In Arkansas, MRBI and NWQI have focused conservation in more than 200 sub-watersheds since 2010.
“NRCS targeted water quality efforts have steadily demonstrated tremendous benefits in Arkansas and across America’s landscape and water bodies,” said Mike Sullivan, state conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “By focusing resources where we can have the best impacts, we’re improving the quality of rivers and streams across the country while also giving producers the tools they need to make good investments on their working lands.”
NRCS works with producers in targeted watersheds to implement conservation practices that prevent runoff of sediment and nutrients, which can degrade water quality.
These initiatives currently help producers improve water quality in more than 350 watersheds across the country. To date, at least 10 water bodies have been removed or scheduled for removal from the nation’s list of impaired streams. Arkansas streams segments removed include:
Cache River - High lead levels in sediment running off from row crop areas impaired Arkansas’ Cache River. As a result, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) added two segments of the stream (47.6 miles total) to the state’s 2004 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list of impaired waters and three segments (47.9 miles total) to the state’s 2006 CWA section 303(d) list for lead impairment. Watershed partners initiated watershed assessments and implemented best management practices (BMPs) to abate sediment runoff from row crops in the watershed. Along with sediment reductions from the BMPs, lead levels in the Cache River also declined and fell below the water quality standard (WQS). Although the stream remains impaired for turbidity, ADEQ removed five segments from the 2016 CWA section 303(d) list for lead impairment.
St. Francis River - Erosion from row crop fields led to high turbidity levels in Arkansas’ St. Francis River. As a result, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) added a 55.9-mile section and a 17.1-mile section of the St. Francis River to the state’s 2006 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list of impaired waters for turbidity. Watershed stakeholders implemented best management practices (BMPs) to reduce erosion of sediment from row crop fields. Turbidity levels on these two stream reaches declined, prompting ADEQ to remove them from the 2014 CWA section 303(d) list for turbidity impairment.
NRCS will continue to update and expand their approach to both initiatives based on recommendations from conservation partners and staff. Some notable updates include:
Providing greater technical assistance for watershed assessment in MRBI to help ensure critical source areas are identified;
Establishing watershed goals and interim metrics; and
Ensuring that an outreach strategy is in place.
NRCS will also provide greater certainty for NWQI financial assistance by using multi-year budgets, not to exceed five years, for priority watersheds. The initiative will also expand the focus from only water bodies impaired under the Clean Water Act to a broader group of water bodies, particularly those that provide drinking water.
Improved water quality is due, in large part, to the agency’s targeted small watershed approach, which focuses resources on the most critical areas to maximize conservation impact and allow producers to be natural resource stewards.
Through USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project, cropland models demonstrate that conservation on cropland throughout the entire Mississippi River basin has reduced nitrogen and sediment loading to the Gulf of Mexico by 28 percent and 45 percent, respectively, over what would be lost without conservation systems in place.