Albright Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Institute Research Grant Competition

Written by Sarah Feehan, Communications Specialist, Iowa Water Center

AMES, IOWA – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to enable graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Ellen Albright has been selected among three other graduate students from across Iowa. She and the other recipients will receive funding for a variety of proposed research.

Albright Headshot
Ellen Albright, PhD Student at Iowa State University.

Albright’s proposed research focuses on internal phosphorus loading in shallow lakes, as well as management strategies to prevent and help mitigate harmful algal blooms. It is titled ‘Developing Methods to Measure Internal Phosphorus Loading in Iowa Lakes’.

“I’m interested in internal phosphorus loading, which is the release of phosphorus from lakebed sediments into the overlying water,” Albright says. Phosphorus is a limiting nutrient that can cause harmful algal blooms in lakes. Phosphorus stored at the bottom of lakes in sediment can be re-released into the water due to wind disturbance or fish stirring up the sediment.

Associate Director of the IWC Melissa Miller says, “Water Resources Research Institutes like the Iowa Water Center were authorized by Congress in part to address emerging water resources concerns through research. Harmful algal blooms are a high-priority topic in the nation. Ms. Albright’s work will not only contribute to the body of knowledge on internal phosphorus loading, but will also contribute a new, scalable sampling method,” Miller says.

Albright says, “Internal phosphorus loading can maintain high nutrient levels in our lakes. And it’s not very well understood in the shallow lakes we have here in Iowa. It can also impact how effective watershed nutrient reduction strategies are at achieving water quality goals.”

Get to know Ellen Albright, PhD Student at Iowa State University

Albright grew up in a small town just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, called Cottage Grove. Her main area of research is limnology, or the study of inland waters such as lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

“My interest in limnology started during a summer undergrad position that I had with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked at a field station they run in northern Wisconsin called Trout Lake Station,” Albright says.

Albright and Field Work
Albright conducting field research.

She had a variety of positions there every summer of her undergraduate career. And while she was working there, she learned that she really enjoys research time and enjoys studying lakes.

“While I was there, I got excited about the process of collecting ecological data and knowing that data can help us make decisions and better manage freshwater resources. I think those are the experiences that really sparked the interests I have now,” Albright says.

Throughout and in between the field work days and lab work days, Albright is constantly working with other students, especially in the summertime.

Albright says, “I enjoy training our undergrad researchers for the different roles we have in our lab and encouraging them to pursue independent research projects. I find that mentoring is a really rewarding part of my job.”

In her free time, Albright enjoys getting outdoors. “It’s very relaxing for me. I like to go for walks, go birding, fishing, and get out on the water,” Albright says.

 For more information about this year’s recipients, please visit To reference the general press release for all four recipients, please visit:

The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices. Learn more at

0Sarah Feehan is the communications specialist for the Iowa Water Center. She holds a BS in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Political Science from Iowa State University. In fall of 2019, Feehan will begin acquiring her JD from Drake Law School.

Bates awarded CYtation Award

Hanna Bates, Program Assistant, Iowa Water Center and Jonathan Wickert Senior Vice President and Provost, Iowa State University

On March 22, 2018, Program Assistant Hanna Bates was awarded a CYtation Award from the Iowa State University Professional & Scientific Council at Iowa State University for performing above the call of duty at the Iowa Water Center. She is one of approximately 12 others to receive this award this year.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Farmer Survey: Tracking Changes in Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors

Post written by Laurie Nowatzke and J. Arbuckle

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) aims to reduce Iowa agriculture’s nitrogen loss and phosphorus loss by 42 and 29 percent, respectively. A major component of the NRS is to encourage the voluntary adoption of conservation practices on Iowa farms. Practices that can reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loss include cover crops, nitrogen management, and perennial vegetation, among others.

Decision and behavioral theory generally view awareness of a problematic situation and attitudes toward potential solutions as important predictors of behavior change. In tracking progress toward achieving NRS goals, we ask the questions: “What are farmers’ knowledge of and attitudes toward the NRS?” and, “How do these factors affect the use of conservation practices?”

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, with support from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, is conducting a five-year survey of farmers to help track the progress of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy by examining trends in farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to nutrient loss reduction. At the Iowa Water Conference on March 20, 2018, in Ames, we will present analysis and highlights from the first three years (2015-2017) of the survey.

