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The Worth of Water: Iowans Value our Recreational Lakes

Economic ImpactIowa Lakes are Highly Used for Recreation

Over the span of several years, researchers at Iowa State University studied the use and economic impact of approximately 130 Iowa lakes via the Iowa Lakes Valuation Project  (ILVP). According to IVLP:

  • Iowa lakes are highly used by a majority of Iowans – approximately 60% of Iowans visit a state lake at least once during the year and,
  • On average, Iowa residents visit an Iowa lake about eight times per year.

Recreational Lake Use Is Important to Iowa's Economy

When Iowans visit our lakes to enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities, they spend money on local retail goods and services (e.g., gas, food, etc.).  This spending provides significant benefits to our state and local economies.  According to IVLP:

  • In one year alone, visits to Iowa lakes resulted in nearly $ 1 billion in estimated total direct spending in the state.
  • Direct spending varies at each lake, but on average, Iowans spend an estimated $7 million annually per lake.
  • While some lakes generate significant spending (e.g., several Iowa lakes generate spending of over $40 million annually), even small lakes in rural Iowa can generate spending of over $2 million annually.
  • Click here to view an interactive map of the economic impacts of individual lakes.

In addition to helping support local businesses, direct spending at Iowa lakes also helps to support local jobs.  According to IVLP

  • Direct spending at Iowa lakes helps to support over 12,000 Iowa jobs.

Water Quality is Essential to Recreational Lake Use

When choosing a lake for recreation, users consider a variety of factors.  According to IVLP:

  • Water quality (i.e., “safety from bacterial contamination/no health advisories”) is the most important factor for Iowans when choosing a lake for recreation. Water clarity is also an important consideration. 

As nutrient pollution continues to degrade Iowa’s water quality (e.g., causing harmful algal blooms that threaten the health of people and pets), it can also reduce the recreational use and enjoyment of Iowa lakes (e.g., causing “no swim advisories.”) and diminish the associated economic benefits of Iowa lake use. 

Improvements in Iowa lake water quality, on the other hand, can spur increased use and associated spending.  Iowa lakes that have benefitted from restoration projects/investments, for example, have seen considerable improvements in tourism.  According to IVLP:

  • 3 out of 4 lakes with the highest increases in visitation in Iowa have undergone major restoration projects. 

Iowans are willing to pay for water quality improvements and associated recreational benefits. 

According modeling and estimates by the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development:

  • “Iowans would be willing to pay about $30 million per year for recreational improvements [resulting] from the better water quality associated with full implementation of the NRS.”