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Photo: Two scientists reviewing a map standing in front of Beaver Creek. Link to photo information
Along Beaver Creek in central Iowa, ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter review a map showing results from a new toolset that analyzes conservation data from this watershed. Click the image for more information about it.

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Toolset Helps Identify Key Water-Conservation Options

By Rosalie Bliss
October 2, 2015

A free downloadable toolset geared towards helping conservation planners, landowners and researchers better manage runoff, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while also supporting agricultural production is available. The new software toolset was developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS)—USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Excess nutrients from watershed runoff, from sources that include farming, affect the ecological quality of aquatic environments. These excess nutrients can promote algal blooms in surface waters, and later the water's oxygen may be consumed as bacteria feed on the algae. When oxygen depletion reaches levels where water no longer supports aquatic animals, the condition is called "hypoxia."

The computer-based toolset, which was organized and led by ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer, is described in two papers that appear in the May-June 2015 issue of Journal of Environmental Quality. Tomer is with the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa.

The toolset provides an improved approach for understanding where conservation practices could be best applied among farmlands found in agricultural watersheds across much of the nation, according to Tomer. The free software toolset—called the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF)—operates within a geographic information system called ArcGIS that can manage and analyze different types of mapped information.

The ACPF toolset is now available through the North Central Region Water Network (NCRWN), which is coordinated through the University of Wisconsin. Users can download the toolset and supporting documentation from the NCRWN Web site at:

Users can import the software into ArcGIS, input key data sets, and analyze best conservation options and practices.

The watershed conservation-planning software toolset helps users identify appropriate locations for implementing a suite of conservation options in a given watershed. In addition, the software accommodates wide differences in landscape topographies and land management, and can be adapted to the conservation preferences of landowners and operators.

Training opportunities are being planned and details will be available on the host NCRWN Web site.