Following an innovative “semi-longitudinal” structure, the project surveys two HUC6 watershed each year; one that was surveyed during the previous year, and one new one. Thus, each HUC6 watersheds is surveyed two years in a row to allow measurement of changes in farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and conservation practice use. A sample of farmers in the Iowa HUC6 is surveyed every year. By the end of the five-year survey, the majority of the state will have been surveyed, and two years of data will be available for all major HUC6 watersheds in Iowa (Figure 1b).

Figure 1 The rotating survey areas for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Farmer Survey, with a) HUC6 watersheds that, as of 2017, have been surveyed for a least two years, and b) the HUC6 watersheds that will have been surveyed at the end of the project in 2019. The Iowa HUC6 watershed is surveyed every year.

With three years of the annual sampled watershed (the Iowa HUC6) completed, and with two consecutive years surveyed in two other HUC6 watershed, our presentation at the Iowa Water Conference will present trends over time in each of those watershed areas (Figure 1a). The presentation will examine trends in the following survey variables:

  • Knowledge and awareness of the NRS
  • Information sources where farmers learned about the NRS
  • Attitudes toward the NRS and related activities
  • Concerns about agriculture’s impacts on water quality
  • Involvement in watershed groups
  • Use of conservation practices, including cover crops, springtime nitrogen application, and no-till
  • Use of cost-share funding and technical assistance for conservation practices


Laurie Nowatzke is the Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, in Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. She has a MA in International Relations & Environmental Policy from Boston University, and a BS from Wright State University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Iowa State University.

J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. is associate professor and extension sociologist at Iowa State University. His research and extension efforts focus on improving the environmental and social performance of agricultural systems. His primary areas of interest are drivers of farmer and agricultural stakeholder decision making and action related to soil and water quality. He is director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of Iowa farmers.

Get to know retaiN


Post submitted by Jamie Benning, Water Quality Program Manager for Iowa State University Extension & Outreach

The retaiN project was inspired by experiences of Tim Smith, an Eagle Grove, Iowa farmer.  Smith participated in tile monitoring and found levels of nitrates in his tile to be higher than he preferred even though he had been implementing conservation practices for many years.  The tile monitoring data moved him to action, leading him to increase his on-farm testing and implement conservation practices that reduce nitrate loss.  Conservation Districts of Iowa and the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Water program led the effort to develop an easy to use nitrate testing kit to encourage other farmers to gather their own nitrate data to support decision making related to nitrogen management and reduction of nitrate loss.

Through support and partnership from the State Soil Conservation Committee, Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, the retaiN nitrate testing kits were developed.  The kits include a bottle of 25 Hach nitrate and nitrite testing strips and a booklet with nitrate monitoring instructions, nitrogen practice information and data log section all in a shippable box.  The Hach test strips are simple and easy to use and provide the farmer with a concentration reading in 60 seconds.

During the pilot phase of the project, 500 kits were distributed to established watershed projects, agriculture organizations and ISUEO field agronomists and engineers.  Watershed coordinators and ISUEO specialists distributed the kits to individual farmers and provided follow-up calls and encouragement to sample throughout the 2015 growing season.  Farmers were encouraged to sample tile outlets on their farms bi-weekly, or more frequently as time allowed.  After the pilot phase, a survey of farmers and landowners and watershed coordinators and ISUEO specialists was conducted. The evaluation feedback from has been overwhelmingly positive.  One farmer wrote, “The kit is quick, very simple to use and gives you immediate results. It helps me determine if I am losing any nitrogen”.

After the pilot phase, modifications to the kit materials were made based on survey feedback and kit distribution by watershed coordinators and extension field specialists and county specialists continued.  Additionally, a partnership with Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) was developed.  The Iowa Corn Growers distributed kits to farmers during their Crop Fairs, Soil Health Partnership events, and watershed education and outreach events across the state.   To date, over 1500 retaiN kits have been distributed.  Conducting on-farm tile monitoring through the retaiN project has been a catalyst for farmers and landowners to gather baseline nitrate data for their farm, implement nitrate reduction practices, prioritize changes to their nitrogen management practices and explore additional monitoring.  Several extension specialists and watershed coordinators from the North Central Region and beyond have consulted with the retaiN team to adapt the retaiN kit for their states.

For more information about the retaiN project, visit: 

Jamie Benning will discuss the retaiN project at the 2018 Iowa Water Conference. The full agenda will be available soon!

Jamie Benning is the Water Quality Program Manager with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She develops and delivers water quality and soil conservation programs and collaborates with researchers and extension specialists to create science-based education and training opportunities.  Benning works with external partners and stakeholders to support water quality improvement efforts throughout the state.