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Conservation Showcase - MRBI

Missouri's Conservation Showcase






Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative (MRBI) Edge-of-Field Monitoring System Designed in Missouri

Lauren Cartwright, Glenn Davis, Susan Figg and Troy ChockleyWading through sewage in a 10-foot wide combined sewer overflow (CSO) tunnel beneath Kansas City in 1998, Troy Chockley had no idea that what he was doing would one day assist him in developing an edge-of-field monitoring system for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  His monitoring system, now utilized by several states participating in the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), is in place and capturing data on approximately 200 acres of resource-rich land in Missouri.

Prior to beginning his career with NRCS, Chockley served as water pollution control environmental engineer with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Water Pollution Control Program.

"Thirteen years ago, it was my responsibility to monitor stormwater overflow activity in CSO tunnels in Kansas City," Chockley said.  "CSO tunnels carry sewage and stormwater together underneath the city.  At the end of the tunnel is a regulating weir, preventing sewage from entering the river by directing it to the wastewater treatment plant.  When a storm comes through and the tunnels are flooded, the sewage isn't separated at the regulating weir and the combined stormwater and sewage overflow into the river.  I monitored these end-of-the-line areas to see what the water content was like."

In 2002, Chockley began his NRCS career as an environmental engineer in the state office in Columbia.  Often seen in the field wearing waders, Chockley is well versed in waste management systems.  But it was his background with CSO monitoring systems that urged State Conservation Engineer Dick Purcell to request Chockley's assistance on a new project in 2009.

"Dick asked that I work with Glenn Davis, our agronomist in nutrient management, and Lauren Cartwright, our agricultural economist, on the newest initiative from headquarters,"Chockley said.

Available in 12 states, MRBI was designated to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. 

"A national task force has set a target of 40 percent reduction of loading into the Gulf of Mexico,"Davis said.  "As it stands, runoff from cities and agricultural land along the Mississippi River puts excess nitrogen and phosphorus into the water and creates a hypoxic (low oxygen) environment in the Gulf of Mexico.

'We needed a way to monitor and evaluate the edge-of-field runoff, but at the time, there was nothing in place anywhere across the nation.  As the initiative was being developed, it became clear that we needed technical guidance for this type of monitoring.  A new interim conservation practice standard, (Code 799), Monitoring and Evaluation, was created with this in mind."

With the goal of monitoring edge-of-field runoff, Chockley, with input from Davis and Cartwright, worked backwards to create to a protocol that would support financial assistance to landowners.

'We wouldn"t have been able to come up with a monitoring procedure without first putting together a protocol,"Chockley said.  "The protocol is used for identifying monitoring activities, for identifying equipment and for establishing contract payment scenarios."

Areas were evaluated to identify crop production fields as candidates for edge-of-field monitoring and evaluation.  Missouri's protocol determined that a good candidate has both a defined drainage pattern and no drainage from adjacent fields. 

After evaluating the land, it was necessary to apply the Missouri protocol to each selected field.

'We have three steps in our protocol, flow monitoring, water quality sampling and weather information,"Chockley said.  "The protocol identifies different methods of flow monitoring depending on the type of outlet point."

Edge-of-field monitoring system.Water sampling, a process that occurs from March 1 through November 30, is performed by a programmable auto-sampler.

"We're on schedule to get a half dozen edge-of-field monitoring systems deployed this year,"water quality conservationist Steve Hefner said.  "These monitoring systems take 'sips'of water every 5-15 minutes when a downpour occurs.  The water samples are then collected and sent off to a certified lab for analysis."

Weather plays an important part in edge-of-field monitoring.  A minimum of one rain gauge per monitored area is mandatory and data has to be collected on the same schedule as flow monitoring data collection.

'Once I could focus on the monitoring system itself, I drew from resources I used when working on the CSO tunnels and developed a plan that will help measure the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff,'Chockley said.

Missouri's edge-of-field monitoring system has been implemented by several states and helps provide qualitative data to determine the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off entering the Mississippi River through sediment. 

'We saw the need to create and implement an effective MRBI protocol,'State Conservationist J.R. Flores said.  'We didn't want to just implement MRBI; we also wanted a way to evaluate its effectiveness.  Troy, Glenn, Lauren and Steve were instrumental in creating a program that is now being used by other states.'

Six Missouri watersheds were selected to participate in the Initiative.  Landowners in these watersheds have access to targeted financial assistance over the next four years.  Eleven Missouri soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) had their proposals accepted by NRCS Chief Dave White in the inaugural year, 2010.  Working with each separate SWCD sponsor, Missouri NRCS obligated more than $6.6 million in 174 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts to help producers implement specific conservation and management practices that prevent, control and/or trap nutrient runoff from their agricultural land.


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