Requests for Stream Sensors

From the Iowa Flood Center Spotlight

By Breanna Shea

As floods continue to impact the safety and economic stability of our communities, infrastructure, and valuable farmland, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) requests your feedback to determine where additional stream sensors are needed to enhance the flood monitoring and prediction capabilities in your area.

With this in mind, we are collecting a list of proposed stream sensor locations from partners with localized flood experiences, knowledge of information gaps, and who are actively engaged in their area flood response. Please discuss potential locations of priority stream sensor sites for your communities with your local emergency response team and submit proposed locations by filling out the information requested via this link:

Please submit proposed locations by October 19.

We will attempt to leverage the list of identified priority stream sensor locations for additional funding and resources. It is our goal to help you with the installation and deployment of more stream sensors. Please note, the IFC currently does not have resources available to help with a large sensor deployment; rather, we are collecting information to demonstrate the need and show support for expansion of the statewide stream sensor network. If funding does become available, our team will assess your proposed locations to determine site suitability.

Our IFC sensors provide near real-time river level information at about 250 locations statewide, displaying data every 15 minutes on the Iowa Flood Information System(IFIS). The self-contained sensors are mounted on bridges and operate using solar power. The sensors measure river levels using a sonar signal, and data are transmitted via cell modem to the IFIS public interface.

For more information, contact Breanna Shea (, 319-384-1729).

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.

Measuring Progress of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: The 2017 Annual Progress Report

Written by Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Iowa State University

This week, the 2017 Annual Progress Report for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was published. The report is the fourth annual progress evaluation of the NRS, and represents the continued improvement in communicating Iowa’s steps towards its goal of reducing annual nitrogen and phosphorus loss by 45%. For the first time, a summary infographic has been developed to pare down the in-depth report to its highlights.

Organizations across Iowa—public agencies, private entities, NGOs, and universities—form vital partnerships and have taken strides in the work toward meeting NRS goals.

  • Funding for NRS efforts totaled $420 million in 2017, an increase of $32 million from the previous year.
  • Annual outreach events reported by partner organizations effectively doubled in the last year, reaching 54,500 attendees in 2017.
  • Wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities continue to make commitments to improve their nutrient removal processes. Of the 151 facilities required by the NRS, 105 have received new permits; of those, 51 have submitted feasibility studies on potential technology improvements.

These increased efforts represent early inputs into the Strategy, allowing work to ramp up and begin influencing tangible change in the state.

Increased funding and outreach, along with the continued dedication of other inputs by partner organizations, are having an impact on the Iowa landscape.

  • Cover crop acres have increased drastically, from just 15,000 estimated acres in 2011 to more than 600,000 acres in 2016.
  • During that 2011-2016 time period, 36 nitrogen removal wetlands were constructed, treating 42,000 acres.
  • Also since 2011, a net increase of 155,000 row crop acres have been retired under the Conservation Reserve Program, with total CRP land retirement nearing 1.7 million acres.

At this point, the extent of conservation practices in Iowa pales in comparison to what is likely needed to meet NRS goals. However, these steps forward represent very early change resulting from statewide NRS efforts.

The water quality impacts of these efforts will continue to be assessed. At least 88% of Iowa’s land drains to a location with a nitrate sensor, allowing researchers to evaluate Iowa’s annual nitrogen loss and detect potential changes in the nitrogen load reaching the Mississippi River. Ongoing research aims to provide similar estimates of annual phosphorus loads beginning in 2018. In addition, using models developed for the NRS Science Assessment, the Annual Progress Report provides an annual estimate of the nutrient reductions affected by the conservation practices installed across the state.

The Annual Progress Report, and other NRS documents, can be found at

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailLaurie 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.

Geographic Information Systems at Iowa State University

Big data requires big software and big ideas. This can be especially true when it comes to managing our water-related resources. Today, we have access to numerous data points about our soil and water that can assist in understanding current landscape conditions and to plan for the future. Information such as this is not useful unless it can be analyzed by the experts using software such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

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When it comes to water…

From Melissa Miller, Iowa Water Center Associate Director

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday, my family and I made a lunch and relaxation stop in Elkader on our way to Wisconsin for a weekend getaway. My girls love water, so we walked over the Keystone Bridge for a good look.

may and hana on turkey

Hana, 3, and May, 5 pose near the Turkey River in Elkader on 8/19/16.

Just a week later, Elkader and other Northeast Iowa residents are dealing with severe flooding from torrential downpours earlier in the week that dumped as much as 8″ of rain in some areas, causing damage to homes, businesses, and even killing one person swept away in the flash floods. Some residents had to evacuate their homes and take shelter elsewhere (including fish!). The water that makes these communities peaceful, beautiful places to live and visit can also pose severe challenges.

turkey river flooding

Flooding of the Turkey River in downtown Elkader as taken by NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center’s Airborne Snow Survey airplanes.

