Water Quality and Quantity

Iowans expect the rivers, streams, and lakes in the state to be free of pollutants, that the fish they catch are safe to eat, and that they can wade, boat, and swim without becoming sick.  Yet not every waterbody in Iowa is free of pollutants.  What’s worse is that some pollutants are not visible when you look at the water.

Every two years, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) updates the list of impaired waters.  An impaired water is a river, stream, or lake that does not meet its designated water quality standards.  The impairment can include a range of criteria, such as algae, bacteria, turbidity, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic, and mercury.  Also water bodies that have had fish kills are included as impaired waters.  In other words, an impaired water is a polluted water. 

  • The 2024 draft list has 576 impaired water bodies, with 743 impairments.
  • The 2022 list has 597 impaired water bodies with 785 impairments.  A significant number of those impairments are related to animal feeding operations, including indicator bacteria, fish kills due to animal waste, nutrients, algal growth.  That shows that current laws and regulations plus a lack of enforcement are not protecting our waters
  • The final 2020 list had 585 impaired water bodies with 778 impairments. 
  • In the final 2018 list, the DNR issued a list showing 622 water bodies with impairments and 831 pollutants causing those impaired waters. 
  • In 2017 The DNR issued a draft list of 608 water bodies in Iowa as being impaired.  The waters have 768 different impairments, or pollutants, that are impairing the waters. 
  • This list compares to the 2014 list which had 571 water bodies with 754 impairments (different forms of pollution). 

Iowa still has not fully implemented the provisions of the Clean Water Act (signed into law more than 40 years ago), and, therefore, is out of compliance.  The Iowa Chapter collaborates with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve barriers preventing implementation of the Act’s various provisions.  We have prepared rule-making petitions, filed federal court cases and attended countless meetings with public officials.  We are dedicated to continuing our efforts in bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

Many of Iowa’s rivers and streams need protection from high levels of pollution.  A number of Iowa communities remain unsewered, resulting in pollution entering Iowa’s water bodies.  The Iowa Department of Natural Resources must implement the pollution reduction measures identified in the Total Maximum Daily Load studies.  Discharge permits must be monitored to ensure that proper limits are set and that dischargers are indeed complying with their permit limits by implementing proper techniques to clean water.

The Iowa Chapter currently is pursuing every opportunity to ensure Iowa complies with the Clean Water Act. Iowa residents expect clean water. By reducing pollutants, Iowa’s inhabitants – including its flora and fauna – will thrive in a cleaner, healthier environment. 

kayaking on Cedar River


Green is the wrong color for Iowa's lakes and streams

Nutrient Credit Trading

Iowa's Nutrient Problem

Paying for the Nutrient Reduction Strategy - a Nutrient Management Strategy Fee

Nutrient Reduction is More Than Cover Crops

Nutrients in Iowa's Waterbodies May Lead to Harmful Microcystin Toxin

Iowa's Beaches - Fun or Health Risk?

Nitrates in drinking water

Next Step for Nutrient Reduction

Over-application of Fertilizer - MRTN

Water quality

Restoring water quality

Water quality, point & non-point sources

Understanding agriculture and clean water

Glossary of water terms

How you care for your lawn and garden can affect water quality

Septic tanks

Stream buffers

Pregnant? Bottle feeding? Drinking well water?  Have your well tested for nitrates

Keep Iowa’s beaches free of bacteria

Funding Water Testing

Preserving Topsoil During Construction

Stream Restoration

Water Quality Legislation

The photo below shows foam floating on the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids.  The foam consists of organic material, such as sewage, manure, or particles of once-living plants and animals.

foam on the Cedar River


Storm water management and flooding

Storm water management

Soil erosion reduces water quality

Only snow and rain go down the storm drain.  What gets tossed down the storm sewer ends up in our streams.  Storm water does not get treated at a sewage treatment plant.  The photo below shows the storm sewer outflow into the Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids after a rain.  Note the plastics floating on the river to the left of the stormwater discharge. 

plastics near stormwater discharge


Following the flooding throughout the Midwest in 1993, the Galloway commission issued a report titled “Sharing The Challenge: Floodplain Management Into The 21st Century” that offered recommendations to ease flooding.  The findings included recommendations to increase natural techniques to control flooding, such as restoring wetlands and stream restoration while avoiding levees and artificial flood control measures.  Largely that report has sat on a shelf, gathering dust.  Year after year, Iowans as well as residents in other midwestern states have experienced damaging floods.  Climate change has brought with it significant changes in rainfall in Iowa.  It is time to dust off the report and implement its solutions. 

Wetlands are Valuable

Water quantity

Protecting Iowa's aquifers