FY 2004 Annual Report for Water Quality and Management National Program 201
Water quantity and quality issues have increasingly become the focus of attention of United States citizens, private and public organizations, and units of government striving to meet competing demands while protecting the environment and public health. Sound agricultural management practices are required to ensure success in maintaining a healthy and productive land and water base that sustains local communities, food and fiber production, and also protects and restores critical natural systems. Research in this National Program addresses three component problem areas: (1) agricultural watershed management; (2) irrigation and drainage management; and (3) water quality protection and management. The purpose of the Water Quality and Management National Program is to provide practical tools and techniques to meet the needs of farmers, ranchers, and other entities involved in controlling, assessing, regulating, and managing water resources.
ARS in cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Cooperative Research Extension and Education Service, USDA Office of Risk Assessment and Cost Benefit Analysis, Environmental Protection and other Federal and State agencies have developed a watershed assessment program and a national assessment effort. This program is the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). The purpose of CEAP is to provide the farming community, the conservation community, the general public, the Office of Management and Budget, legislators, and others involved with environmental policy issues an accounting of the environmental effects or benefits obtained from USDA conservation program expenditures.
The centerpiece of the watershed assessment program is the ARS "benchmark" watersheds. The term benchmark is used to distinguish the ARS watersheds from other watersheds where watershed assessment research is being initiated under CEAP. Also, the concept of benchmark watersheds is used to differentiate the larger scale ARS watersheds from field scale ARS research activity. ARS has 60 scientists at nine locations contributing to the research activity on 12-benchmark watersheds. The location are: Ames, IA, Tifton, GA, El Reno, OK, Temple, TX, Oxford, MS, University Park, PA, Columbia, MO, West Lafayette, IN, and Columbus, OH. The 12-benchmark watersheds represent primarily rain-fed or non-irrigated cropland. In addition to these locations, ARS scientists from Ft. Collins, CO, are coordinating a portion of the modeling activities.
The research assessments on the ARS benchmark watersheds are intended to determine an optimal selection and placement of conservation management practices to achieve specific water quality and other environmental goals, as well as provide initial information important to assessing the economic and social factors that facilitate or impede implementation of these conservation practices. ARS is developing plans to partner with Economic Research Service, NRCS, and several universities to enhance the economic and social science efforts within the CEAP program. An ARS research plan for the 12-benchmark watersheds has been peer reviewed and is being implemented in 2005 as the first national watershed project aimed at quantifying improvements in water derived from implementing economically feasible conservation practices. The first report from this effort is scheduled in late 2006.
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