Water Quality Targeting Success Stories
How to Achieve Measurably Cleaner Water Through U.S. Farm Conservation Watershed Projectsby Michelle Perez - May 2017
This joint report from WRI and the American Farmland Trust features lessons learned from six water quality targeting project success stories and highlights key factors that allowed these programs to achieve desirable environmental outcomes. It concludes with recommendations for both public and private sectors to help other projects achieve and measure landscape-scale environmental outcomes.
The report and its recommendations were developed based on literature reviews and interviews with USDA staff, farm conservation and water quality experts, and leaders of the six projects.
Success stories highlighted
- CALIFORNIA'S WALKER CREEK PROJECT—Achieved three years of no Chlorpyrifos pesticide exceedances, thereby complying with state regulations for irrigated cropland.
- OKLAHOMA'S HONEY CREEK PROJECT—Proposed delisting the stream (from the Oklahoma List of Impaired Waters) for E. coli impairment given a 51 percent load reduction, as well as load reductions in nitrate, total phosphorus, and Enterococcus by 35, 28, and 34 percent, respectively, compared with the control watershed.
- IOWA'S HEWITT CREEK PROJECT—Documented a 60 percent decrease in turbidity (water cloudiness) and a 40 percent decrease in total phosphorus concentrations in the stream; quantified social and economic outcomes—e.g., created a "watershed community" and increased farmer profitability.
- WISCONSIN'S PLEASANT VALLEY STREAM REHABILITATION PROJECT—Proposed delisting the stream from the Wisconsin List of Impaired Waters for sediment impairment due to documented improvements in six metrics, including a 50 percent decrease in fine sediment material and increasing trout by 70 to 100 percent.
- WISCONSIN'S PLEASANT VALLEY ON-FARM PHOSPHORUS AND SEDIMENT REDUCTION PROJECT—Reduced total phosphorus storm event loads by 55 percent and sediment storm loads during unfrozen conditions by 66 percent, compared with the control watershed.
- INDIANA'S SHATTO DITCH PROJECT—Documented an 80 percent reduction in nitrate-N loss from tile drains through year-round sampling at the watershed scale.
Key Factors in Achieving Project Success Include
- Relying on local conservation districts
- Fostering farmer leadership
- Conducting geographic targeting
- Using paired watershed monitoring programs
- Modeling environmental outcomes
- Watershed project leaders should heed available guidance on in-stream water quality monitoring and adopt appropriate modeling tools to quantify and report environmental outcomes
- Congress should provide more financial and technical assistance to farmers and conservationists through the Farm Bill and the EPA-state Section 319 programs for watershed conservation projects;
- EPA should offer training to disseminate its new 2016 guidance on water quality monitoring, and also offer to help train NRCS staff to evaluate monitoring plans included in future RCPP proposals
- NRCS should offer greater technical guidance to the new RCPP project leaders who want to quantify environmental, social, and economic outcomes associated with their project's conservation practices
- Corporations and charitable foundations should support more watershed-focused and outcomes-quantification work
- Sara Walker - June 10, 2014
For more than 30 years, the USDA has worked to reduce water pollution by offering farmers throughout the nation financial and technical help to put conservation measures in place. While these efforts have successfully addressed environmental problems at the individual farm level—such as soil erosion—agriculture remains a key source of water pollution.
However, it’s only a small portion of farms that generate the majority of agriculture’s contribution to U.S. water pollution. New research shows that targeting conservation funds to these farms with the most potential to reduce pollution could be up to 12 times more cost effective than the usual practice of disbursing funds widely. And encouragingly, a new USDA program aims to capitalize on a similar targeted approach.
- Michelle Perez - June 10, 2014
The U.S. Department of Agriculture could potentially spend part of its budget for water quality improvements seven to 12 times more cost effectively than it does now. A new WRI analysis shows how, explains why USDA isn’t already doing so, and proposes ways to make a complex policy a reality.
- Michelle Perez - January 07, 2014
Few programs have seen widespread success in tackling water quality problems in the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico, but an emerging initiative could present a way forward. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) in 2009. New WRI research finds that with some specific improvements, the MRBI’s new approach could play a key role in improving the nation’s inland and coastal water quality.