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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Soil Drainage Research

2008 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
The overall multi-location CEAP-WAS project objective is to evaluate and develop cost-effective conservation practices, strategies, and technologies for water management and water quality protection that minimize offsite delivery of sediment, nutrients, and agrichemicals from agricultural, urban, and turf watersheds located in the humid region of the United States. The research at this location is focused on the use of conservation practices and industrial by-products as a means of improving soil and drainage water quality from rural and urban components of the landscape, including turf systems, to minimize its impact on surface public drinking water supplies. This region has unique soil and climate characteristics that make it a highly productive and economically important region. CEAP-WAS objectives in the Upper Big Walnut Creek Watershed include: 1. Measure and quantify the effects of innovative conservation practices, source water protection practices, and land use management on water quality, water quantity, and lotic ecosystems at the field, farm, and watershed scales. 2. Assess and characterize the environmental aspects of urban and golf course turf, including the development and evaluation of management strategies or technologies that utilize industrial by-products to mitigate the potential offsite transport of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides. 3. Develop and apply policy-planning tools to aid selection and placement of conservation practices to optimize profit, water quality, and conservation practice efficiency.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Quantify the influence of conservation practices and land use on the water chemistry and hydrology of agricultural drainage ditches and streams in the Upper Big Walnut Creek watershed using a before-after-control-impact (BACI) paired watershed design. Two pairs of watersheds, one pair characterized as drainage ditches and one pair characterized as streams, have been identified and instrumented with flumes and automated samplers. Discharge and water samples will be collected automatically via Isco equipment. To quantify how much the loading to headwater streams is reduced by watershed scale adoption of nutrient and pesticide management practices, water samples will be collected using both time and flow proportional sampling. The samples will be analyzed for nutrients using colorimetric flow injection analysis and for pesticides using gas chromatography and ELISA. Apply a calibrated watershed scale model to aid selection, placement and extent of BMPs. Determine the impact of conservation practices on aquatic communities in lotic ecosystems by measuring and quantifing in-stream habitat (water depth, velocity, wet width, and substrate types), in situ water chemistry measurements (dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, water temperature), and aquatic communities in each site three times a year in the spring, summer, and fall for the duration of the study. Conduct field experiments to determine the influence of herbaceous riparian buffers on the physical habitat and aquatic communities in agricultural drainage ditches. Geomorphology and riparian habitat will be sampled once a year, while in-stream habitat, water chemistry, and aquatic communities will be sampled at least three times a year for two years. Laboratory, field, and modeling approaches will be used to assess and characterize the environmental aspects of urban and golf course turf, including the development and evaluation of management strategies and/or technologies. Before – after watershed scale studies will be used to quantify the fate and transport as well as aid in the determination of the processes and management controlling the fate and transport of nutrients, pesticides, and sediment from turf environments and urban landscapes. Laboratory studies, replicated plots, and paired field sites will be used to evaluate innovative technologies, strategies and/or management practices. The cost benefit analysis will combine the benefits from a recreational use analysis and additional non-use value estimates of the benefits of water quality improvements with the costs of different types of practices that provide those benefits.

3.Progress Report
The Soil Drainage Research Unit (SDRU) continues to make advances in quantifying the watershed scale environmental and economic impacts of conservation practices as well as assessing and characterizing the environmental aspects of managed turf. The Upper Big Walnut Creek (UBWC) watershed in Ohio is one of 14 benchmark watersheds identified in the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) to provide detailed assessments of watershed scale implementation of conservation practices. Within the UBWC watershed, data was collected at 46 nested and paired sites representing surface and subsurface discharge, channelized and unchannelized watersheds, agricultural and urban land uses, and forested and herbaceous riparian buffer areas. These sites are representative of agricultural and urban areas in the Eastern Corn Belt and will aid in answering a variety of environmental and economic questions related to the watershed scale impacts of conservation practices. To date, three years of baseline data has been collected from the paired watersheds. FY 2008 marked the first year for implementation of either a precision nutrient management treatment or a pesticide management treatment. Quantification of the impacts of those practices is ongoing. Progress continues on assessing the impacts of herbaceous riparian buffers on fish communities. An hydrologic assessment of different headwater streams within the UBWC watershed was completed. The results highlight the seasonal differences in magnitudes, frequency, and rates of change in headwater hydrology. SDRU scientists served on the Ohio Rural Drainage Infrastructure team and made critical contributions on the protocols for evaluating ecology as part of the proposed drainage needs assessment. The SDRU also led an effort to review and recommend guidelines for developing sampling protocols for assessing the ecological impacts of conservation practices as part of the ARS CEAP Watershed Assessment Study.

The SDRU continues to make progress toward assessing and understanding the environmental role of turf in the watershed landscape. The Unit is a critical component of a new agency turf/drainage/by-products initiative. Turf sites in Texas, Minnesota, and Ohio have been instrumented and baseline surface and subsurface hydrology and water quality conditions quantified. Progress continues to be made on the development and assessment of inline filters designed to clean drainage waters. Cooperative efforts with industry and other ARS locations are underway to identify, deliver, and implement by-product filters at turf sites.

