An Iowa Department of Natural Resources Biologist observes damage before joining additional oil spill staff to discuss cleanup alternatives for an oiled gravel beach along the North Raccoon River. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Mike Coffey)
Rock Island Field Office Responds to Iowa’s Biggest Oil Spill
Environmental Contaminants Biologist
Rock Island Fields Office
The largest oil spill in Iowa occurred on September 13th, 2012, into the North Raccoon River in central Iowa. Several thousand gallons of used motor oil discharged from a valve on a greenhouse heating system tank located in Jefferson, Iowa. The used motor oil flowed down a ravine and into the North Raccoon River, and several miles of sand bar beaches and side channels were oiled.
Contaminants biologists from the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assisted in the oil spill cleanup -- which lasted a couple of weeks -- by providing technical expertise to the emergency response personnel.
The North Raccoon River is part of the Raccoon River watershed in central Iowa. It is a wild flowing river with many riffles, runs, pools, sand and gravel bars, and small side channels. The side channels are designated as critical habitat for the federally and state listed endangered Topeka shiner.
An Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologist places a bamboo pole with shiny mylar tape at an oiled patch of sandy beach. The mylar tape flapping in the wind scares away migrating shorebirds so they do not forage for invertebrates in the oily sand. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo by Mike Coffey)
The Topeka shiner is a headwater stream minnow that also uses floodplain wetlands in a number of tributaries to the North Raccoon River. The North Raccoon River serves as a corridor for dispersal and connectivity among the Topeka shiner populations in the tributaries. The river also provides foraging habitat for migrating shorebirds and other aquatic dependent migratory birds.
The technical expertise provided to the response agencies included the development of best management practices as part of the emergency endangered species consultation for the Topeka shiner. The practices were designed to minimize the impacts to the Topeka shiner and its habitats. The contaminants biologists also mapped the entire length of the oiled sand bar beaches and side channels. The biologists installed bird deterrent features to haze migratory birds from the oiled shorelines until the response personnel could remove the surface oil from the beaches. A few birds did get oiled, but could not be captured for rehabilitation.
The Department of the Interior, led by the Service, is preparing to conduct a natural resource damage assessment. The results of the natural resource damage assessment will be used to determine the scale of restoration projects to offset the injuries and losses to natural resources from the oil spill and oil spill response. The restoration projects are constructed or paid for by the responsible party.