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Local fishermen disagree over water quality

BY CONRAD SWANSON | JULY 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa City summer is filled with kids going to various camps, groups of incoming university students, and groups of people both young and old relaxing outside in the sticky heat.

One group says it's even more relaxed than the rest, though. Anglers can be found casting their lines at the Coralville Reservoir, along the Iowa River, and in all sorts of creeks, streams, and ponds.

Lloyd Bender, a salesman in the fishing department at Fin & Feather, 125 Highway 1 W., said he sees a diverse range of people who fish.

"I see people fishing, from little kids on up," he said. "It's fun for everybody."

Bender is primarily a lake fisherman, and he recently returned a fishing trip in Minnesota. While in Iowa City, he fishes at Lake Macbride and a few other locations, but he tends to avoid the Iowa River because of concerns about the water's cleanliness.

He said his reason is that harmful elements in a fish's habitat can be stored in the animal's fat. He said it might be OK to eat walleyes caught in the Iowa River because the species isn't particularly fatty, but an Iowa River catfish may not be the healthiest thing to consume on a regular basis.

Bender may have a valid point. Iowa has ranked as low as 47th out of the 50 states in per capita spending on soil conservation and water quality, Iowa's Water & Land Conservancy Executive Director Mark Langgin told The Daily Iowan in 2010.

Not everyone is as concerned about the Iowa River's water quality, though.

One popular fishing spot can be found where Highway 6 crosses the Iowa River, the site of a small inlet that water from the river can enter. Also located there is an outlet pipe from the Iowa City Wastewater Division, and some people sit on the concrete above the pipe while fishing.

Paul Stewart, who has fished that area for 52 years, said he isn't concerned about the water quality. Stewart — who, despite that outlook, usually doesn't keep the fish he catches — said that as long as there's moving water, there shouldn't be a problem because of potentially harmful substances from the wastewater pipe.

"I haven't got four arms and three eyes yet, so I think it's OK," he said.

Steve Julius, the senior operator at the Iowa City Wastewater Division, said he knows anglers are common up and down the Iowa River. He said anything coming from the outlet pipe is perfectly safe and that none of the fluid exiting the pipe — a substance called effluent in the wastewater business — poses a threat to the fish or fishermen near the Highway 6 spot.

"The treated effluent is meeting all the permit requirements for that flow," Julius said. "When compared [with the river], it's probably cleaner than the actual river itself."

Concerns about the quality of the water aside, many of the fishing fans said they agree it's a great activity that's easy to learn and hard to master. Several people said the skills they use while fishing transfer to other aspects of their lives.

"Patience, attitude — there's a lot that goes into fishing, for food or for sport," Stewart said. "It's a great stress reliever."

Bender agreed, noting that a good amount of the enjoyment for him comes from its difficulty.

"There's a little thing with a pea-sized brain, and it fools you half the time," he said. "It's a challenge."


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