New Web Site Offers Detailed Information on Iowa Lakes

Catherine Kling, CARD, 515-294-5767;
Susan Thompson, Ag Communications, Iowa State University College of Agriculture, (515) 294-0705;
From "Agriculture in Action: Notes from ISU" by Susan Thompson

August 4, 2004

An Iowa State University team has launched a new Web site that gives water quality measures and recreational information for Iowa lakes. It is part of the Iowa Lakes Valuation Project, which is gathering information about lake usage, water quality and perceptions. Funding comes from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The new Web site opens with a map of Iowa divided into nine regions. Visitors have the option of clicking on the map, or selecting from alphabetical lists of 135 lakes or Iowa's 99 counties. Once a lake is chosen, visitors get a general overview including such things as the lake's size, shoreline miles, depth, how many acres drain into it, boat access, boat restrictions and facilities and amenities available. Photos and maps of the surrounding area often are provided.

Visitors can find out if the lake is on the EPA's list of impaired waterways. Sixty-six of the lakes currently fall into that category. They also can learn if beaches at the lake are monitored on a regular basis and if advisories have been posted that caution against swimming.

The Iowa Lakes Valuation Project also involves sending surveys to about 8,000 Iowans each year for four years. Survey results for 2002 are on the Web site. That year, about 62 percent of those surveyed said they visited one of the lakes, making about eight trips per year.

Saylorville Lake in Polk County had the most single-day trips by Iowans in 2002 at nearly 600,000. Slip Bluff Lake in Decatur County was at the opposite end of the spectrum, with fewer than 1,600 day trips. West Okoboji had the most multi-day trips at nearly 265,000. Data from the 2003 survey will be added to the Web site in the near future.

For 130 of the lakes, physical water quality measurements of clarity, phosphorus levels and chlorophyll levels are provided. A team led by John Downing, professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has been gathering this data. Phosphorus levels provide an indication of the amount of nutrients in the lake, while chlorophyll levels are an indication of the amount of living algae in a lake.

"It is our hope this new Web site will help Iowans better understand the water quality and lake amenities we have in the state," said Catherine Kling, economics professor and head of the resource and environmental policy division of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development. Kling and others are conducting the four-year survey of Iowans.

"We anticipate this new resource will be used by anyone interested in water quality, facilities and recreational opportunities at Iowa's lakes, including environmental organizations, watershed groups and the thousands of Iowans who use our lakes for fishing, boating or other activities," Kling said. The Web site is at