What can homeowners do for water quality?

We all can do something to improve Iowa’s water quality, even if you live in an apartment or have a tiny lawn. Every piece of land, no matter how small, is part of a watershed. That means that the efforts you make on your own property can have an impact on your neighbor and further downstream.


Helping water quality by supporting birds, butterflies, and other wildlife

One way to have a positive impact on water quality is to grow and support native plants. That can mean putting a few choice plants in a pot on your balcony, or planting your whole lawn to pollinator-friendly plants. The more diversity we have in our plant communities in Iowa, the more diversity of wildlife and pollinators we can support.

A great resource to get started is Plant.Grow.Fly., a program through the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. Plant.Grow.Fly worked with Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens to create a list of host and nectar plants that support local butterfly species as well as common questions about getting started. You can also find a list of recommended nurseries and greenhouses to buy your plants. Lastly, once you’ve got your garden established you can register it online and order a sign to recognize your contribution to our pollinators!

If you own the land around your home you can also consider native landscaping. Grasses and flowering plants (forbs) that are native to Iowa’s climate have deep root structures which allow them to funnel water deeper into the soil profile. These deep-rooted plants can store water on the landscape, which can help with flood mitigation, and often do not require fertilizer, pesticides, or additional watering. Some more resources:  


Best practices for homeowners

One of the best resources in Iowa for understanding urban or residential water quality conservation practices is the Iowa Stormwater Education Partnership. Their website has loads of information on different conservation practices like rain gardens, rain barrels, and green roofs.

If you own a lawn, there are some easy steps to make sure you’re managing your lawn for water quality.

  • Try to keep the bare ground covered. If you need to reseed an area, try aerating first and add a ¼” to ½” layer of compost.
  • Consider mowing less. By extending the time in between mowings to every 10-14 days (14-20 days in summer), you can continue to manage your landscape in a way that supports the pollinators and wildlife with more flowers and avoids many of the drawbacks such as citations, undesirable weeds, and stress to the lawn.
  • When you mow your lawn, leave the grass clippings behind. This is called mulch mowing and can help to keep nutrients on your lawn. And make sure you sweep grass clippings that end up in the street or sidewalk back into your lawn.
  • Consider leaving those fallen leaves in your yard. Read this helpful article from ISU Extension and Outreach: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/faq/can-i-just-leave-fallen-leave...
  • If you’re going to fertilize your lawn, first do a soil test to see what nutrients are lacking. Most soils in Iowa have plenty of phosphorus, so try to find fertilizers that do not contain phosphorus. Phosphorus can sometimes be the limiting nutrient for algal blooms, meaning that if phosphorus ends up in a waterbody it may cause an algal bloom.

Some additional resources:


Financial Assistance

Many larger cities in Iowa have cost share programs for funding the installation of some of the practices listed above in residential or commercial properties. For example, the City of Ames offers rebates for planting native trees and landscaping, installing a rain barrel, rain garden or compost system. More information here: https://www.cityofames.org/government/departments-divisions-i-z/public-w.... Go to your city's website or give them a call to learn about what programs may be offered to help homeowners protect water quality.