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Iowa Source Water Protection Week May 5-11

Article cover photo
Conservation farming practices such as cover crops and wetlands can protect Iowa's waterways and drinking water sources as well. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Carol Brown, ISA environmental communications specialist

It is known that part of any healthy diet is drinking plenty of water each day, but not many people think about where their drinking water comes from. Next week, May 5-11, is Iowa Source Water Protection Week as well as National Drinking Water Week. This commemoration calls attention to the importance of drinking water and the protection of its sources.

The group behind Iowa Source Water Protection Week is the Iowa Source Water Ag Collaborative, a group comprised of agricultural and environmental agencies and commodity groups that value the voluntary, proactive efforts of water supply stakeholders to create and implement Source Water Protection plans.  The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) is one of the collaborative’s 15 members. 

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the term “source water” is used to define drinking water in its original environment, either as surface water (rivers, streams, reservoirs, lakes) or as groundwater (aquifers), before being withdrawn, treated, and distributed by a water system. Source Water Protection (SWP) is the act of preventing contaminants from entering public drinking water sources. 

In Iowa, most communities draw their drinking water from aquifers or surface waters. Iowa communities are creating SWP plans to help guard their drinking water sources. The towns work with a regional SWP coordinator and the Iowa Source Water Ag Collaborative to learn about and protect their drinking water sources. Every community’s source water is unique, therefore developing and implementing SWP plans must be locally-led to address local conditions.

ISA helps to improve water quality

The ISA Environmental Programs and Services (EPS) team works with farmers individually and collectively to improve water quality across the state. The EPS team has written watershed plans that recommend ways to improve water quality within a priority watershed, which in turn, may improve the quality of source water for communities. No matter the source of a community’s water supply — whether a river, lake or aquifer — Iowa farmers and landowners make an impact. 

“SWP plans are developed in the same way as watershed plans, so our involvement is a natural fit,” said Anthony Seeman, ISA environmental research coordinator. “The recommendations in these plans include conservation practices for farmers and landowners to adopt that improve water quality. Using cover crops and reduced tillage, installing bioreactors, saturated buffers and wetlands, each help to improve water quality within a watershed.” 

Seeman said that in addition to working with urban and rural residents, ISA’s water monitoring program helps farmers see how their conservation practices are working to reduce nitrates in the water leaving their fields. 

“We provide annual reports to farmer participants, so they can see the progression of success from their structures or in-field practices,” continued Seeman. “With ISA’s long-term monitoring of tile drainage and streams, we can see the trends and the positive progress for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.”

Iowa community examples

The Iowa Source Water Ag Collaborative offers a few examples of what some communities are doing to improve the quality of their water source. 

In Griswold, a local effort resulted in an SWP plan and grant dollars to add cover crops on 75 percent of the area surrounding the municipal wells. Cover crops reduce the risk of nitrate entering Griswold’s drinking water source, reduce soil erosion and improve overall soil quality. 

The local SWP team in Elliott implemented their plan, which included restoring a 22-acre site near the town’s well to a wetland and native grass buffer.  Wetlands reduce the risk of nitrate entering in the groundwater, provide wildlife habitat, and serve as an outdoor classroom for a nearby elementary school. 

To address aging infrastructure and scarce resources, many Iowa communities are developing SWP plans that will reduce treatment costs for their drinking water. Communities that have Source Water Protection plans approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) include: Kingsley, Holstein, Ida Grove, George, Sanborn and Osceola Rural Water System-South. 

Several communities are in the planning process including Early, Pierson, Sioux Rapids and Lyon-Sioux Rural Water System-Doon. The towns of Atlantic, Kimballton, Elk Horn and West Central Iowa Rural Water Association are farther along in plan development and will transition to implementation after Iowa DNR approval. 

The Iowa Source Water Ag Collaborative is ready to partner with communities to coordinate and develop resources. The Collaborative encourages awareness and education to continue positive engagement of Iowans in partnerships that enhance and protect Iowa’s source water. 

For more information on source water protection in Iowa, visit

Contact Carol Brown at

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