Submitted to: International Hydro-Science & Engineering International Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: March 15, 2004
Publication Date: May 31, 2004
Citation: Romkens, M.J. 2004. The changing nature of USDA agricultural watershed research. International Hydro-Science & Engineering International Proceedings. (CD/ROM) May, 2004. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. National Center for Hydroscience & Engineering.
Interpretive Summary: The USDA agricultural watershed research program had its beginnings in the mid 1930s following the calamitous events of the Dust Bowl. It was part of the program of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and mostly focused on erosion control and soil conservation efforts on upland areas and small agricultural watersheds. In 1953, this program was assigned to the newly established Agricultural Research Service (ARS), where the program underwent significant changes as new watershed issues emerged. This article describes these evolutionary changes in ARS watershed research with emphasis on current development and future research needs.
Current USDA agricultural watershed research programs are primarily driven by environmental and economic concerns. The principal programs are: (1) Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), (2) Reservoir Rehabilitation, and (3) the Conservation Effects Amendment Project (CEAP). These programs which are holistic in nature will determine for many years to come ARS watershed research activities of data collection, watershed modeling, and scientific and engineering research support efforts.
TMDL related research is designed to improve the water quality conditions of water bodies (streams, lakes, etc.) in the USDA.
Reservoir rehabilitation research concerns issues related to the development of protocols and procedures for rehabilitating or decommissioning reservoirs and dams which have served as flood control pools and structures, municipal water supply reservoirs, or recreation areas.
The CEAP program represents an effort to assess the environmental benefits from implementing NRCS-sponsored conservation practices, such as CRP, EQIP, WRP, and WHP.
The broad scope of these programs offer tremendous challenges and opportunities for the research establishment, involving basic scientific issues, engineering technologies and economic evaluations. The article purports to convey the common theme of highly complex conditions and a need for integrated watershed research to address these issues.
The USDA watershed research program began in 1897 with mandated investigations by the Forest Service concerning the effect of forestland on water quantity and quality. It expanded the scope in the 1930s to include agricultural land in response to soil erosion problems and conservation needs following the dust bowl. Since that time watershed research has undergone an evolution in mission with subsequent emphasis on hydrology in the 1950s, followed by water quality concerns in the 1970s and ecological concerns in the 1990s. In recent years the program is undergoing further changes to meet mandated environmental and water quality standards and demands for quantifying the environmental benefits of Federal support programs. These mandates and programs are driving current watershed research. Programs include: (1) TMDL research, (2) CEAP research, and to a lesser degree (3) Watershed Rehabilitation research. This article describes this evolutionary process and need for a holistic watershed research program in which traditional engineering approaches are to be integrated with geo-biochemical processes. Also the economic benefits of support programs are to be assessed. The overall goals are to improve environmental conditions of watersheds while maintaining a viable agriculture.