Approximately $6.1 billion is spent on outdoor recreation in the state of Iowa annually. Yet, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, a large portion of Iowa’s streams, lakes and rivers are impaired. This means that, as of 2012, 474 bodies of water in Iowa are not healthy enough for their designated uses including recreation, aquatic life, fish consumption, and more. 

There are several ways water bodies can become impaired. High amounts of bacteria in water can be harmful to people and animals, which leads to beach closings. Suspended sediment creates a muddy-looking river, and decreases the amount of sunlight available for aquatic plants. Excessive amounts of nutrients can lead to unsightly algal blooms. Other chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides can negatively impact living organisms within the stream. Identifying the source of these contaminants isn’t easy, though: sediment, nutrients, and bacteria are forms of nonpoint source pollution that cannot be tracked back to the original source.

Fortunately, there are a variety of practices that can be implemented to reduce the delivery of these contaminants to Iowa’s waterways. Buffer strips of grass and shrubs around streams and grass waterways in fields will decrease the amount of sediment and nutrient transport. Farming practices such as no-till, strip-till, and cover crops help protect the land from erosion. Fencing off streams prevents animals such as cattle and sheep from adding bacteria to water, and keeps stream banks stable. Wetlands add beauty and wildlife habitat on the landscape, and can also reduce the amount of nitrate and sediment in our rivers and streams. Whether you enjoy spending time on the lake or a cool glass of fresh water, water quality matters to us all!

Additional Resources

Enhanced Learning Activities (recommended for Grades 3-5)