Conservation Learning Group Publishes Water Issues in Iowa Report

Comprehensive report aggregates survey data with interviews of college students, farmers and landowners

September 13, 2023, 2:01 pm | Jacqueline Comito

AMES, Iowa – The Conservation Learning Group, a think tank based at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and dedicated to addressing conservation and environmental challenges, has published its Water Issues in Iowa report and associated infographic. The report provides insights and priorities expressed by Iowans regarding water quality across the state and tracks changes in perceptions of water quality issues among Iowans over the past 15 years.

Input for the report was gathered through a number of survey instruments, in-person interviews and listening sessions with stakeholders across the state. A primary goal of this project was to qualitatively and quantitatively assess changes in water quality priorities and issues that were recorded through the 2011 project sponsored by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as well as a variety of interim studies and surveys.

Water survey graphic.“This project leveraged information and responses that were gathered through opportunistic and ad hoc activities including surveys, interviews with regent university students and listening sessions with farmers, non-farming rural and urban dwellers, and others with an interest in improving water quality,” said Jacqueline Comito, CLG director and anthropologist. “While the method did not necessarily provide a representative sample of Iowans, it wasn’t our goal to do so. Rather, we wanted to elevate specific voices, such as teachers and college students, who aren’t often included in water quality surveys. The combination of the different datasets and design of listening session questions gave us an excellent snapshot of what many Iowans think about water quality and who they feel should take responsibility for addressing issues of importance.”

Data sources for the project included on-site interviews at Iowa’s three regent universities, emailed surveys of some 51,000 university students, mailed surveys to Iowa landowners and Soil and Water Conservation District commissioners, and online surveys to a broad range of Iowans who had participated in one or more conservation-focused events, subscribed to certain newsletters or were active in conservation-centric groups. In addition, 60 college students participated in interviews and some 47 members of the public joined in six listening sessions.

“The survey data was important, but the in-person interviews and listening sessions really provided the glue that guided the formation of the conclusion and recommendations in the report,” said Comito. “The passion, and sometimes disgruntlement, expressed in these sessions helped us to home in on areas of the greatest concern — both in water quality and in what should be done to improve it.”

While the Water Issues in Iowa report does provide some conclusions and recommended actions, it also establishes a strong case for further, targeted studies to identify root causes and develop specific remediation actions to align with priorities of all Iowans.

To download a free copy of the report, visit

This study was funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (U.S. EPA Section 319) in partial fulfillment of Contract #21ESDWQBSKONR-0001.

About Conservation Learning Group

Conservation Learning Group is a collaborative team established to advance training, outreach, and research across land uses and production systems to increase overall sustainability of agricultural and natural systems for multiple generations to come. CLG draws on experts in various disciplines to deliver engaging science-based outreach to farmers, agricultural advisers, landowners, decision makers, youth and communities. To learn more about Conservation Learning Group visit

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