Two New Water Quality Projects at Iowa State Receive Funding

Catherine Kling, Economics, (515) 294-5767;
Susan Thompson, Communications Service, (515) 294-0705;

December 15, 2005

AMES, Iowa - Two new research projects at Iowa State University have been funded as part of more than $14 million in grants nationwide to address water supply and water quality issues. The grants are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES).

A $590,000 grant will fund a three-year project in the Boone River Watershed that includes research, education and extension. Catherine Kling, professor of economics and division head of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development's resource and environmental policy division, will lead the project. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is a partner.

"We chose the Boone River Watershed because there are a number of complementary water quality projects already underway there and active community groups that can provide local expertise and knowledge," Kling said.

Results of several ongoing projects were presented at a meeting Dec. 13 in the watershed. "One of the most exciting parts of this project is the involvement of stakeholders in the design and execution of the research. We'll use their input to develop a list of watershed problems and possible solutions, such as putting more land into perennial crops or adopting more conservation tillage," she said.

A model that incorporates various data sets also will be developed to assess the costs and water quality benefits of possible changes. Additional meetings will be held with stakeholders to get feedback and other suggestions for land use changes. Kling said the final result will be a new Boone River Watershed management plan that should lead to measurable improvement.

The educational component includes the development of a Web-based curriculum designed for undergraduates, and a multidisciplinary workshop series where graduate students will share the results and methods of the project.

The second project receiving new CSREES funding will study how landscape and weather patterns influence the growth of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. Jennifer Fraterrigo, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, will lead the two-year, $115,000 project.

"The excessive growth of cyanobacteria is a primary cause of impaired water quality in Iowa's lakes and rivers," Fraterrigo said. "Other research, both in the field and in the lab, has shown that landscape and weather patterns may affect the growth of this bacteria, but no method for predicting growth has been developed."

Fraterrigo is using data from the Iowa Lakes Survey, led by John Downing, professor in the ecology, evolution, and organismal biology department. The five-year survey has led to the development of a database of 132 Iowa lakes that includes details on water chemistry, biological analyses and watershed land-cover composition.

Fraterrigo is developing empirical models based on the lake survey data, incorporating three aspects of landscape pattern that she believes could be important in determining the amount of nutrients flowing into water bodies.

"I'm interested in the abundance of land-cover types, such as agriculture or residential, as well as where patches of land cover are located relative to the study lakes," she said. "And I'm looking at the variability within land-cover types. For example, agricultural lands may vary greatly in terms of phosphorus content. This factor could be important for determining how much phosphorus is exported from a particular patch of agricultural land."

Once these models are complete, they will be expanded to examine how different weather patterns interact with the three landscape patterns. "I'll be looking at precipitation amount and precipitation timing, with the goal of developing models that will show how landscape and weather work together to affect water quality," Fraterrigo said.