clusters across the U.S. (

    Prior to this new appointment, she was the Director of the National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) in Cincinnati, Ohio for 8 years.  NRMRL is one of three Federal research laboratories within the USEPA’s ORD and consists of 400 scientists and support staff.  The Laboratory is responsible for conducting engineering and environmental technology research to support the Agency in policy and regulatory development and implementation.

    She was the Director of the Water Supply and Water Resources Division in NRMRL before becoming its Director and was responsible for leading a national technology demonstration program for control of arsenic in drinking water.  Before coming to EPA she was responsible for administering water programs for the State of Texas environmental agency in the areas of drinking water, water monitoring, wastewater permitting, dam safety, water rights and utility rates.

    As a member of the Senior Executive Service, she holds the highest career rank in the Federal government.  In 2015, she was awarded the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s “Laboratory Director of the Year” and the Cincinnati area YWCA Career Woman of Achievement award.

  • Neil Hamilton

    Drake University Law

    Prof. Neil D. Hamilton, is the Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa.  He has directed the Center since 1983 and helped establish its national and international reputation for excellence in research, education and public extension on food policy, agricultural law and rural development.   He is past-president of the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA) and has authored several books, including the nationally award winning What Farmers Need to Know About Environmental Law (1990) and the Legal Guide to Direct Farm Marketing (1999).  He has written numerous law review articles on topics such as: food democracy, rural lands, intellectual property rights and plant genetics, the future of agricultural law, sustainable agricultural land tenure, agricultural industrialization, and production contracts.   He has conducted legal seminars throughout the U.S. and in twenty-two foreign countries.  He was on the Advisory Board of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University from 1987 to 2008.  He is on the boards of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Seed Savers Exchange. From 2000 to 2006 he chaired the Iowa Food Policy Council.  He has a B.S. from Iowa State Univ., 1976 in Forestry and Economics, and a J.D. from Univ. of Iowa.  He and his wife Khanh own Sunstead Farm near Waukee, Iowa and raise produce and flowers for local restaurants.

  • Dana Kolpin

    US Geological Survey

    Dana Kolpin is a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Iowa City, IA. He received his B.S. from Iowa State University and his M.S. from the University of Iowa (both in geology). His research interests include the fate and transport of pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other contaminants of emerging concern in the environment. He has published over 100 papers and reports on environmental contaminants. He has been the project chief of the USGS Toxic Program’s Emerging Contaminants Project since its inception in 1998.

  • Bob Libra

    State Geological and Water Survey

    Bob Libra has worked for the Iowa Geological Survey and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since 1982, as a research hydrogeologist, supervisor of the geology and groundwater program, and since 2003 as State Geologist of Iowa. Bob’s research and natural resource management interests have particularly focused on factors impacting the quality of Iowa’s groundwater, and technical and policy approaches to managing groundwater supplies for long-term sustainability.  He has degrees in geology from the University of Wisconsin – Superior and Indiana University

  • Brett Lorenzen

    Director of Midwest Outreach, Environmental Working Group

    Brett Lorenzen joined the EWG agriculture and natural resources team in 2010, after two decades working with non-profits and international organizations on environmental policy, communications and technology management issues.  Having grown up on a Heritage Farm along the Mississippi River in Clinton County, he returned to the Midwest in 2002 to work on clean water and agricultural/land-use reform issues close to his heart.  He served as the voluntary chair of the Iowa Council of Trout Unlimited from 2007 to 2016, has held numerous national leadership positions with the organization, and sits on a variety of public and private advisory boards.  Brett holds an undergraduate degree, a J.D. and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of Iowa.

  • John North

    Iowa Association of Water Agencies

    John is now semi-retired but has remained active in the drinking water field by serving as the Co-Executive Director of the Iowa Association of Iowa Water Agencies. John served as the Water Utility Director for the city of Cedar Rapids Water Department from 1993 through June of 2007. He has over 40 years of experience in the water and wastewater treatment fields. John's undergraduate degree was in chemistry and he began his career with the city of Dubuque where he served as a chemist, lab manager and water plant manager.


    Unfortunately, in 1992 the city of Cedar Rapids Water Department (CRWD) found itself in violation of the newly enacted standard for lead levels in first-draw drinking water samples. The CRWD initiated extensive research and monitoring programs to determine the optimal water chemistry that would minimize the potential for lead leaching. The CRWD achieved and has been in full compliance with the lead standard since about 1996. Despite having a significant number of lead service lines, brass faucets and solder joints were determined to be the primary sources for the lead corrosion in Cedar Rapids. 

  • Wayne Petersen

    Iowa Department of Agriculture

    Wayne has been in the field of soil and water conservation for 40 years. He spent 32 years with NRCS and the last eight years with the Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. He worked with agricultural landscape for the first half of his career. He has worked with urban and urbanizing landscapes during the last half of his career. He coordinates the urban conservation program for IDALS, where he promotes Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure utilization to manage storm water in ways that protect water quality.. In his free time he enjoys fishing and manages a 40 acre property for the Bur Oak Land Trust in Johnson County, where prairie re-construction is the primary landuse.

  • Janet Petersen

    Iowa Senator, District 18

    Senator Janet Petersen represents Iowans from the northwest portion of Des Moines.  She is serving her first term in the Iowa Senate after serving six terms in the Iowa House of Representatives.  During her first term in the Iowa Senate, Janet chaired the Government Oversight Committee and Senate Commerce Committee.  She serves on the Judiciary, Natural Resources, State Government, Ways & Means, and Transportation & Infrastructure committees.  Janet is also Vice Chair of the Council of State Governments, Midwest Region, which covers eleven Midwestern states and four Canadian provinces.

