South Fork Iowa River watershed selected for a national water-quality study

Fact Sheet 2005-3064




The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is studying seven watersheds across the Nation to better understand how natural factors and agricultural management practices (AMPs) affect the transport of water and chemicals. Natural factors include climate and landscape (soil type, topography, geology), and AMPs include practices related to tillage, irrigation, and chemical application. The study approach is similar in each watershed so that we can compare and contrast the results and more accurately predict conditions in other agricultural settings.

Study objectives

  • Understand the links between the sources of water and agricultural chemicals (nutrients and pesticides) and their behavior and transport through the environment
  • Predict the behavior and transport of water and agricultural chemicals in other agricultural areas not being studied
  • Evaluate what the study results mean for management of water and water quality in a variety of agricultural settings

We appreciate your help

We are working with local growers and land owners to gain access to study sites. We also need information about the watershed and about current as well as historical agricultural management practices—past practices also affect concentrations of agricultural chemicals in ground and surface water.

We will report the findings of the study in public meetings and in publications. These findings will provide information that will be useful for improving agricultural management locally and nationally, and will guide future studies in other watersheds.

Why study the South Fork Iowa River watershed?

The South Fork Iowa River and the other watersheds represent nationally important agricultural settings (chemical use, crops, and AMPs) and natural settings (climate, soils, topography, and geology). South Fork Iowa River, which is part of the Iowa River watershed, is representative of corn and soybean row cropping in the Midwest.

Other features of the watershed that are relevant to this study:

  • Use of agricultural chemicals: Commonly used chemicals include herbicides such as atrazine, acetochlor, metolachlor, and glyphosate; and fertilizers, both manure and chemical.
  • Distinct natural setting: Low relief topography with common depressions that formerly formed ponds and wetlands and that are now drained by an extensive network of drainage tiles and ditches.
  • Variety of agricultural management practices: AMPs include both tillage and no-tillage of fields used for corn and soybean production; production of large numbers of hogs in concentrated animal feeding facilities; small grassy riparian buffer zones commonly used to reduce overland runoff.
  • Water-quality issues: Herbicides and nutrients have been frequently detected in Iowa surface and ground water, including in drinking-water wells (findings of USGS studies since the 1990s).

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
South Fork Iowa River watershed selected for a national water-quality study
Series title:
Fact Sheet
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Minnesota Water Science Center, Iowa Water Science Center
2 p.
United States
Iowa, Minnesota
Other Geospatial:
South Fork Iowa River
Online Only (Y/N):
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