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Geology and Water
Data Resources

Monitoring Iowa's Waters

Red ball iconMonitoring Iowa's Waters

by Bernard E. Hoyer       
photos by Ken Formanek


We require water for life, share its ownership and stewardship, benefit from its use for business and recreation, and, in order to manage it, we need water quality data. The mission of the Iowa Water Monitoring Program is to conduct an ongoing assessment of the condition of the state’s surface water and groundwater resources and to report results so that appropriate information is available to guide resource management policies and decisions. 

The program requires collection of reliable, objective statewide data on a continuing basis and delivery of information through various means. Key goals are a scientific description of waters, measurement of changes in quality, identification of trends, delivery of information to the public, and public involvement with their water resources. 


Man with sieve Man sampling (Far left) Identifying small invertebrates found in streambeds provides an indicator of water quality. 

(Left) This device measures such water characteristics as pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity.


The uniqueness of this monitoring program lies in its comprehensive nature, including rivers, lakes, wetlands, and their ecological communities; groundwater from the water table to deep bedrock aquifers; and even precipitation. The program focuses on ambient water conditions. This means that all types of water resources are being looked at across the state to gain a fair and consistent appraisal of their condition. It is not concerned just with known water quality problems, or with checking on regulatory compliance – aspects of monitoring that have existed for years. It is “big picture” monitoring, and it can lead to many practical policies and management decisions. This program is growing and adapting with the strong emphasis placed on it by the Governor, the General Assembly, and a diverse coalition of other groups. 

Initial emphasis has been placed on improved monitoring of Iowa’s interior rivers and lakes and developing a data management system that can capture data effectively and deliver it to government and public users.

Data collection is the most important and expensive portion of the program. Iowa’s interior rivers and streams plus 132 lakes are monitored for over 200 chemical, physical, and biological parameters, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and volatile organic compounds. All state-owned beaches are monitored for indicator bacteria groups throughout the swimming season. Groundwater is monitored from available public, private, and specially installed monitoring wells. All field and laboratory methods and techniques are recorded to insure future comparability of data for scientific analysis.


Men with shock boat Following electro-shocking, fish can be counted, identified, and examined before being released.


Following the sampling phase, data management, coordination, and interpretation are crucial areas of the program, as well as the production of reports for management purposes and for the public. Other agencies will be encouraged to add their data to a central clearinghouse to ensure long-term curation and widespread availability. Timely interpretation, annual as well as long-term, is essential as monitoring data accumulates through the years.

Finally, keeping Iowans informed is vital to the success of this monitoring program. Resource managers, elected officials, special interest groups, and the public need to be aware of what is done and learned. Part of this citizen involvement includes the IOWATER program, targeted at educating the public by training volunteers to monitor water resources in their home areas.

Monitoring Iowa’s waters is a long-term investment. The program must continue uninterrupted, without gaps in data, to attain its goals and maximize its usefulness to Iowa. At the same time, the program must maintain flexibility and adjust as experience is gained and technology improves.


Adapted from Iowa Geology 2001, No. 21,  Iowa Department of Natural Resources