Cleaning Iowa's waters with saturated buffers

Cleaning Iowa's waters with saturated buffers

New ISU publication on establishing saturated buffers to manage nitrogen in Iowa watersheds is available.

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.

Cleaning Iowa's waters with saturated buffers

Jamie Benning, water quality program manager with ISU Extension 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 established at the edge of a field."

Saturated buffers extend the benefits of regular buffers
Saturated buffers extend the many benefits of streamside buffers, such as removal of sediment, phosphorus and pesticides while providing more abundant wildlife habitat, says Benning. 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 landowners in the Iowa Water Quality Initiative Watersheds to establish and monitor saturated buffers as a nitrate management practice within tile drained watersheds," says Tom Isenhart, an ISU water quality researcher. "Initial monitoring has shown the use of saturated buffers as a conservation 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," says Tom Isenhart, an environmental scientist with Iowa State University. The work is a collaborative project with Dan Jaynes of the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, also at ISU.

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

TAGS: USDA Extension
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