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NRCS installs Weather Station as part of VTA Monitoring Project

NRCS installs Weather Station as part of VTA Monitoring Project

Story by Seth Sowder and Quenna Terry

Dimas Segura�s Animal Feeding Operation (AFO), a dairy heifer starter lot in Bailey County, is now home to the first climate weather station setup as an integral part of a Vegetated Treatment Area (VTA) monitoring project with the Blackwater Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB), USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the TSSWCB Hale Center Regional Office.

The objective of the monitoring project is to determine the effectiveness of a vegetative treatment area (VTA) to meet requirements for water quality protection as prescribed by the Texas Water Code and Texas Administrative Code in the Texas High Plains by conducting sampling and analysis of soils and wastewater at the AFO.

The monitoring project includes a weather station, installed by NRCS employees Seth Sowder, soil scientist for the MLRA soil survey, Kelly Attebury, resource soil scientist, Brandt Underwood, area agronomist, Keith Sides, field engineer, Mark Hall, district conservationist and Warren Givens, civil engineering technician from the Muleshoe field office. The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board (TSSWCB) Hale Center Regional office assisted in the process to learn more about this unique system.

TSSWCB and NRCS employees in engineering, agronomy, soils, and conservation planning in the region collaborated in the planning, design and installation of the alternative ag waste management system and the development of the monitoring project.

The project�s VTA was installed as part of a �natural� wastewater runoff system using onsite natural topography at the AFO to transport the rainfall runoff from the calf hutch to the treatment area. The VTA is surrounded by a water and sediment control basin which was constructed to contain the runoff from the 25 year - 24 hour storm to prevent runoff of livestock excrement off the AFO premises.

Inside the basin, a perennial grass crop will utilize the nutrients contained in the rainfall runoff from the calf hutch area. Annually, the AFO operator will cut and bale the grass crop to remove the nutrients from the VTA in accordance with his 503 Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP) with TSSWCB.

The ag waste management system was designed to be a low input, low cost, natural system that utilized existing topography and a perennial grass crop in a low rainfall area to effectively control AFO runoff and utilize nutrients as an alternative to more traditional, higher cost nutrient management system.

Additionally the weather station was installed as a management tool to automatically measure and store rainfall, wind speed and direction, soil moisture, relative humidity and standing water depth inside the basin. NRCS soil scientists and engineers are looking forward to collecting monitoring data when rainwater runoff collects inside the basin per the innovative design.

Greg Sokora, NRCS engineering leader for the High Plains region said, �The weather station will provide critical rainfall, soil moisture and runoff water collection data. The climate data that the weather station records will enable the monitoring project partners to analyze the rainfall events that will influence the nutrient loading to the vegetated treatment area inside the containment basin.�

Sokora is expecting this data, along with annual soil testing, to ensure that nutrients are not infiltrating into the soil profile below the effective rooting zone of the perennial grass crop planted in the VTA.

NRCS soil scientist Seth Sowder said, �Another critical component of the monitoring project is the initial soil testing down to a five foot depth to provide a baseline of the nutrient status of the soils in the vegetated treatment area.�

Further annual soil testing during the project will be done by NRCS to analyze nutrient levels to verify the effectiveness of the alternative treatment system.

�This interagency project promises to be a success if the vegetated treatment area receives adequate rainfall amounts in order to effectively utilize the nutrients from the AFO� said Sokora.

Weather and climate station is located in the low area of the dairy farm to monitor and capture rainfall. Keith Sides (L), NRCS engineer, Mark Hall, NRCS district conservationist and Seth Sowder, NRCS soil scientist set up the station in Bailey County.

The dairy is located up the hill from the weather station monitoring device. Rainfall run off is expected to carry nutrients away from the dairy to the weather station to be evaluated. NRCS will take annual soil tests to determine nutrient load.

Weather and climate station is located in the low area of the dairy farm to monitor and capture rainfall. Keith Sides (L), NRCS engineer, Mark Hall, NRCS district conservationist and Seth Sowder, NRCS soil scientist set up the station in Bailey County.

The dairy is located up the hill from the weather station monitoring device. Rainfall run off is expected to carry nutrients away from the dairy to the weather station to be evaluated. NRCS will take annual soil tests to determine nutrient load.

Soil Scientist Kelly Attebury took soil samples at the start of the project to determine baseline nutrient levels on the farm site. The weather station data logger will collect data for soil moisture, rainfall amounts, wind speed and direction, and standing water depth.

Soil Scientist Kelly Attebury took soil samples at the start of the project to determine baseline nutrient levels on the farm site.

The weather station data logger will collect data for soil moisture, rainfall amounts, wind speed and direction, and standing water depth.

The system is solar powered eliminating the need for batteries.  

The system is solar powered eliminating the need for batteries.