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IIHR water quality research plan

Aug 2023


As called upon by the Iowa Legislature, farmers, researchers and Iowa’s leaders have been tasked to work together to develop solutions to its complex nutrient management challenges that consider Iowa’s variable watersheds and landscapes and provide a holistic approach to meeting the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS).



To understand how to effectively manage our agricultural systems while balancing a safe and healthy environment, new practices, scientific strategies, and a more in-depth understanding of the biological, chemical and hydrological processes are required for Iowa to achieve its stated goals for environmental outcomes.


IIHR’s water quality research main activity will include tracking, evaluating, and documenting water quality, stream discharge, and weather data that will help document progress towards INRS goals and the effectiveness of the various component strategies of Iowa’s water quality policy. This will be achieved through the implementation of the INRC sensor network and the continued use and development of the Iowa Water Quality Information System (IWQIS).

Project Updates

Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.

January 2024

Marty St. Clair was hired effective September 1, 2023 to manage the nutrient sensor network. His background, in addition to teaching analytical chemistry at Coe College for 30 years, includes long term water quality monitoring collaborations with Cedar Rapids Utilities and multiple watershed management authorities. He is working with the Iowa Geological Survey to create a laboratory accessible to nutrient sensor staff which will allow for confirmation of sensor site nitrate concentrations via an independent analytical technique (ion chromatography). Operations of the sensor network were challenging given the drought conditions that prevailed throughout much of Iowa in the second half of 2023. Many sensors needed to be physically moved due to receding water levels. In the last several weeks, most of the sensors have been brought in for the winter and will be delivered to the manufacturer for service and recalibration. Data from the network continued to be utilized by researchers, watershed management authorities, and by the general public. Schilling et al (see papers submitted) developed a model relating turbidity and particulate phosphorus, which points toward the use of the sensor network’s turbidimeters as a means of better estimating the state’s particulate phosphorus load. Mount et al built on the sensor network and IWQIS cyberinfrastructure to accommodate a broader set of water quality data sources and models on a wider geographic scale. Staff also engaged in outreach activities targeted at a variety of audiences. Several activities targeted students between 5th and 12th grades with information on the importance of water quality monitoring. The sensor installed at the Historic Johnson County Poor Farm is part of a larger public education program at that location and was highlighted with a reception and presentations. Audiences ranging from a small-town community education series to the statewide environmental community heard about the importance of a robust monitoring network in the overall effort to reduce Iowa’s nutrient problems. Perhaps the most unique outreach event involved an art installation (funded by an NSF grant) developed by University of Iowa graduate students around the theme of water quality (photo attached).

Water Quality Proposals related to INRC funded work submitted for funding - Iowa as a National Water Quality Testbed for Benchmarking and Model Evaluation - pre-proposal submitted to Cooperative Institute for Research to Operations in Hydrology (primary research priority affiliation: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)