This storm is a solemn reminder of the power of water and the importance of studying it. Our seed grant RFP will be released soon, and this year we are partnering with other Water Resources Research Institutes in the Mississippi and Ohio River Basins to share knowledge so that we’re advancing our understanding together. In addition, the Iowa Watershed Approach has already begun work in communities to help address flood and water quality risks and increase community resiliency to events like the ones this week. Related to flooding, up-to-date flood information is available through the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

IWC’s overarching goal is to improve management of water resources. “Management” might not be the best term, because in many cases, water (and nature) does what it will. There’s a parallel between “managing” water and “managing” children – no matter what you want out of it, the true nature of the water (and the child) will always rise up.

family on turkey

One of many attempts at a “nice” family picture at the Keystone Bridge. Getting kids to look at the camera with serene smiles can be as difficult as telling a river or a rain cloud exactly where to run or when to empty.


The Tenth [Business] Day of Christmas: Breakouts: Nutrient Management

On the tenth [business] day of Christmas, the Iowa Water Center gave to me…descriptions for the breakout session Nutrient Management.

The following presentations will take place at the Iowa Water Conference in Ames on the morning of Thursday, March 24, 2016. Registration for the conference will open in January.

Urban-Rural Water Quality Partnerships
Dustin Miller, General Counsel, Iowa League of Cities and Jonathan Gano, Public Works Director, City of Des Moines; moderated by Sean McMahon, Executive Director, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance

Increasingly, Iowa cities are expressing interest in partnering with farmers to improve water quality. Municipal Waste Water Treatment facilities recognize that they can meet future permit obligations in a far more cost-effective manner if they invest in conservation practices such as saturated buffers, bioreactors and nutrient treatment wetlands, provided that they receive credits for the resulting nutrient loading reductions to apply to their future permit obligations. Additionally, urban partners such as the Greater Des Moines Partnership (GDP) are interested in finding solutions to water quality. Learn about innovative new strategies and partnerships to create new revenue streams for conservation.

Targeted Variable Rate Fertilizer Application: A rare win for water quality and farmers
Rebecca Kluckhohn, P.E., Principal, Wenck Associates, Inc.

Results of a pilot project illustrate that cost share and non-government enrollment processes motivated farmers to apply fertilizer at a variable rate based on soil test results. Changes in fertilizer application, crop yields, nutrient export and cost savings were tracked.

Real-time continuous nitrate monitoring provides insights into N loss mechanisms
Caroline Davis, Assistant Research Scientist, IIHR-University of Iowa

University of Iowa’s real-time monitoring network and water quality information system (WQIS) provide insights into N loss mechanisms, and help explain why stream N varies between watersheds and calendar periods. The on-line user tool disseminates this data to the public.

Runoff Risk: A Decision Support Tool for Nutrient Application Timing
Dustin Goering, Hydrologist, North Central River Forecast Center, National Weather Service

Current and proposed expansion of a decision support tool leveraging NWS real-time modeling to alert farmers and applicators of future unsuitable conditions for nutrient application. Successful adoption could lower nutrient losses from fields and provide economic as well as environmental benefits.


By Catherine DeLong

In July of this year a grant was awarded to a group of Iowa State University researchers to study the long term impact of land management practices on the Black Hawk Lake Watershed. The goal of the research team, which includes Michelle Lynn Soupir, Matt Helmers, Amy Kaleita, Leigh Ann Long and Carl Pederson, is to assess the impact of conservation practices on water quality.

Black Hawk Lake occupies 957 acres in Sac County, and its watershed drains an area of 13,156 acres. The lake has been declared an impaired waterway by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) mainly due to the excess sediment that clouds the water. This excess sediment has transported phosphorus into the lake, which in turn has caused algal blooms to appear and compromise the waterway. A Watershed Management Plan was enacted several years ago in order to combat rising phosphorus levels. The management plan has put into action various conservation practices, such as cover crops, terraces and filter strips. The grant awarded to Iowa State University researchers will be used to monitor the outcomes of these conservation efforts.

Three automated monitors have been placed across the watershed to collect water samples. The monitors will notify the researchers, via cellphone, as soon as a runoff event has occurred. Once the samples have been gathered they will be sampled for phosphorus, nitrogen and suspended solids.

The $461,661 grant, awarded by the IDNR, is for five years. As Assistant Professor Michelle Lynn Soupir explains, “[t]here’s a lag time between when you implement land use practices and when you start to see water quality improvement. We need a better understanding of that lag time, and five years of data will help fill in some of those gaps.” Most studies of this nature are only allotted 1 to 3 years to complete their work.