1. Development of sampling protocols for assessing ecological effects of conservation practices

There is limited guidance available for those interested in designing scientific evaluations of the ecological effects of conservation practices, despite the availability of numerous sampling protocols developed for monitoring studies. Conservation practices are implemented within agricultural watersheds to reduce the water quality impacts of agricultural production. Information on the ecological impacts of conservation practices is limited because these practices are frequently implemented without evaluating their impacts. Additionally, only three of 14 watersheds within the ARS CEAP (Conservation Effects Assessment Project) Watershed Assessment Study are evaluating ecological responses to conservation practices. A review of the available information was conducted and a framework consisting of six guiding principles for designing scientific evaluations of ecological responses to conservation practices was developed. These guidelines will provide guidance for others investigating the influence of conservation practices and will facilitate cross-disciplinary assessments of conservation practices. This accomplishment contributes to National Program 211, Problem Area 1-Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and Problem Area 5-Watershed Management, Water Availability, and Ecosystem Restoration.

2. Development, release, and implementation of a special Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in Upper Big Walnut Creek watershed

Assessing the watershed scale implementation of conservation practices on privately owned lands is difficult because of a lack of control and manipulation of land use management. Practices that are implemented are voluntary and location of implementation may or may not coincide with research locations. A special EQIP targeting experimental subwatersheds within Upper Big Walnut Creek watershed was jointly developed with the NRCS State Conservationist for Programs, NRCS District Conservationists in Delaware and Morrow counties in Ohio, and personnel from the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District. This EQIP targeted 8000 acres in the Upper Big Walnut Creek watershed and was designed to give incentives for precision nutrient management and pesticide management adoption. Farmers and landowners signed up approximately 7500 acres to the special EQIP for planning. Approximately 7000 acres have been signed up for implementation. Quantification of conservation practices will document which conservation practices are effective and eventually lead to cleaner, safer, and more ecologically sensitive surface water supply. This accomplishment contributes to National Program 211, Problem Area 1-Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP).

3. Assessment of fish and macro-invertebrate communities in Midwestern headwater streams receiving agricultural drainage waters

Many headwater streams in the Midwestern United States have been channelized for agricultural drainage. Conservation practices are implemented to reduce nutrient and pesticide loadings within these altered streams. The impact of these practices is uncertain because the influence of water chemistry on stream communities is not well understood. Scientists at the SDRU assembled the first known scientific data on the impacts of the physical and chemical properties of stream waters on fish and macro-invertebrate communities in Midwest U.S. headwater streams receiving agricultural drainage and runoff waters. The findings will be very useful in setting water quality standards and TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads). This accomplishment contributes to National Program 211, Problem Area 1-Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and Problem Area 5-Watershed Management, Water Availability, and Ecosystem Restoration.

4. Determined agrichemical transport in subsurface drainage features from managed turf

Turfgrass, in number of acres, is the fourth largest crop in the U.S., following corn, soybeans, and wheat. Turfgrass is the most intensively managed land use in the urban landscape. Additionally, managed turf sites often contain subsurface drainage designed to rapidly convey excess waters and allow for quicker playability following significant rainfall events. Nutrient and pesticide transport in subsurface drainage waters from managed turf was collected and quantified. The data has been provided to the turf industry and turf managers documenting the significance of subsurface drainage in transporting fertilizers and pesticides from managed turf. This has led to collaborative research on a golf course to assess the impact of management and treatment type best management practices. This accomplishment contributes to National Program 211, Problem Area 1-Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and Problem Area 3 - Drainage water management.

5. Drainage water filtration

Pollutant transport through drainage waters is well documented. Treating or cleaning drainage water at point of entry is one potential best management practice receiving much attention. Preliminary investigations indicate that industrial byproduct materials such as gypsum or steel slag have the capacity to sorb or bind agrichemicals and are available at little to no cost. Additionally, advances in drainage technologies permit the application of such materials at the end-of-pipes or within drainage ditches. In cooperation with ARS colleagues and representatives from the drainage, turf, and byproducts industries, research has been planned and initiated on the application of natural and byproduct materials to remove nutrients and pesticides carried in drainage and runoff waters from various landuses with an initial focus on the turf industry. This is the first attempt to organize a research and industry team to address this issue. This accomplishment contributes to National Program 211, Problem Area 1 -Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) and Problem Area 3 - Drainage water management systems.

5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations

6.Technology Transfer

Number of Non-Peer Reviewed Presentations and Proceedings8
Number of Newspaper Articles and Other Presentations for Non-Science Audiences5

Review Publications
King, K.W., Balogh, J.C. 2008. Curve Numbers for Golf Course Watersheds. Transactions of the ASABE. 51(3):987-996.

King, K.W., Balogh, J., Harmel, R.D. 2007. Nutrient Flux in Storm Water Runoff and Baseflow from Managed Turf. Environmental Pollution. 150:321-328.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
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