Northeast Iowa lake has a bright future thanks to local watershed improvement efforts addressing sediment and nutrient sources

Lake Meyer, a popular area for boating and fishing in Winneshiek  County, has a cleaner and clearer future thanks to a community-led effort.

The northeast Iowa lake had been placed on Iowa’s impaired waters list in 1998 due to declines in water quality from sediment runoff and increased phosphorus levels. These were affecting both the aesthetic conditions in the lake as well as impacting fish and other aquatic life through decreased visibility due to algae blooms and cloudy water. 

In 2013, farmers, landowners and government agencies joined together to launch the Lake Meyer Watershed Project, aiming to reduce sediment and nutrients reaching the lake by strategically placing conservation practices on the land and increasing the culture of conservation in the community. 

The watershed project has led to improved biological monitoring scores in the lake, showing increased water clarity and better habitat conditions for the lake’s fish and other aquatic species. The lake was removed from the impaired waters list in 2000.

A rock chute wetland added at the inlet of Lake Meyer helps filter runoff, and an additional grade stabilization structure up­slope of the wetland area works to reduce sediment runoff from adjacent cropland areas. In addition, partners removed more than 700 dump truck loads of sediment from the lake bottom during wetland construction.

Landowners around the area installed 66 acres of filter strips, five manure storage systems, more than 35,000 feet of terraces, eight grade-stabilization structures, five sediment and water control structures, more than 4,000 feet of grassed waterways, three bio-swales and four wetlands. 

These combined efforts prevent more than 3,300 tons of sediment and more than 2.15 tons of phosphorous from reaching the lake every year. 

“The credit for the success really needs to go to the farmers who implemented conservation practices in the Lake Meyer watershed,” says Barb Schroeder, executive director of the Winneshiek County Conservation Board. “Thanks to them and the cooperative efforts of local and state agencies, we have clear water with great fishing. With those improvements, lake use has increased, adding to the local economy.” 

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries staff also installed fish habitat structures, such as gravel spawning beds, fish cribs and tree/brush piles, at various depths and locations in the lake. These structures offer fish critical shelter during hot summer months, and structures placed in the deepest areas can provide excellent cover for winter panfish.

“This really is a success story about how it takes an entire community to make things happen,” says Jennifer Kurth, DNR aquatic biologist. 

The Lake Meyer Watershed Project was funded and supported by the Iowa DNR, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and local landowners and farmers. 

Other partners include the Winneshiek County Conservation Board, the Winneshiek Soil and Water Conservation District, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. 

To learn more about the Lake Meyer success story, go to