Iowa Water Center

Advancing the state of
water knowledge and management

The Iowa Water Center is a part of a nationwide network of university-based water centers created to encourage interdisciplinary water research and the education and outreach needed to insure research results are applied to real world problems.



12.07.2016 - Des Moines - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer farmers and ranchers more opportunities to participate in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The announcement includes new CRP practices to protect water quality and adds an additional 1.1 million acres targeted to benefit wildlife, pollinators and wetlands.

12.05.2016 - Washington DC - Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, is announcing new steps to work towards the long-term health and sustainable use of one of America’s most important natural resources: its soil. OSTP is also releasing today a Federal framework for soil science, developed in collaboration with more than a dozen Federal agencies, with input from approximately 80 stakeholders from academia, industry, non-profit organizations, and the agricultural community.

12.01.2016 - The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Inc. (Endowment) today released the 2017 Request for Proposals for the Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program. Additional grant funds are available in 2017-2018 through a new partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)--up to $2 million is available for the 2017 grant cycle.  NRCS joins the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Endowment as Healthy Watershed Consortium Grant Program funders. The program’s focus is to accelerate the strategic protection of healthy freshwater ecosystems and their watersheds across the country. The deadline for proposals is February 1, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Featured Project

Iowa Water Facts

Almost 40,000 of our nation’s streams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands are classified as impaired. In Iowa, of the 1,200 Iowa waters assessed in 2010, 384 stream/river segments, 77 lakes, 6 segments of three federal flood control reservoirs, and 7 wetlands—a total of 474—are classified as impaired.

Non-point source pollution from urban and agricultural lands is the leading source of water impairment. Major pollutants are siltation, nutrients, bacteria, metals, and oxygen-depleting substances. Despite federal and state agency efforts and millions of tax dollars invested since the passage of the 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act, recent state reports document close to 40 percent of the waters surveyed as too polluted for basic uses like fishing or swimming.

The National Water Quality Inventory (2000) reported that agricultural nonpoint source pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts on rivers and lakes and the second largest source of impairment to wetlands. It is also a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water. 

The impact of clean water technologies on public health in the U.S is estimated to have had a rate of return of 23 to 1 for investments in water filtration and chlorination during the first half of the 20th century.  


Wetlands, the link between land and water, represent transition zones where the flows of water, the cycling of nutrients, and energy from the sun meet to form a unique ecosystem characterized by hydrology, soils, and vegetation. Once regarded as wastelands, today wetlands are recognized as important landscape features. When allowed to function properly, they provide healthy habitats for fish and wildlife. A natural filtering system, they improve groundwater quality while also helping to control flood waters.

Project AWARE is one of Iowa’s best known river clean-up projects. Each year, volunteer “aquatic garbage collectors” gather with boats, kayaks, and boots to pull trash from a river and improve its watershed area. In a recent effort 429 volunteers pulled 32 tons of tires, metal, and other trash from 88 miles of river waters in a northeast Iowa watershed.  

Healthy rivers benefit our health. More than 60 percent of Americans’ drinking water comes from rivers and streams.  A healthy river and surrounding forests and wetlands can act as a natural water filter, reducing the need to treat the water with chemicals or expensive filtration systems. 

Consider that the earth’s surface is 70% water. Of this, about 97% is salty or otherwise undrinkable. The remaining 3% is largely in the form of Ice caps and glaciers. Only a very limited supply is available to meet sanitation and drinking water needs. There is no “new” water to add to the earth’s supply. The same water that plants and animals relied on millions of years ago is still being recycled by the earth’s natural processes today. Conserving and keeping the limited supply of useable water clean is crucial for the world’s growing population. 

It is estimated that between the 1790s and the 1980s, Iowa lost at least 89% of its wetlands – from 4 million to 421,900 acres (Dahl, 2000). Today, less than 10% of that original resource remains, and little to no information exists on the current status or health of these wetlands. Currently, monitoring of wetlands in Iowa is extremely limited. The monitoring activities that do take place (such as those required for research projects) do not always provide adequate information to assess the condition of wetlands. Information gathered from monitoring wetlands may help answer many of the basic questions or concerns landowners or land managers may have about the quality of their wetlands.

In the United States the daily per-capita water use is about 1,400 gallons. (For an Iowan in 2000, the estimate was about 1,100 gallons). This includes all uses—irrigating, mining, manufacturing, as well as domestic use. By comparison, per-capita daily water use around the world ranges from 5 gallons in Haiti to over 3,000 gallons in Iraq, with a worldwide average of 475 gallons.

Agriculture accounts for our nation’s most extensive land use. For example, nearly 90% of Iowa’s land is used for agriculture. Improved water quality, consequently, depends heavily on the commitment of farmers to adopt practices that reduce the flow of sediments, toxic chemicals, and nutrients into rivers and streams. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 75% of American farmers have already changed some practices. Through its Water Quality Program, the USDA works to accomplish even more.  

The United States has one of the world’s best drinking-water supplies. However, much of today’s infrastructure (underground pipes, treatment plants, and other facilities) that delivers water to our homes is aging and in disrepair. In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency found that drinking water systems would need a $150 billion investment over a 20-year period to ensure clean and safe drinking water. Reducing pollution of drinking-water sources can help relieve the demands on water infrastructure. 

The Iowa Water Center was established and is operated in cooperation between Iowa State University and the U.S. Geological Survey through the Water Resources Research Act.

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