As part of the CEAP Watershed Assessment Studies, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and NRCS jointly funded 13 projects to evaluate the effects of cropland and pastureland conservation practices on spatial and temporal trends in water quality at the watershed scale. In some projects, participants also investigated social and economic factors that influence implementation and maintenance of practices. The NIFA-CEAP projects were conducted from 2004 to 2011. They were mainly retrospective, in that they focused on conservation practices and water quality monitoring efforts that had been implemented before the NIFA-CEAP projects began.
A synthesis project designed to discover common themes among the 13 studies was led by North Carolina State University (NCSU) in conjunction with five other institutions and organizations. Dr. Deanna Osmond, NCSU, is principal investigator for the synthesis study.
The lessons learned from this synthesis strengthen the knowledge base for evaluating the impacts of conservation practices on water quality, improving management of agricultural landscapes for improved water resource outcomes, and informing conservation policy. Here are the consistent themes and lessons learned throughout the NIFA watershed studies:
Assess and plan conservation practice implementation at the watershed scale (in addition to the field or farm scale) for more effective water quality outcomes.
Identify the pollutants of concern and the source of those pollutants before selecting conservation practices. Prioritize conservation practices in the critical areas of the watershed—those that generate the most pollution—to ensure the most effective use of resources.
Select and apply practices that not only are effective in addressing the identified pollutants of concern but that also will be adopted and maintained on the landscape.
Keep track of conservation practice implementation and land management activities to help assess accomplishments and additional treatment needs.
Where conservation practice effectiveness is assessed scientifically, establish water quality monitoring protocols that are designed specifically to evaluate the change in water quality resulting from conservation treatment on the land.
The book is divided into two sections. The first section (chapters 1 through 8) defines the synthesis methodology and presents results, lessons learned, and recommendations with respect to key informant interviews, land treatment, water quality monitoring, watershed modeling, socio-economic analysis, and education outreach.
Chapter 8 (PDF; 1.7 MB) presents the overarching lessons learned from the NIFA-CEAP projects.
The second section (chapters 9 through 21) presents detailed information about each of the individual NIFA-CEAP watersheds, including setting, water quality problems, land treatment, water quality results, modeling, socio-economics, and outreach education.