Keeping Our Water Clean
Thousands of Iowans like to swim, fish, and boat in and on our lakes and rivers every year. Iowans want and deserve clean drinking water. We need to expand our efforts to improve water quality. While our farmers play a role in improving water quality, we all have a stake in protecting and preserving our natural resources.
Iowa has approximately 71,665 miles of streams and rivers and more than 161,000 acres of lakes, ponds, and wetlands. It seems as if Iowa is rich in water resources; however, less than one per-cent of the state's land area is covered with water.
Iowa’s most recent impaired water list contains 480 water bodies with a total of 642 impairments. This compares to 279 water bodies with a total of 359 impairments in 2006. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two nutrients that allow for healthy aquatic ecosystems. However, at excessive levels, these nutrients can lead to water quality problems and interfere with beneficial water uses.
A reported chemical spill on the Des Moines River above Saylorville Lake on July 23, 2014, turned out to be a blue-green algae bloom, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) investigators. The heavy rainfall and floods washed nutrients into water bodies. In the summer of 2013, the Des Moines Water Works had to turn on their very expensive, world’s largest, nitrate removal facility after levels of nitrates hit records in both the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, two main drinking-water sources. This was the first time this happened since 2007. Installed in 1992, Des Moines Water Works built the $3.7 million Nitrate Removal Facility, which costs approximately $7,000 per day to operate. Routine water quality monitoring is conducted at all Iowa State Park beaches and many locally managed beaches in Iowa.
Over the past two years, the Legislature has pro-vided millions of dollars to help improve Iowa’s water quality through the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which is a science-based approach to improving water quality. The strategy was prepared in response to the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan that calls for the 12 states along the Mississippi River to develop strategies to reduce nutrient loading to the Gulf of Mexico, which is causing a dead zone.
The strategy outlines voluntary efforts to achieve significant reductions in the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus discharged to Iowa’s rivers and streams from both point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban areas.
The strategy is a partnership with farmers, cities, counties, and other groups who all have a stake in protecting Iowa’s natural resources and improve our water quality. Although the Legislature has provided millions of dollars to this effort, it falls drastically short of the estimated cost of $1.2 billion identified within the strategy.
Other water quality programs funded by the Legislature include the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program, lakes restoration, water quality monitoring stations, wetland incentives, soil conservation protection, closing agricultural drainage wells, and farm demonstration projects that show emerging practices.
Where to go next...
Iowa already offers…
• Expand efforts to implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy through the state’s water quality initiative program, soil conservation program, watershed improvement grants, and conservation reserve enhancement programs that reduce nutrient loss and improves Iowa’s water quality.
• Fully fund soil technicians and secretaries to help make sure the nutrient strategy gets implemented in rural Iowa.
• Provide funding for city sewers and septic tanks, to off-set their match needed for state revolving loan program funds, to help protect our water from point source pollution.
How to find out more…
To find out more about the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy visit
Information on Iowa’s impaired waters can be found at
Click here to find your local soil and water conservation office for more information
More information on Iowa’s beach water monitoring program can be found here