Four-Year Study of Lake Use Underway at ISU

Cathy Kling, CARD-ISU, (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

December 11, 2003

Iowans like lakes. That's the simple conclusion drawn from a recent survey of how Iowans use and value lakes. Researchers from the Iowa State University economics department and the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) still are analyzing data from the first year of this four-year study, funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But it's clear those surveyed think Iowa's lakes are important.

"We hope to provide information for policymakers, environmental groups, farmers and the general public that will help frame the issues surrounding water quality in Iowa," said Catherine Kling, an economics professor and head of CARD's resource and environmental policy division. "We want to learn how people use Iowa lakes and what they might be willing to spend or do to improve water quality."

The focus of the first year of the Iowa Lakes Valuation Project was to provide a baseline of information on use and attitudes towards water quality measures and economic development. A combination of mail and phone surveys drew responses from about 4,700 Iowans.

Participants were asked how often they visited lakes during 2001 and 2002, plus planned visits for 2003. About 60 percent reported taking or planning at least one trip to an Iowa lake during that time period, with an average of eight visits per year. Picnicking was the most popular activity on lake visits, followed by fishing, nature appreciation, boating, beach use and camping.

Participants also were asked about lake features that are most important to them. Water quality topped the list of factors people consider when choosing a lake for recreation. Proximity to where they live ranked second.

The survey asked respondents to think about the lake closest to them and indicate how important it is to their community. Large percentages felt their lake was either very important or somewhat important to their community.

They then were told to consider the importance of that lake if its water quality was significantly improved. A slightly higher percentage said the lake would be either very important or somewhat important to their community with a significant improvement in water quality.

Kling says surveys will be sent to the same people each of the next three years, with questions about lake usage asked each year. "Since efforts to improve water quality typically entail significant costs, additional information about their willingness to pay for lake clenup or to support changes in land use also will be gathered," she says.

The first-year survey and a summary are online at