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Watershed Assessment Study

The goal of this assessment is to provide the American people better understanding of the role agricultural conservation practices and programs play in achieving the nation's environmental objectives - clean air and water, healthy soils, and functioning habitat for wildlife. Improved understanding of conservation performance is also needed to improve future conservation programs and practices.

The ARS Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) Watershed Assessment Study (WAS) in part of the overall USDA CEAP project, providing additional scientific basis for the CEAP National Assessment being led by NRCS. The initial effort focused on croplands, with grazing lands and wetlands being added in 2007. The project has been implemented on a watershed basis in key agro-ecological regions around the nation.


The CEAP-WAS involves more than 60 ARS scientists, plus additional technical support staff, working in 14 benchmark watersheds at 12 ARS locations. The ARS-CEAP-WAS project is a fully peer-reviewed national effort that is highly relevant to the conservation policy of the USDA. Croplands CEAP-WAS is led by Mark Walbridge (National Program Staff, Beltsville MD) and John Sadler (Coordinator, Columbia MO).

To achieve the goals outlined above, Cropland CEAP-WAS is structured into 5 objectives:

The work to accomplish these objectives was organized by six teams of ARS scientists:

Team 1: Database Development. The database, named STEWARDS (Sustaining The Earth's Watersheds - Agricultural Research Database System), will store hydrologic, economic, management, and other data from the watersheds for later analysis and model runs. This team is led by Jean Steiner (El Reno OK) and Jerry Hatfield (Ames IA).

Team 2: Watershed Designand empirical measurements of conservation effects. This objective is the core of the science basis for CEAP. The team is led by Martin Locke (Oxford MS) and Mark Tomer (Ames IA).

Team 3: Modeling of Watersheds. Data from the above objectives supports modeling using the Soil Water Assessment Tool ( SWAT) and Annualized Agricultural Non-point Source ( AnnAGNPS) models, which will extend the empirical data to unmonitored watersheds. This team is led by Jeff Arnold (Temple TX), Ron Bingner (Oxford MS), and Tim Strickland (Tifton GA).

Team 4: Economic Assessment. Data from the watersheds, plus the modeling procedures, are integrated into economic analyses for decision support to the conservation policy effort. This team is led by Jerry Whitaker (Corvallis OR) and Chi-Hua Huang (West Lafayette IN).

Team 5: Regionalization of Models. This objective seeks to capture legacy computer models into modular packages using collaborative Object-oriented Modeling System ( OMS and CoLab) methods to facilitate development of models applicable in specific regions of the USA. This team is led by Laj Ahuja (Ft. Collins CO) and Matt Romkens (Oxford MS).

Team 6: Quality Assurance. This team supports the standardization of methods and procedures across the CEAP-WAS project. It is led by Ray Bryant (University Park PA) and Norm Fausey (Columbus OH).

The ARS Conservation Effects Assessment Project Watershed Assessment Study holds an annual meeting each year.  This year's meeting was held on July 24, in association with annual meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) in Kansas City, MO.  Presentations given at this year's meeting appear below.