Watershed Scale Planning and Implementation
The development of best management practices (BMPs) is an important step in protecting water quality and is continuously improving with the introduction of new technologies and more refined modeling programs. Researchers at Land Grant Universities and with NIFA funding are implementing BMPs at the watershed scale and monitoring their effectiveness.
Research pertaining to "Watershed Scale Planning and Implementation" can
be broken into the following categories (linked further down on
Identifying Critical Areas to Best Locate BMPs
Factoring Economics into Watershed Management Decisions
Identifying Critical Areas to Best Locate BMPs
Research efforts through NIFA and the Land Grant System are trying to predict where BMPs should be located within a watershed to maximize their impact on water quality and evaluating the performance of BMPs on a watershed scale. Decision makers are integrating this research-based information into their watershed management plans.
Modeling Efforts to Predict BMP Effectiveness:
At the University of Arizona, research information is being integrated into a Spatial Decision Support System . The decision support system includes a quality-assured information database for water quality and the economic effects of best management practices. The system will be accessible via the Internet, helping land managers to select the best types and locations of best management practices based on site-specific data. It will allow managers to identify critical areas causing water quality degradation, and design and implement management practices to improve water quality. The system is to be pilot tested in Iowa by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and then extended to other selected sites.
A phosphorus model has been created at Utah State University that predicts annual average phosphorus outputs and allows decision makers and landowners to compare the long-term effectiveness of alternative phosphorus reduction strategies. This model is adaptable as a planning tool for other western watersheds.
At Kansas State University, a research-based model using uses GIS and the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) has been developed to identify areas susceptible to nonpoint source polluted runoff (Neel 2004) in midwestern surface waters. The model also simulates the effects of nutrient, sediment and pesticide best management practices (BMPs) on water quality at the watershed scale. The model project will facilitate the implementation of agricultural BMPs in cooperation with stakeholders so that water quality goals can be met.
At the University of Minnesota, the feasibility of attaining TMDLs in a given watershed is being addressed through GIS-based modeling. The project will use information about sediment loss, nitrogen and phosphorus loading, stakeholder education, and implementation of BMPs to provide stakeholders with information for making sound management decisions. Researchers hope to provide attractive management practices that producers would be willing to adapt to their farms to mitigate nutrient and sediment loading while enhancing agricultural production and profitability, and improving environmental quality.
Moving Field-Based Results to the Watershed Scale
Researchers at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Watershed Hydrology Laboratory determined landscape controls of riparian zone groundwater nitrate removal . These insights were translated into methods that can be adapted to available spatial databases and enhance our ability to target high value riparian zones for protection and restoration to improve or maintain water quality. The URI NEMO Program has incorporated these results into their programming with municipal officials and modeling efforts.
A manual was developed at North Carolina State University entitled, Selected Agricultural Best Management Practices to Control Nitrogen in the Neuse River Basin . The information contained in this document is a compilation of the best professional judgement of a working group of scientists. For two days, these scientists toured 19 riparian buffer and controlled drainage sites (carefully selected to be representative) within the Neuse River Basin. Discussions were held at each site on the appropriate management practice(s) that should be used under various soil and crop conditions. On the third day, the group synthesized their recommendations for placement and design of riparian buffer and controlled drainage systems.
Evaluating BMPs at the Watershed Scale
The NIFA Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) , jointly offered by NIFA and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, funds projects that evaluate the effects of water conservation practices. CEAP projects examine how the timing and spatial distribution of water conservation practices throughout a watershed affect their ability to improve water quality on a local scale. Outreach education is another component of CEAP projects that transfers knowledge gained from research to farmers, ranchers, community leaders, and other stakeholders. CEAP projects funded in 2004 are listed at: http://www.usawaterquality.org/watershed/projects/CEAP/2004.html
A project at the University of Idaho is examining why conservation practices are effective at the watershed scale with emphasis on statistical analysis of existing monitoring data, geospatial modeling, and integrated physical and socioeconomic analyses.
Heidelberg College researchers are studying if there is a relationship between water quality and agricultural management trends . They are also developing a land use/water quality model for the Rock Creek Watershed to evaluate the effectiveness of BMPs as well as the influence of timing and location on the effectiveness of BMPs.
Iowa State University researchers are assessing the cost and effectiveness of multiple conservation practices at a watershed scale and investigating alternative conservation programs to determine the cost effectiveness of alternative policy designs.
A study at Utah State University is examining changes in the surface water quality of the Little Bear River watershed and relating them to the implementation of agricultural BMPs to determine the effectiveness of the water management process . It is also analyzing the changes in behaviors of landowners as a result of BMP implementations.
Highlighting Partner Activity: The USDA NRCS CEAP is studying the benefits of most conservation practices implemented through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program and NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance. This project is evaluating conservation practices and management systems related to nutrient, manure, and pest management, buffer systems, tillage, irrigation, and drainage practices, as well as wildlife habitat establishment, and wetland protection and restoration. The Natural Resources Inventory and watershed studies are critical components of NRCS CEAP efforts.
