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Landscape of Cobb Creek: Link to photo information
Cobb Creek and its tributaries flow through an agricultural landscape into the Fort Cobb Reservoir. Land-management, hydrologic and climate data from the Fort Cobb Reservoir Experimental Watershed are being uploaded into the Web-based data system called “STEWARDS.” Click the image for more information about it.

Web-Based System Tracks Watersheds' "Vital Signs"

By Luis Pons
August 28, 2006

Imagine having Internet access to the vital signs of key watersheds. That’s one of the benefits of an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) water resource management program, now being expanded, that offers information on climate, water and soil, as well as on the effectiveness of conservation and management practices.

This web-based system, called “STEWARDS” (for "Sustaining the Earth’s Watersheds: Agricultural Research Data System"), was developed by ARS researchers, data managers and information- technology staff. It will be demonstrated in October at an international conference in Kansas City, Mo., on managing agricultural landscapes.

The system is part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), a Farm Bill-driven initiative to measure the environmental effects and benefits of U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs.

Soil scientist Jean Steiner and hydrologist Jin-Song Chen at the ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla., spearheaded the STEWARDS program in collaboration with soil scientist John Sadler of the ARS Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit in Columbia, Mo.

According to Steiner, STEWARDS can benefit researchers involved with CEAP as well as resource managers, students, other scientists and the general public who are interested in water quality and quantity in their local watershed.

The system integrates information from 16 watersheds from across the country that are part of the ARS Watershed Assessment Study. It will represent a big change in how ARS handles watershed research data.

According to Steiner, data collected in USDA and ARS watershed research since early in the 20th century have been used to address region-specific studies and disseminated independently at each research location. STEWARDS will bring together information from all these watershed studies to address national issues concerning water quality and water availability.

Read more about this research and other ARS projects related to a healthy environment in the August 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.