The state of Iowa has some of the nation’s most polluted water bodies, some with concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen among the highest in the world. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, over 90 percent of nitrogen and over 80 percent of the phosphorus found in Iowa waterways come from non-point sources, specifically agricultural fields. The remaining percentages originate from “municipal and industrial discharges,” which are the only sources currently subject to state and federal regulation. Excessive collections of phosphorus and nitrates in Iowa water bodies feed algae blooms in water bodies and create anoxic environments harmful to fish and other aquatic species.
Each of the images presented depicts a selection of a small-scale waterway in northwestern Iowa, a region characterized by an abundance of wetlands and streams, many of which are preserved on public state lands. The images draw attention to the tension between the toxic and aesthetically pleasing nature of these environments that feature so prominently in region celebrated for its agricultural production and game bird and fish habitat.