Rural Iowa


A new analysis shows Iowans may face higher risks of certain health issues due to nitrate pollution in drinking water. Across the country, thousands of cases of certain cancers and birth defects may be linked to the contaminant, researchers found.

Rural communities are some of the most politically disenfranchised when it comes to climate policy, and last year’s National Climate Change Report showed they’re also among the most at risk when it comes to the effect of climate change. This could mean stronger storms, more intense droughts and earlier freezes.

Kate Payne/IPR

An eastern Iowa conservation group is taking an unconventional approach to tracking rare turtles on its land. Iowa Public Radio tagged along with a man who’s trained his hunting dogs to find the reptiles for researchers. Counting the creatures will help conservationists manage the land better.


Iowa averages around seven bicycle crash fatalities per year. Tragically, three cyclists have lost their lives in the past two weeks alone. What can we do as drivers and cyclists to prevent these tragedies, and what can Iowa lawmakers do to protect the Iowans we share our roads with?

Kate Payne / IPR

One year ago this week, immigration officials detained 32 workers at a concrete plant in Mount Pleasant. Twelve months later, most of the men’s legal cases are still pending. Eight of the men have deported, and the rest have been released on bond and are back living with their families in Mount Pleasant. While a handful have received work permits, most can’t work, and are still waiting for immigration hearings.


Kate Payne / IPR

A small town mayor in eastern Iowa is facing some resistance to his plan to restructure his local government. The proposal is meant to redistribute the responsibilities of managing the city in order to help maintain and grow the community in the long-term, but it’s not clear the political will is there.

How Small Town Business Owners In One Iowa Town Are Banding Together

Apr 25, 2019
Emily Carey/IowaWatch

A small group of businesses in one southern Iowa town has found a way to stay open by banding together to attract spending customers to town, rather than compete against each other.

“Why not Humeston?” Leigh Ann Coffey, owner of Sweet Southern Sass, said when asked why business owners choose to open a business in a small town.

Iowa’s Small Towns Struggle To Gain Traction And Grow

Apr 25, 2019
Emily Carey/IowaWatch

The town of Humeston, Iowa, straddles Highway 65 in the northwestern corner of Wayne County, less than a 30-minute drive from the Missouri border. Its population peaked in the 1920s at 1,214 people.

Today, the southern Iowa town has only 494 people.

“A lot of kids, when they graduate, they want to get out and see the world,” David Dotts, of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, said. It’s one of the many explanations for the population loss.

Wikimedia Commons /,_Iowa#/media/File:Lone_Tree,_Iowa.JPG

The mayor of a small city in eastern Iowa wants to do away with his own position as it exists now. The elected leader of Lone Tree wants the community to hire a city manager, and let the council choose a mayor.

Andrew Seaman via flickr creative commons /

A new childcare center opening in Keokuk this week will eventually offer space to 110 children. Advocates say the program is a needed step in addressing what they call a chronic shortage


The city of Jesup's only grocery store is set to close next month, leaving more than 2,700 people without a primary resource for fresh food in their community. 

Kate Payne / IPR

A new restaurant will help keep a historic building open in one Iowa small town, after a well-loved bistro closed down earlier this year.

Courtesy of Matt Schoville

Flooding in southwest Iowa has kept people out of their homes for two weeks now. Some families have been settling in at campground sites.

Hornick resident Dale Ronfeldt's garage in water in March 2019. A reporter joked with him that he had "lakefront property" and Ronfeldt joked, "you want to buy some?"
Katie Peikes / IPR file

As Iowans recover from devastating flooding along the Missouri River, Gov. Kim Reynolds is urging them to consider long-term sustainability. There are urgent short-term needs. But she says the state should work to ensure the same communities don’t flood year after year. 

Courtesy of Fremont County Emergency Management

Several southwest Iowa communities are still battling historic flooding and people remain displaced from their homes.

One of those people is Matt Schoville. He and his family have been out of their home just south of Percival for almost two weeks. They’ve been staying at a campground outside of Sidney. Schoville said it’s been devastating being displaced from their home.

Katie Peikes / IPR

People in several western Iowa communities are still waiting for waters to recede so they can go back to their homes, after the swollen Missouri River and its tributaries caused widespread, major flooding this month. 

