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Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: 1. Developing Multipractice Watershed Planning Scenarios and Assessing Nutrient Reduction Potential

Tomer, M. D., Porter, S. A., Boomer, K. M. B., James, D. E., Kostel, J. A., Helmers, M. J., Isenhart, T. M., McLellan, E.
Journal of environmental quality 2015 v.44 no.3 pp. 754-767
buffers, computer software, conservation practices, cover crops, cropland, databases, drainage water, environmental quality, geographic information systems, hypoxia, land use, landscapes, nitrate nitrogen, planning, pollution load, prioritization, simulation models, soil properties, spatial data, streams, subsurface drainage, topography, vegetated waterways, watersheds, wetlands, Gulf of Mexico, Illinois, Iowa
Spatial data on soils, land use, and topography, combined with knowledge of conservation effectiveness, can be used to identify alternatives to reduce nutrient discharge from small (hydrologic unit code [HUC]12) watersheds. Databases comprising soil attributes, agricultural land use, and light detection and ranging–derived elevation models were developed for two glaciated midwestern HUC12 watersheds: Iowa’s Beaver Creek watershed has an older dissected landscape, and Lime Creek in Illinois is young and less dissected. Subsurface drainage is common in both watersheds. We identified locations for conservation practices, including in-field practices (grassed waterways), edge-of-field practices (nutrient-removal wetlands, saturated buffers), and drainage-water management, by applying terrain analyses, geographic criteria, and cross-classifications to field- and watershed-scale geographic data. Cover crops were randomly distributed to fields without geographic prioritization. A set of alternative planning scenarios was developed to represent a variety of extents of implementation among these practices. The scenarios were assessed for nutrient reduction potential using a spreadsheet approach to calculate the average nutrient-removal efficiency required among the practices included in each scenario to achieve a 40% NO₃–N reduction. Results were evaluated in the context of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which reviewed nutrient-removal efficiencies of practices and established the 40% NO₃–N reduction as Iowa’s target for Gulf of Mexico hypoxia mitigation by agriculture. In both test watersheds, planning scenarios that could potentially achieve the targeted NO₃–N reduction but remove <5% of cropland from production were identified. Cover crops and nutrient removal wetlands were common to these scenarios. This approach provides an interim technology to assist local watershed planning and could provide planning scenarios to evaluate using watershed simulation models. A set of ArcGIS tools is being released to enable transfer of this mapping technology.
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