Progress has been made, but challenges remain in Iowa’s pursuit of clean water


Since 2012, the state of Iowa has invested approximately $541 million to improve water quality, an estimated $4 to $6 billion problem in the state. Meanwhile, the federal government has paid Iowa farmers more than $2.76 billion for on-farm conservation practices over the past two decades. Even with this investment, water quality in the state has much room for improvement, according to a Center for Rural Affairs report released in March.

“Flowing Forward: Planning Iowa’s Water Quality Future,” analyzes 83 years of water policy in the state, while also deciphering the regulatory framework for existing government rules, and providing recommendations for future policy changes. Sources of pollution and downstream effects of poor water quality, such as Iowa’s contribution to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, are also discussed.

“Iowa’s water quality challenges are incredibly complex,” said Katie Rock, policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs and author of the publication. “With a complete, contextual analysis of the situation, we can be better informed in our efforts to clean up Iowa’s water.”

The publication identifies ongoing efforts to address water quality including federal task forces, public and private partnerships, and the role of state entities, such as Watershed Management Authorities and public universities.

Last year, Iowa lawmakers passed Senate File 512, which granted $282 million over the next 12 years for water quality projects. The report applauds the new boost in funding as a good first step, while encouraging more action from Iowa’s leaders.

“This session, lawmakers have largely ignored the topic of water quality in the statehouse,” said Rock. “While progress has been made, many challenges remain, and Iowa can chart its own path forward by focusing on watershed and farm-level planning.”

The report calls for the creation of robust state-level standards for watershed planning, in addition to a farm-level certification program with similar standards which would guarantee farmers regulatory certainty. The publication states the implementation of these programs calls for improvements in interagency coordination at the local, state, and federal levels.

To view or download the report, visit