In other parts of the region, people are already back, and they’re beginning the long process of assessing the damages and cleaning up their houses. The 200-or so people who live in Hornick in Woodbury County, have been back in their community for over a week.

Courtesy of Fremont County Emergency Management

Extreme damage to Missouri River levees from flooding has officials in southwest Iowa concerned that they won’t be fixed in time for more possible flooding this spring. These levees that are built to prevent rivers from overflowing are in disrepair.

Hornick resident Dale Ronfeldt's garage in water in March 2019. A reporter joked with him that he had "lakefront property" and Ronfeldt joked, "you want to buy some?"
Katie Peikes / IPR file

Residents were welcomed back to the western Iowa city of Hornick Monday morning, even as the city works to repair its sewer system.

Katie Peikes / IPR file

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited two western Iowa towns on Sunday to survey the damage from flooding.

Reynolds saw flooded homes and roads in Missouri Valley and Hornick. In Hornick, she toured the home of Dale Ronfeldt. Ronfeldt’s backyard looks like a lake and his basement is flooded in about 4 feet of water.

“My washer and dryer are floating around down there somewhere,” Ronfeldt said.

Katie Peikes/IPR / IPR

Retail giant Shopko is closing about 250 stores across the country after filing for bankruptcy in January. Two dozen of those stores are in Iowa, and 22 are Shopko Hometown stores, smaller-format locations designed for smaller cities and towns. Rural Iowa communities fear the closures of these general merchandise stores are going to hit them hard. 

iowa wesleyan university
Kate Payne / IPR

Iowa Wesleyan University leaders say more than a dozen organizations are interested in partnering with the small, historic, private school in Mount Pleasant. Administrators are trying to build a new future, after the school nearly shut down late last year for lack of funds.

Katie Peikes/IPR

A mental health center that had an uncertain future nearly a year ago, will soon be shared by counties across the western part of the state. The move comes as Woodbury County changes the way it will provide mental health services next budget year.

Kate Payne

One of rural Iowa’s most unique restaurants is losing its chef, leaving the future of the Ladora Bank Bistro somewhat uncertain. The struggle to find a new owner for the restaurant shows how difficult it can be to keep historic buildings open in small town Iowa. 

Rural hospitals aren’t just providers of medicine and health care, but also are often major employers and a massive part of a town’s tax base. However, mounting challenges are forcing these hospitals to merge and close in droves.

Courtesy of Sarah Haptonstall

A western Iowa city that has been dealing with brown tap water for almost a year says it has finally found a fix.

Courtesy of Lorena Lopez, La Prensa

An investigation into three Denison city employees has come to a close. The workers were placed on paid leave in December.

Jim Gilliam was hired by the BrownWinick law firm in Des Moines to conduct the investigation. He informed the city council last week that he found no evidence of criminal conduct or personal profit among Fire Chief Cory Snowgren, City Clerk Lisa Koch and City Manager Terry Crawford, who were all placed on leave from Dec. 18 until Jan. 9.

Michael Leland/IPR file

A team of Iowa researchers has concluded that there's no actionable evidence that the sound of wind turbines is a danger to public. Instead, the report authors found that reported symptoms of hearing loss or poor sleep are more likely related to people’s attitudes and beliefs about wind development.

Courtesy of Jason Neises


The challenges facing small Iowa towns seem to multiply with each passing year. These challenges are not unique to Iowa and the Orton Family Foundation, a small and rural community-focused non-profit based out of Vermont, has developed an approach aimed at improving community success and wellbeing from the inside out.


Katie Peikes/IPR

The western Iowa city of Denison is known as the hometown of actress Donna Reed. And residents have embraced that.

Every year just before the holidays, a theater bearing Reed’s name makes it a tradition to show the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life."


This year, they hosted a screening with Spanish subtitles — a nod to the town’s large Hispanic population.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

The value of farmland in Iowa has dropped slightly this year, according to the Iowa State University Land Values Survey.

Wendong Zhang, an economics professor at ISU, collects information from realtors, lenders, appraisers and other people who monitor farm sales and transitions. He says the 0.8 percent decrease in farmland value compared to last year is partly still a correction from the record-high values of 2013. This is the fourth time in the past five years that land values have decreased.