+ View Section Navigation

Beach Monitoring: Safe to Swim?

About Iowa beach monitoring

Clear Lake BeachFrom approximately Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend each summer, water management agencies conduct monitoring for microcystin and E. coli bacteria at Iowa lakes. This is a 15- or 16-week period each summer. 

Since 2006, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts weekly monitoring for 39 state park beaches (see full list below). 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Rock Island District conducts weekly monitoring at Coralville, Saylorville, and Red Rock lakes. USACE Rock Island monitors its beaches according to the same protocols as Iowa DNR. 

Some cities and counties arrange with DNR to test local park beaches for E. coli. The local managing department determines whether to issue an advisory based on the results provided by DNR.

When are swim advisories issued?

DNR and USACE Rock Island will issue swim advisories when:

  • microcystin exceeds 8 micrograms/L
  • E. coli exceeds state standards 

The E. coli standard is exceeded when either:

  • A geometric mean based on five samples in a 30-day period exceeds 126 colony-forming units per 100 mL of water
  • A single sample exceeds 235 colony forming units per 100 mL of water
    • DNR only issues an advisory for exceedance of the single sample threshold if the beach is classified as "vulnerable" or "transitional". More information on beach classification can be found on the DNR's website.

Iowa DNR and USACE Rock Island post a sign at the beach to indicate an advisory. DNR updates its beach monitoring website at www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Beach-Monitoring

Cities and counties can issue advisories for locally managed beaches by posting a sign. 

Prior to 2020, microcystin advisories were issued at a less protective 20 microgram/L threshold.  

The Iowa Environmental Council tracks the weekly beach monitoring reports and swim advisories from Iowa DNR and USACE Rock Island each summer. The results of our tracking can be seen below.

Weekly Water Watch email

Weekly Water Watch

Every Friday during the summer recreation season, IEC sends Weekly Water Watch, an e-newsletter with beach advisory updates and other important water news.  

Trends in Swim Advisories

Microcystin-related Swim Advisories

Since the Iowa Department of Natural Resources beach monitoring program began in 2006, the number of annual swim advisories issued for microcystin has increased dramatically.

Swim Advisories Microcystin 2006-2023

Cumulative Microcystin Advisories by Beach

E. coli-related Swim Advisories

Overall, the number of annual E. coli-related swim advisories issued at Iowa State Park beaches has trended downwards in the last six years. 

Swim Advisories E.coli 2014-2023

Cumulative E coli Advisories by Beach