Researchers at Purdue University (Frankenberger 2003) conducted an evaluation of the Black Creek Watershed Project 20 years after its completion to determine the long-term impacts on the attitudes of farmers, the utilization of BMPs, and the condition and maintenance of BMPs. In addition, this study was quantifying the long-term ecological impacts of the project on the type and distribution of aquatic species and the chemistry of the receiveing waters and testing/improving existing computer simulation models (ANSWERS, SWAT, WEPP, DRAINMOD, NAPRA (GLEAMS)) to assess their capability and effectiveness in simulating and promoting past and current water quality BMPs.
A project at the State University of New York at Brockport is examining the effects of BMPs on water quality in agriculturally dominated watersheds, through the experimental watershed approach . Pre-manipulation data are available and BMPs are being implemented (Markarewicz 2004).
Paired Watershed Studies
Paired watershed studies are a useful tool for assessing the effectiveness of BMPs. Using one watershed as a control and an example of baseline conditions, BMPs or other treatments can be implemented in the second watershed and evaluated over time.
The Jordan Cove Project of the University of Connecticut is designed to determine the water quality and quantity benefits of using pollution prevention BMPs in a residential subdivision. This study, one of the Section 319 National Monitoring Program Projects, began in 1995 and will continue for ten years. The overall study design is the paired watershed approach over two different time periods – calibration and treatment – and three different watersheds – one control and two treatments (traditional development and development with BMPs). Mid-project results indicated that typical hydrologic alterations due to construction activities, such as increased runoff volume, were not found in the watershed with BMPs.
A University of Minnesota project is evaluating the effectiveness of farmer-selected BMPs on nutrient reductions in the Minnesota River Basin. Farmers are implementing BMPs in test watershed while the other watershed remains unchanged. Water quality and farm survey data is being collected that will be used for economic and water quality modeling to determine the costs and benefits of various management practices.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska are evaluating the efficacy of grassed buffers on improving and protecting stream water quality by quantification of agrichemical loading to surface water in two adjacent watersheds – one with buffers and one without (Franti 2003).
Since the early 1950s, researchers at the University of California at Davis have conducted a series of watershed studies on experimental rangeland watersheds. The impact of changing land use and rangeland management effects on water quality has been the focus of this work.
Factoring Economics into Watershed Management Decisions
Watershed management decisions must be economically feasible in order to gain support from local stakeholders. Research within NIFA and at Land Grant Universities is examining the economics of watershed management decisions. Researchers are examining how market-based approaches (i.e., pollution trading) achieve watershed scale pollution control, studying the economics of BMPs, and developing watershed models that incorporate economic factors.
Pollution trading is an incentive-based approach to pollution reduction that can be carried out in many different ways. It may be initiated by regulatory agencies or by the pollution sources themselves, and can involve both point and nonpoint source pollution. Among the sources involved, pollutant load reductions are made or best management practices are implemented where it is most cost-effective, allowing other sources to avoid expensive alterations or procedures.
The NIFA New York – New Jersey – Puerto Rico – Virgin Islands Region have established a Nutrient Trading Initiative to help local stakeholders understand and increase their capacity for incentive-based pollution trading programs, specifically programs that involve nonpoint (agricultural, rural and suburban) sources. The initiative has fostered regional trading projects, including a project in the Upper Passaic River Watershed that aims to achieve water quality standards for phosphorus.
Researchers at the University of Georgia are constructing a framework for the trading of phosphorus credits between point (e.g. wastewater treatment plants) and nonpoint (e.g. agricultural) sources that will help achieve phosphorus load restrictions imposed by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and a recent TMDL. Monitoring data and uncertainty analysis will be used to create watershed-scale models and phosphorus trading ratios for the basin. A watershed advisory council will also be created as a means of engaging stakeholders in the process.
Economic Feasibility of BMPs
For the Neuse River Project, the overall costs of implementing different BMPs were compared. Where costs to farmers are prohibitively high, cost-sharing, bonuses, tax breaks and other types of incentive plans have been developed to aid farmers in implementing BMPs. Economic analysis has helped to determine which BMPs are most cost effective in each region.
Note: many of the projects listed above incorporated economic factors into watershed scale planning and implementation research.
Watershed Models with Economic Components
At the University of Arizona, research information is being integrated into a Spatial Decision Support System for resource conservation and water quality. The decision support system will include a quality-assured information database for water quality and the economic effects of best management practices , incorporating information on sustainability, offsite effects, and profitability. It will be accessible via the Internet, helping land managers to select economically feasible BMPs based on site-specific data. The system is to be pilot tested in Iowa by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and then extended to other selected sites.
Iowa State University, University of Minnesota and Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research are jointly studying the use of research and modeling information in community-based watershed planning. As part of this project, the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research will apply watershed models to develop information in response to local requests and provide comparisons of costs and environmental benefits (nutrient loading) for specific management scenarios to help citizens develop local goals and performance criteria for water quality protection.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska are developing a Pollution-Economic Decision Support Tool to aid farmers and community members in adopting BMPs, evaluating conservation programs, and creating watershed management plans. The project will assess best management and soil-water conservation practices to evaluate their performance and determine their economic and watershed pollution returns . It will then use this information to create a decision support tool that integrates pollution assessment and economic analysis.
Indicates work supported by the USDA-NIFA National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program .
The intent of this page is not to catalogue all activities but rather to indicate the types of research in the NIFA Watershed Management theme across the U.S.