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Iowa’s eroding streams source one-third of phosphorus

September 2, 2021

Research findings suggest that eroding streambanks may contribute at least one-third of phosphorus runoff into the Mississippi River and Iowa lakes.

Erosion was known to be a potentially large source of nutrients, when University of Iowa established the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy science and technology-based framework in 2013. However, the higher priority at that time was reducing nutrient loss from watersheds. The target was lowering total nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loads leaving the state by 45%.

LiDAR mapping

Led by Keith Schilling, state geologist and Director of the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa, and Dr. Tom Isenhart, professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State University, the new study analyzed data collected from aerial LiDAR mapping and extensive field monitoring in 16 watersheds around the state.

It also has integrated computer modeling. The calculated average rate of erosion over an 18-year period from the years 2000 to 2017 was approximately 7,680 metric tons of total phosphorus per year. Researchers deem the estimate conservative.

Smaller, first- and second-order headwater streams were excluded from the study due to satellite mapping limitations. However smaller streams comprise the majority of Iowa’s stream networks. They tend to have less severe bank erosion although streambank recession still occurs.

Runoff management

Matt Helmers, Director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center commented on the implications for nonpoint source control, “The focus of implementation efforts so far has largely been on land-based conservation practices… (there’s a) need to give greater attention to integrated practices that address in-stream sources and reduce the volume and power of water leaving the landscape, which can ultimately stabilize streambanks and channels.”

To assist water quality and watershed managers, we supply water quality probes to support comprehensive watershed monitoring. Water quality data collection is key to drafting and refining nutrient reduction strategies in addition to achieving water quality improvements. Our partnership with TriOS brings you the next generation of spectral sensors which measure phosphorus, continuously or at a point in time. Analyze and archive datasets within KISTERS software for quality-assured datasets, accurate forecasts, and convenient data sharing.