Tourists willing to drive further and spend more for cleaner lakes
Boaters towing inner tubes met on June 12 on Coralville Lake near Solon. In the midwestern states of Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, outdoor recreation generates about $ 60 billion by spending about 550,000 jobs, according to a professional association. (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Boaters clean a boat and get it ready for the road on June 12 at Coralville Lake near Solon. (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
Boaters meet on June 12 on Coralville Lake near Solon. In the midwestern states of Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas, outdoor recreation generates about $ 60 billion by spending about 550,000 jobs, according to a professional association. (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
It’s officially summer and many Iowa residents hit the road for their favorite lakeside vacation spots to swim, boating, or fishing.
But what is the factor of the water quality in which lake we visit?
An innovative study used photos posted on social media from 2005 to 2012 to compare visits to lakes in Iowa and Minnesota. Researchers found that lake users were willing to walk 56 minutes longer for every 1 meter increase in water clarity in lakes in Minnesota and Iowa, even controlling for other factors, such as the size of the lake or the fact that it has a boat launch.
“People are willing to sacrifice their time and gas mileage to seek better quality water,” said Bonnie Keeler, assistant professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and senior researcher at the University of Minnesota. study published in 2015 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology. and the Environment.
This week, The Gazette is organizing a series of virtual panel discussions as part of an Iowa Ideas In-Depth Week on the issue of water quality. Tuesday’s panel, “A Recreational View: Ecotourism” will focus on the role water quality plays in recreation and tourism.
Sign up for free Iowa Ideas In-Depth Week at iowaideas.com for a week of water quality-focused lunch sessions:
Monday noon : The Value of Water, keynote session with Larry Weber
Tuesday noon: A recreational perspective: ecotourism
Wednesday noon: The price of drinking water
Thursday noon: In volumes: The impact of animal waste
Friday midday : The Cedar River: A Watershed Case Study
The outdoor recreation economy across the country generates an estimated $ 880 billion in spending each year, employs 7.6 million people and generates $ 59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry. Association.
In the midwestern states of Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas alone, outdoor recreation generates about $ 60 billion while spending about 550,000 jobs , according to the association.
Iowa would like to keep a larger share of this spending within its borders and has been pushing for more outdoor recreation opportunities, including hundreds of miles of paved bike paths, waterways. lively and affordable state parks. But the state is losing out on tourism spending because many of its lakes have poor quality water.
Last summer, half of the beaches in Iowa state parks had at least one swim warning due to bacteria or toxins, and a handful of lakes – Backbone State Park, McIntosh Woods, and Denison Beach – had at least one swim warning. less 10 weeks with notices.
Harmful algal blooms, fueled by too much nitrate and phosphorus in the water, frequently appear in lakes in Iowa. This algae caused the very first swim advisory for toxic microcystins at Macbride Lake in 2019. Earlier this month, a sewage odor in Clear Lake was attributed to an algae bloom.
The green color of Lake Macbride near Solon, pictured on June 22, 2019, was caused by a harmful algal bloom, officials have confirmed. Microcystins, a toxin produced during algae dying, were so high on June 18, 2019 that the state issued its first-ever microcystin swim warning for the Macbride Lake beach. (Photo provided by Chris Jones)
Lakeside vacations have always been popular, but were even more so in 2020, according to a 2021 trend report from Vrbo.com, which connects vacationers with owners of rental properties.
“Vrbo’s demand data shows that trips to lakes and rivers have grown in popularity, while beaches have taken a back seat,” the report said. “Four of the top five trending destinations are near lakes, rivers or streams where families can camp, hike and fish. “
A record 16.6 million people visited Iowa State Parks in 2020, according to estimates from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported by IowaWatch.org. These outdoor trips were seen as a safe way to vacation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only do visitors pay to rent cabins, condos, and lodges, but they buy groceries, go out to dinner, hire fishing guides, and rent boats.
The Okoboji region in northwest Iowa sees an annual economic impact of $ 300 million from tourism, according to Rebecca Peters, Okoboji tourism director. But the region has also invested in drinking water for decades.
Tom Ehlering catches fish on May 21 at a dock near Arnolds Park, on the shores of West Okoboji Lake. He said he had waited all week for southerly winds to improve his chances of catching fish. (Caitlin Yamada / Sioux City Journal via AP)
“The Great Lakes region of Iowa was one of the first areas in Iowa to invest in sanitary sewers around our lake after the algae blooms in the 1940s,” she said. . “It has dramatically improved the quality of our water because the waste is treated instead of going to the lakes.”
Cities around Okoboji were among the first to pass ordinances requiring private landowners to invest in infrastructure, landscaping and the preservation of grasslands around the lakes to improve water quality, Peters said.
Dickinson County, home to the Great Lakes of Iowa, demands that animal feed operations submit their manure management plans to the local watchdog – which not all counties do – and tries to discourage them. operations within 3 miles of lakes and rivers.
The moves have paid off, Peters said. Water tests by volunteers recently showed that Center Lake, one of the region’s smallest lakes that hasn’t always been pristine, has a clarity of over 1.5 meters.
“It’s an incredible improvement over the past few years,” she said. “It’s water you can float in, look down and see your toes – a swimmer’s delight.”
Measure the impact
A 2018 study from Iowa State University estimated that Iowa was losing about $ 30 million from Iowians who would pay more to visit cleaner lakes and rivers. This estimate comes from a 2014 statewide survey that asked Iowa residents about their family trips to more than 100 lakes in the state. About 3,500 people responded to the survey. ISU researchers compared the lake’s preferences with water clarity data collected by the university.
“The combined data on the locations of survey respondents, the destination of their trip (s) and distance to various alternatives, and the water quality of the Iowa lakes allow us to ‘Estimate the “revealed” value that households place on water quality in the state, ”the study reports.
The latest version of the Iowa Lakes Survey, conducted in 2019 and 2020, has yet to be released by the state’s DNR, but Wendong Zhang, assistant professor of economics at ISU, has shared the highlights on Wednesday in a virtual presentation:
- Almost 28 percent, the largest share, of respondents said water quality was the most important factor in determining which lake to visit. The other highest factors were park activity and proximity, tied at 17.4 percent.
- Over 70 percent said they check the water quality before going to the lake.
- Respondents ranked agricultural runoff as the main contributor to poor water quality, followed by livestock manure
Keeler’s team at UM used social media as a proxy to visit lakes in Iowa and Minnesota, as many people post photos of themselves on vacation. Their study looked at geotagged photos posted on Flickr, one of the world’s largest photo-sharing sites, to determine which lakes people were visiting.
About 40 percent of Flickr users who uploaded photos of lakes have listed where they live in their public profiles. This allowed researchers to determine that Flickr users who visited lakes in Minnesota were from 47 states and 36 other countries, compared to users who visited lakes in Iowa from 20 states and no other country.
Keeler said the team used the Iowa Lake Surveys to calibrate Flickr’s results.
“As we had survey results indicating that people have been to this lake and on several occasions, we were able to understand the accuracy of the social media data,” she said.
Researchers have since replicated the study in 17 states and 40,000 lakes from Minnesota to Maine, Keeler said. This study, which uses posts on Flickr and Twitter, is yet to be released, but it said the trends seen in the Iowa and Minnesota study corroborate the larger review.
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