Cleaning Iowa’s Waters with Saturated Buffers, New Publication

October 29, 2015

AMES, Iowa – A new publication on saturated buffers is now available from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Extension Store. Cleaning Iowa’s Waters with Saturated Buffers in Iowa Watersheds (WQ 0005) is offered as a free download to highlight the recent work being done with saturated buffers in Iowa.

In a conventional tile drainage system, the underground tile pipes take extra water from cropland and drain it into the nearest ditch or stream. With a saturated buffer in place, a portion of the drainage water is diverted into lateral drainage tile installed along the buffer, increasing the shallow groundwater level and providing nutrient removal.

Jamie Benning, water quality program manager with ISU Extension and Outreach says, “Saturated buffers are a relatively new technology that farmers are very excited about, they can be incorporated into an existing buffer or installed when a new buffer is implemented at the edge of a field.”

Saturated buffers extend the many benefits of streamside buffers, such as removal of sediment, phosphorus and pesticides while providing more abundant wildlife habitat. With the addition of the saturated buffer portion, additional nitrate is removed from the groundwater through denitrification and plant uptake, improving downstream water quality.

“We are working with private land owners in Iowa Water Quality Initiative Watersheds to establish and monitor saturated buffers as a nitrate management practice within tile drained watersheds. Initial monitoring has shown the practice has great promise in reducing nitrate loss to streams. The data collected will help develop criteria for installing these saturated buffers as an accepted conservation practice,” said Tom Isenhart with Iowa State University. The work is a collaborative project with Dan Jaynes of the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

To find additional publications on water quality and more, visit the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Store at