IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering Work plan (2019-2020) Work Plan for the Iowa Nutrient Research Center

Aug 2019


New scientific tools, techniques and an improved understanding of the coupled physical, chemical and biological processes are needed to predict nutrient mobilization, fate and transport in Iowa. Researchers and practitioners also need to continue to improve scientific understanding of conservation best management practice impacts at various scales to gain knowledge of their effectiveness under different hydrologic drivers and land management scenarios and use the information to refine practice implementation. Combining an understanding of nutrient management with key scientific processes are necessary to achieve the objectives in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.


The main research objectives are to:

  • Continue development and aggregation of the Iowa nutrient database to be used by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center and others to support scientific understanding for nutrient management. The consolidation and compilation of available data from several existing sources  is needed to improve research communication and collaboration. The collection of this data is a continuing effort to characterize Iowa water quality at the watershed scale. 
  • Characterize water quality at smaller scales to inform practice effectiveness. Small spatial scale sites continue to generate data with sensors funded through INRC and others, including at a saturated buffer in Adair County, CREP wetland in Mitchell County, Clear Creek in Johnson County, Willow Creek and Walnut Creek in Jasper County, several sites downstream of Water Quality Initiative (WQI) projects and an urban site deployed on a City of Coralville storm sewer.
  • Deploy one or more water quality sensors located at a strategic site chosen by ISU staff/faculty.


Work to achieve these objectives will primarily include:

  • interpreting communications of weather, water quality and hydrologic data necessary to track improvements driven by INRS implementation and other factors in Iowa water quality;
  • verifying and documenting the nutrient mitigation effectiveness of best management practices for both point and nonpoint sources;
  • collecting and aggregating land use, weather, hydrological and water quality data to support the INRS, and creating and managing tools that can be used to organize the data; and
  • deploying one new sensor site to be included in the Iowa Water Quality Information System, which will be selected to support research by faculty at Iowa State University.

Project Updates

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

July 2020


The Iowa Water Quality Information System continued to stream in data from a limited number of IIHR and USGS sensors throughout the winter, as most were retrieved to prevent ice damage. Sensor deployment resumed in March and nearly all sensors have been deployed as of 6/30/20. There were delays in sensor deployment this spring because of the loss of one field staff and the University of Iowa's hiring freeze and restrictions on overnight travel related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Partnering with Polk County Conservation, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Great Outdoors Foundation, IIHR is closely involved with the Polk County Water Trails project. IIHR has deployed turbidimeters and automated ISCO samplers at nine Polk County stream sites to help characterize water quality in the streams.

WQIS- instrumented sites this year include: four Water Quality Initiative locations; eight sites in collaboration with USDA-ARS; 10 sites funded through the Iowa Watershed Approach Project; three wetland sites in the Cedar River watershed; one site each in collaboration with Grinnell and Cornell Colleges; one saturated buffer site in collaboration with Agri-Drain Co.; one bioreactor site  (with Michelle Soupir, Iowa State); two sites in restored oxbows in Webster County; two sites in roadside ditches, in collaboration with Iowa DOT; one site in a groundwater location in collaboration with IDNR; three sites in an EPA-funded project at Mud Creek, Benton County (with Craig Just, UI). The balance of the sites are distributed in small-to-large rivers around Iowa.

The Water Quality Information System continues to be the linchpin of the NSF-funded Big Data Project. This project is entering its last year and the website is up and running (https://umissis.org).

December 2019

Map image of Iowa showing sensor locations
Stream monitoring sensor locations in Iowa deployed by IIHR with INRC support. Inset shows Mud Creek project area with sensor locations.  

The 65 INRC water quality sensors were deployed in the period from March-June and streamed nitrate, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, turbidity and temperature data to the Iowa Water Quality Information System (IWQIS-http://iwqis.iowawis.org/app/) throughout the monitoring season. As of the end of December, several sensors remain deployed thanks to the unseasonably warm weather.

The Mud Creek watershed project began in the fall, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. INRC funds were leveraged to obtain $771,000 to conduct practice implementation (constructed wetlands) and water monitoring (sensor deployment) in this tributary of the Middle Cedar River as part of EPA's Gulf of Mexico Cooperative Agreement. The project, a “Flood-First Approach to Water-Quality Improvement in an Iowa Watershed,” is one of two that have been recently funded by EPA. All data from the EPA-funded projects will be publicly available through IWQIS.

Turbidity data continues to be collected with equipment funded by Iowa DNR with data streamed onto IWQIS. Research is ongoing to use this data to quantify sediment and phosphorus loads leaving Iowa. INRC equipment (nitrate sensor) was deployed in Washington County to measure nitrate levels in overland runoff draining to a surface tile intake. This project was in conjunction with the Iowa Geological Survey.

IWQIS is serving as the template for the NSF-Big Data Hub project in conjunction with the University of Illinois and the Great Lakes to Gulf Conservatory. This project will serve to display data from all the states draining to the Upper Mississippi River.

Outreach included 14 presentations.