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There are so many fun activities to do at Iowa’s lakes: boating, fishing, swimming, and much more! Many of these popular water activities are directly connected to the health of the lake. How clean or how dirty a lake appears is directly tied to what happens in the lake’s watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a common stream, wetland, river or lake. What we do on and with the land has a direct impact on the quality of the water.

Some practices within a watershed can negatively impact the quality of water in the lake. Bare soil, over application of fertilizers and pesticides, and improper management of animal waste can all lead to the deterioration of a lake’s clean, clear water. While one landowner may be contributing just a small amount of pollution, the accumulated pollution from all landowners in a watershed added together can cause big problems. Nutrients in fertilizer can cause the lake’s natural algae population to grow rapidly, leaving a thick, green, slimy cover on the lake. Visible contamination like this makes it difficult to enjoy the lake, and the unseen contaminants can be just as dangerous. Toxic algae, chemicals, and bacteria within the water can cause humans and animals alike to fall ill.

While drastic measures like draining and removing sediment from lakes can temporarily improve the water body, long term changes to the lake’s watershed are needed to make a lasting impact on the quality of water. Reducing the amount of bare soil and fertilizer used will reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients being delivered to the lake. Instead of farming or planting a lawn right up to the edge of the water, a buffer made up of tall grass, shrubs and/or trees will act as a filter that reduces contaminants being delivered to the lake. Phosphorus-free lawn fertilizers, dish soap, and laundry detergents can also make a big difference in reducing nutrient pollution. With these simple practices, it’s easy to keep both the watershed and lake healthy for all to enjoy!

Additional Resources

Enhanced Learning Activities (activity recommended for Grades 2-7; worksheet recommended for Grades 2-5)
Iowa Core Essential Concepts and Skills for What's In Your Water? - The Beach
Next Generation Science Standards for What's In Your Water? - The Beach