    Janet has a B.A. from UNI and M.A. from Drake University in communications. Before joining the legislature, Janet worked for the American Heart Association and Strategic America, a marketing and communications firm. In 2008, Janet founded a nonprofit organization with four other central Iowa women called Healthy Birth Day. The organization, best known for its public health campaign Count the Kicks, is devoted to reducing the number of stillbirths in Iowa and nationwide through research, education and advocacy.

    Janet is married to Brian Pattinson, who works for Principal Global Investors, and together they have three children.

  • Mike Ricks

    Water Solutions Unlimited

    Mike Ricks has an Economics degree from Wabash College.  He spent over 20 years in the Pharmaceutical business before transitioning to the Municipal Drinking Water in 2010.  He is Co-owner and in charge of research/development and sales for Water Solutions Unlimited in Indiana.  Water Solutions Unlimited works with over 450 small to medium cities throughout the Midwest with issues concerning corrosion, high iron and manganese levels, high disinfection by products, high natural ammonia, and many other troublesome issues encountered by Water Operators/Superintendents.  

  • Jon Tack

    Iowa Department of Natural Resources

    Jon Tack is the Water Quality Bureau Chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  The Water Quality Bureau includes the state’s wastewater and drinking water programs as well as the water monitoring and watershed improvement sections.  Jon is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the University’s College of Law and has obtained a Certified Public Manager designation from the Drake University College of Business and Public Administration.  He has been with the Iowa DNR since 1998.

  • Barb Wagner

    Cedar Rapids Water

    Barb has been employed in the environmental industry for over 30 years. She has held the position of a laboratory supervisor for an Independent testing lab in Louisiana and at a wastewater treatment facility in Independence, Missouri. She worked as a laboratory analyst for the City of Cedar Rapids for 18 years before accepting her current position as Utilities Water Quality Specialist 8 years ago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree In Microbiology from Louisiana Tech University and proudly served in the United States Air Force for a single enlistment. She has been happily married for 37 years and is the proud mom of two sons.

  • Peter Weyer

    UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC)

    Peter Weyer is Director of the University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) and is adjunct faculty in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences and in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health. He coordinates the Center’s research and educational outreach programs. Dr. Weyer has worked extensively with researchers at the National Cancer Institute and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on exposure assessment of drinking water contaminants in public water systems and risk for cancer and birth defects. He has organized efforts in Iowa on statewide surveillance of emerging contaminants of public health concern in private drinking water wells. He holds a BA in anthropology, MS in community health, and PhD in preventive medicine and environmental health, all from the University of Iowa. 

  • John Wills

    State Representative House District 1

    John grew up in Sibley, graduated from Sibley Community High School, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Northwestern College in Orange City. He also holds two Master’s Degrees. John and his wife, Cami, have three adult children.


    John has been involved in water quality and conservation work for more than 15 years. He is the Vice President of the Okoboji Protective Association and works to protect water resources. He also currently serves in the National Guard and has been in the military for 25 years, serving numerous deployments overseas.


    Wills’ life has been dedicated to service and now he is looking to work on behalf of Iowans in the Statehouse.


    Wills is a Founding Member of Pheasants Forever, Habitat Chair in Osceola County, and a member of the State Pheasants Forever Council. He is also a member of the Friends of Lakeside Lab and Veterans of Foreign War.

  • Roger Wolf

    Director of Environmental Programs & Services, Iowa Soybean Association

    Roger Wolf is the Director of Environmental Programs and Services for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and Executive Director of Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA). Since 2000, Roger secured and oversaw investment of more than $20 million and currently maintains an operating budget of around $2 million annually. These programs support work and active engagement on thousands of farms across Iowa and the Upper Midwest farming region as well as coordinating with more than of 35 public and private collaborators annually. A notable feature of this work is the role of monitoring, data analytics and planning for impactful decision-making.  Roger is a member of the US Water Alliance Board of Directors.  He an active proponent of the One Water Management approach with the belief that leaders in agriculture and the water sector have significant opportunities to work together in new and innovative ways to reduce nutrient pollution as well as improve natural resource management in Iowa and within the Mississippi River Basin. Roger has more than 26 years of agricultural conservation resource management experience and holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Iowa. Roger and his wife Anne have four adult children and live near Cumming, Iowa.

  • Joyce Zhu

    Virginia Tech / Flint Water Study

    Ni (Joyce) Zhu is a doctoral student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. Prior to joining Dr. Marc Edwards’ Flint Water Study, she earned an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and Engineering from National University of Singapore and a Masters of Engineering degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her doctoral research focuses on the effects of water chemistry on the attenuation of emerging microbial contaminants and antibiotic resistant gene/bacteria in recycled water distribution systems, using the next-generation metagenomics sequencing technology. Since Professor Edwards started independent research on Flint water contamination last summer, she has been a core member of the Flint Water Study Team, helping with sampling processing and analysis in the laboratory. She has also traveled to Flint to sample identified hot spot buildings in Flint.

A sincere thank you to our co-sponsors:







And our in-kind sponsors:









The symposium will take place at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center (old Vets Auditorium).  For directions and parking, click here.  From the parking lot North of the Events Center, cross Crocker Street and use the Northwest Entrance (see red arrow on map below). From the entrance hall, take the first left through Veterans Memorial Hall. Rooms 312-314 will be on your right.


Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Leslie Gannon at (319) 335-6817 or