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Water and Land Publications

Council Publications

Water and Land Publications

The Costs of CAFOs: Impacts on Your Wallet and Your Health

Nitrates from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are pervading into essential drinking water supplies. This report examines the lasting effects of nitrate pollution, including health complications, costly utility upgrades, and degraded ecosystem services. Despite regulations from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Iowa DNR has identified 260 communities that face increasing nitrates in their drinking water supplies. These effects will predominately be felt in rural communities, where people rely on private wells largely unmonitored, and economies are driven by livestock operations. As a whole, Iowans will spend up to $333 million dollars on nitrogen removal over the next five years to fight CAFO pollution. 

Animal Feeding Operations in Iowa's Floodplain: A Risk to Iowa's Waters

Iowa law prohibits new and expanded confined animal feeding operations (AFOs) in the 100-year floodplain. In 2002, the Iowa legislature charged the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with developing a floodplain map to identify the areas to apply AFO siting restrictions, but the DNR never did so. In the twenty years since that law passed, the DNR has been operating under an “interim” case-by-case approach to site review. This report, published in June 2023 by IEC and Environmental Law & Policy Center based on analysis from the Environmental Working Group, analyzed the location and number of AFOs built in Iowa floodplains since 2002. 

Leveling the Playing Field: Basic Standards of Care for Iowa 

For many years, the Iowa Environmental Council has called on Iowa state leadership to adopt regulations that would lead to actual reductions of fertilizer pollution in Iowa’s waterways. The state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy has failed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Iowa streams and lakes. Decades of inadequate progress demonstrate that regulation is the only way Iowa will reach its fertilizer pollution reduction goals. In this August 2022 publication, IEC analyzes three regulations that have been adopted by other states that could be implemented in Iowa and accelerate progress toward our shared water quality goals.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: Ten Years and No Progress

Rivers, streams, and lakes across Iowa are polluted with nitrogen and phosphorus. In small
quantities, these are nutrients for growing plants. But in large quantities, they pollute water by promoting growth of algae, harming aquatic life, and limiting use of drinking water. In August 2022, IEC published this report reviewing NRS actions to date and making seven pragmatic and achievable recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Water Quality Monitoring and the Water Quality Initiative

Nearly $100 million has been allocated by the state legislature for water quality monitoring to address water quality improvements in Iowa since 2013. In July 2022, IEC published Water Quality Monitoring and the Water Quality Initiative, a report reviewing the spending, opportunities to improve water quality monitoring, and recommendations to improve transparency and accountability for public spending. 

Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: Policy Solutions to Actually Reduce Nutrient Pollution in Iowa's Water
Using data from the 2019 NRS Annual Report, IEC updated the infographics for the conservation practice rate of implementation. Based on the current data, the rate of implementation has not increased to address the scope of the issue. In May 2021, IEC released a report identifying the shortcomings of the NRS and proposed policy changes that would make significant improvements to Iowa’s water quality and natural resources. These policy changes are necessary to curb nutrient pollution.

Rural Water Systems in Iowa: Analysis of Opportunities and Challenges
In February 2021, IEC released a report on research conducted in collaboration with Dr. Silvia Secchi at the University of Iowa on the challenges and potential for rural water systems. 

Modernizing Agricultural Drainage Law in Iowa
In September 2020, IEC released a report analyzing drainage laws across the Midwest and identifying recommended policies to adopt in Iowa law.

Source Water Protection in Iowa
In February 2020, the Iowa Environmental Council released a white paper on source water protection efforts in Iowa. The paper includes policy recommendations to strengthen source water protection.

Dry Run Creek Watershed Infographic

IEC partnered with Dry Run Creek Watershed staff in 2019 to share the results of their efforts to improve their waterway. IEC produced a handout on the Dry Run Creek project, outlining the watershed goals, the practices implemented, and the impressive outcomes of their work.

The Slow Reality of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy

In July 2019, the Iowa Environmental Council released an analysis of the implementation rates of conservation practices included in the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This analysis reveals slowing adoption rates and timelines to reach NRS goals measured in millenia.

Restoring Iowa's Waters Discussion

In June 2019, IEC's Executive Director Jennifer Terry and new Water Program Director Ingrid Gronstal Anderson were featured on an episode of Iowa Learning Farm's podcast Conservation Chat. The podcast featured a discussion with Jacqueline Comito about restoring Iowa's waters. 

Iowa’s Private Wells Contaminated by Nitrate and Bacteria

On April 24, 2019, the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Working Group published an investigation of the contamination of private wells across Iowa with unsafe levels of two agricultural contaminants; coliform bacteria and nitrate. 

Nitrate in Drinking Water: A Public Health Concern for All Iowans

On September 29, 2016, the Iowa Environmental Council released a new report, Nitrate in Drinking Water: A Public Health Concern for All Iowans, an overview of research conducted in Iowa, the U.S. and abroad that indicates the health risks associated with nitrate in drinking water may go beyond blue-baby syndrome.

Healthy Lands, Healthy Waters

In January 2016, the Council released Healthy Lands, Healthy Waters: A Watershed Framework for Iowa, a white paper that lays out the need for and benefits of adopting a watershed approach in Iowa.

Partner Publications

Water Issues in Iowa

In 2023, ISU's Conservation Learning Group published Water Issues in Iowa: Survey of Iowans and College Students. The group sought to qualitatively and quantitatively assess changes in water quality priorities and issues recorded through a 2011 DNR project, as well as a variety of interim studies and surveys. The report and associated infographic reveal insights and priorities of Iowans about water quality across the state and changes in perceptions of water quality issues over the past 15 years.


In 2014, AGree, an initiative that seeks to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority, released Working Landscapes: Achieving Productivity, Profitability, and Environmental Outcomes. The Council is an AGree member and contributed to the report.

Cultivating Clean Water

In 2010, the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) and the Mississippi River Collaborative, which the Council is a member of, released Cultivating Clean Water. The report provides an overview of existing state programs that regulate runoff pollution from agriculture and gives a template for creating effective regulations that work well for farmers and the environment.