Water Quality Monitoring in Story County

Understanding water quality in Story County lakes and rivers is a big job with many components and involving many partners:

Findings from Our Third Season

A complete report on findings from the 2022 season is available here.

Here are some metrics showing the growth in the volunteer program.

Here are some encouraging findings from monthly lab testing.

The 2021 annual report and a summary of findings are available here.

How’s the water quality now?  Sensors are maintained by USGS, University of Iowa’s IIHR, the USGS, and the USDA.

We post lab results for 15 sites monthly.


Story County Water Monitoring & Interpretation Plan, 2021-2030

Prairie Rivers partnered with Story County and 8 other organizations to develop a ten-year Water Quality Monitoring & Interpretation Plan for Story County.  Regular communication between the various groups testing water helps avoid duplication and leads to new opportunities to improve water quality.  Planning for how data can be used over the long-term ensures that we get the most value from our time and effort.   Read the plan here


  • Prairie Rivers of Iowa
  • Story County Conservation
  • City of Ames
  • City of Nevada
  • City of Gilbert
  • City of Huxley
  • Story County Soil & Water Conservation District
  • ISU Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
  • Izaak Walton League of America
  • Story County Community Foundation
Story County Water Monitoring & Interpretation Plan 2021-2030

Volunteer Water Monitoring

Story County Conservation has assembled water testing kits that it is making available for volunteers to do regular monitoring of streams around the county.

The Izaak Walton League’s Save Our Streams program is supporting volunteer monitoring in Iowa through training events, a database, and fun entry points like the Stream Selfie and Winter Salt Watch.

Prairie Rivers has been continuing the long tradition of organizing volunteer “watershed snapshot” events in May and October.  We also make supplies available to local science teachers.

Lab Testing

Staff from Prairie Rivers, the City of Ames, and volunteers collect monthly water samples from 15 sites around the county which the City of Ames Water and Pollution Control Laboratory tests for nutrients, sediment, and bacteria.  Results are posted here and updated within two weeks of sampling.

Archived results from 2020, 2021 and 2022.  Almost every stream we tested exceeded the E. coli standard!


Special Projects

We’re partnering with Dr. Jacob Petrich from the ISU Chemistry Department to narrow down sources of fecal bacteria contamination by using light to test for flourescent whitening compounds found in laundry detergents.  So far, we’ve been able to detect the compounds at low levels, but we’re also picking up some confounding signals from other things that fluoresce in the same range.  There are some additional tests that Dr. Petrich thinks can distinguish them.

We’re using storm samplers to get a better understanding of polluted runoff.  Water quality can change dramatically after heavy rain.

Analyzing the Data

Is water quality improving?  If it’s improving, is it because of conservation efforts or just the weather?  Those are a harder question to answer than you might expect!

We presented a conference poster illustrating some of the issues involved, and it’s a common topic on our blog.

 But we’re developing some tools and tricks to make sense of our findings!

Our goal is to make sure our conclusions are robust and relevant to our stakeholders.


Questions about the plan, the data or how you can get involved?

Contact Dan Haug at Prairie Rivers of Iowa

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